Blogs > HNN > White House Line on Books Bush Is Reading

Aug 24, 2005 4:01 pm

White House Line on Books Bush Is Reading

Two weeks ago, just as his vacation was getting under way, the White House put out the story that President Bush would be reading three books at Crawford: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky and The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. The NYT didn't bother with the story but the Los Angeles Times bit, devoting an entire article to the news on August 16: "Bush Salts His Summer With Eclectic Reading List." It was one of the few positive stories about Bush published during the opening weeks of his ill-fated vacation and came just after the Washington Post published an eye-opening front page story in which administration officials admitted that the original Iraq timeline for a working, successful democratic state was "never realistic":

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

Come to find out--surprise--the book story wasn't even true. On a marathon bicycle trip the other day--it was a long, hard slog, 18 miles through Texas back country--Bush told reporters invited along that he is reading an Elmore Leonard book.

Leonard is a crime fiction writer. Perfectly respectable. It's not like Bush confessed to reading Lynne Cheney's racy 1981 novel about a lesbian love affair. But Leonard's books aren't serous reading. And they don't fit the line the White House was putting out about Bush's seriousness of purpose. Once again the facts have gotten in the way of White House spin.

Of course, it may be that the president is actually reading Leonard plus the other three books on the list. Maybe Laura left the Leonard book on the nightstand next to his bed and he got caught up in it. But it's unlikely. The funny thing is Americans wouldn't begrudge their leader taking some time to read a diverting and fun book. The rest of us get to do so during the summer, why shouldn't the president? (Ike loved reading crime fiction. Intellectuals mocked him, but the reading didn't seem to hinder his running the country; as most historians now acknowledge, he was one of our better presidents.) But this vacation is such a disaster that for President Bush to admit he's using the time to read anything but SERIOUS books is to reinforce the impression that he is frittering away his time while soldiers are dying.

I am sure that Karl Rove bit his lip when he heard that Bush had stepped on his own administration's official line about his bedside reading material. But Bush likes to show his independence from the White House handlers from time to time just to prove, as presidents often try to, that everything they do isn't completely scripted.

Alas, Bush finds himself cast in a bad movie with a bad script. And no amount of improvising will help turn this bomb of a vacation into a blockbuster. It's time to close the show, return home to Washington, and start over with a fresh script.

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Rick Shenkman - 8/25/2005

I think it is naive to believe the White House puts out a book list casually.

Little is done casually at the presidential level by staff.

If Bush himself hadn't mentioned his reading the Leonard book nobody at the White House would have mentioned it to any reporter. It's not the kind of thing they want to brag about.

They are always trying to puff up Bush. He is stereotyped as intellectually uncurious. Staff therefore try to demonstrate that he is not.

If you were in their shoes wouldn't you follow this approach? Of course, you would.

Rick Shenkman - 8/25/2005

Bush isn't a moron. My entry doesn't imply that he is.

But he's not known as a reader of books. Bill Clinton--yes. George W.--no.

Stephen Tootle - 8/25/2005

Certainly it is possible that Bush read those other books and then started a novel. Or, the President might simply be reading more than one book at a time. In light of these very possible scenarios, it seems a little premature to draw conclusions about White House spin control.

John H. Lederer - 8/25/2005

I just got back from a week's vacation. I took 14 books (most, but not all, trash, I concede) and finished 9. I am a fast reader.

But then it is also probable, based on his SAT's, Andover, and Yale that Bush is also a fast reader.

Ahh, but I forgot, Bush is a moron.