Tuesday, December 01, 2015

December 1, 2105--George Herbert Walker Bush

There's lots to savor in Jon Meacham's comprehensive and readable biography of our 41st president.

Though it has the over-puffed title, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, it is for the moment definitive and hard to put down.

Also, at less than 900 pages, it is appropriately proportioned.

Bush was not the kind of or accomplished enough or sufficiently complex a president to call for 900 pages much less four volumes and counting as is the case for the larger-than-life Lyndon Johnson as represented at vast length by Robert Caro.

In truth, even in the Meacham book, H.W. (or Poppy) was not destined to become president. To the manor born, yes, wealthy, assured, to win a seat in Congress, likely, to head the CIA, certainly, but the presidency, no. Not destined for that.

And to think of his life as an odyssey, also a bit much. Odysseus had an odyssey. Not Bush. Not really.

But what do I know, Destiny and Power went right to the top of the New York Times bestseller list two days ago. A week after it was published.

Here's a flavor.

First from pages 464-5 about his wise thinking as commander in chief after building a genuine global coalition and, via Desert Storm, led the battle to oust Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait.

He got that job done in 100 days and though pressed by the Republican political right refused to have our troops take Baghdad and bring down Saddam Hussein. Here's why--
Our stated mission, as codified in U.N. resolutions, was a simple one--end the aggression, knock Iraq's forces out of Kuwait, and restore Kuwait's leaders. To occupy Kuwait would instant shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. It would have taken us way beyond the imprimatur of international law bestowed by the resolutions of the Security Council, assigned young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator, condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working hard to reestablish. [My italics]
If only his son, Bush the Second, W, 43, rather than being guided by God, as he put it, had sought advice from his father before his disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Then, on page 144, there is one of my favorite LBJ anecdotes--

In 1969, while a member of the House of Representatives, Congressman Bush was thinking about running for the Senate. He had one of the safest Texas House seats, a place on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and a secure congressional future. He wondered, "Was the Senate worth the risk?"

To help him decide, he flew to Stonewall Texas to ask ex-president Johnson. Who better to ask?
"Mister president, I've got a decision to make and I'd like your advice. My House seat is secure and I've got a position on Ways and Means. I don't mind taking risks, but in a few more terms, I'll have seniority on a powerful committee. I'm just not sure it's a gamble I should take. Whether it's really worth it." 
"Son," Johnson said, "I've served in the House. And I've been privileged to serve in the Senate too. And they're both good places to serve. So I wouldn't advise you what to do, except to say this--that the difference between being a member of the Senate and a member of the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit."
Bush took Johnson's advice, gave up his House seat, ran against incumbent Ralph Yarborough, and promptly lost.

The rest of the story is Bush's odyssey.

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