The New York Times
Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Riskby Maureen Dowd
“I think what’s important for you to know is that I feel I know what to do. I really do. I may not be able to tell you exactly the nuance of the East Timorian situation, but I’ll ask Condi Rice or I’ll ask Paul Wolfowitz or I’ll ask/b>/i>
The New York Times Bestseller by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist!
“I think what’s important for you to know is that I feel I know what to do. I really do. I may not be able to tell you exactly the nuance of the East Timorian situation, but I’ll ask Condi Rice or I’ll ask Paul Wolfowitz or I’ll ask Dick Cheney. I’ll ask the people who’ve had experience.”—George W. Bush, June 13, 1999
For the past two decades, Maureen Dowd has trained her binoculars—and her scorching wit—on the Bush dynasty. Here, she explores and dissects the entire story, in all its Oedipal, Orwellian, Shakespearean glory. Drawing from her New York Times column, with a new introductory essay, she journeys to Maine, Texas, Washington, old Europe, new Europe, and Saudi Arabia, chronicling both father and son as well as the cast of characters surrounding them. For any reader who cares about America, it’s essential reading. As Dowd says about Bushworld: “It’s their reality. We only live and die in it.”
“Scathingly funny…Others cover the same waterfront, but Dowd’s keen dramatization of complex situations, uncannily biting caricatures and merciless re-spinning of spin set her far apart from the pack.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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BushworldEnter At Your Own Risk
By Maureen Dowd
G. P. Putnam's SonsCopyright © 2004 Maureen Dowd
All right reserved.
IntroductionIn March 2001, I went to flat and dusty Aggieland, Texas A&M at College Station, to speak at the Bush presidential library. "We had to wait until the Silver Fox left the country to ask you," George Herbert Walker Bush told me, only half teasing, since Barbara Bush was abroad. He lured me there by promising to show me an eleven-page comic screed against The New York Times and a few other media miscreants that he'd typed on his computer in the Arthurian style of a column I had written portraying him as the Old King and W. as the Boy King. Like me, 41 has an easier time unfurling his feelings writing than talking, so I especially appreciated his wacky satire about a royal court, sprinkled with words like verily, forsooth and liege, and characters such as King Prescott of Greenwich, George of Crawford, Queen Bar, King Bill, Maid Monica, Hillary the Would-Be Monarch, Knight Algore, Earl Jeb of Tallahassee, Duke Cheney, Warrior Sulzberger, Knight Howell Raines, Knight Ashcroft and Lady Maureen, "charming princess" of the Times op-ed world. The delicious frolicking, falconing and scheming at the "moatless" court of the old warrior king, however, will have to forever remain our secret.
I was a Times White House reporter for the first Bush administration. Though 41 was always gracious, I know he was disappointed at first to have drawn an irreverent, newfangled "reporterette," as Rush Limbaugh would say, who wanted to focus as much on the personalities of leaders as on their policies. But I always figured it this way: Politicians can tell you they won't ever raise taxes-read their lips-or won't ever nation-build, but sometimes, because of their basic natures, needy egos and whispering Iagos, they find their way to believing or acting in glaring contradiction to their original promises. When the nation has been scarred by crises like Watergate and Vietnam, it has been because presidents have let their demons overcome experience and common sense.
Poppy Bush had been expecting a traditional pin-striped Times correspondent, one with a name like Chatsworth Farnsworth III, who would scribble about 41's role leading the Atlantic alliance. The son of Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker is a modest man, whose mother warned him so often against focusing on what he called "the big I" that he would cut the personal pronoun off the start of his sentences and just plunge into the verb, as in "Not going to do it," or "Nah-ga-da-it," as Dana Carvey would say on Saturday Night Live. (41 joked that he was "a Dana Carvey soundalike.") Or use staccato Bushspeak, as in his encomium to his coffee warmer: "Mug warmer. Electric. 93-point-25-dash-1, it says." It made him squirm to be inspected by the press closely or saucily. One New Year's Eve, over dinner in Houston, Brent Scowcroft, 41's national security adviser, formally requested that I stop referring to Mr. Bush in stories as acting "goofy." And the president himself complained in amused chagrin to his press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, in one of the little "blue notes" he sent out to his staff, that I had been sitting cross-legged and arms crossed, "like some Hinnianistic Buddhist" pose at a golf course in Kennebunkport, staring at him in a "Gail Sheehy" manner as he was teeing off. Actually, I was just trying to muster some interest in golf. But I guess it's hard to tee off when you're teed off. Another time, on Air Force One, when he came back to talk to a bunch of reporters, he ordered me to "stop staring" at him; I lowered my eyes.
But over the years, 41 tried to adapt. He has often kidded me about "our love-hate relationship," dubbing me his "favorite-unfavorite big foot columnist" and chastising me about being a "limo-lib" who cast him unfairly as an "elitist." He loved it when I wrote columns tweaking the Clintons and hated it when I wrote columns tweaking the Bushes, the two rival political dynasties of meritocracy and aristocracy-both driven by feelings of entitlement-that I seem destined to cover in endless succession. Poppy Bush sometimes threatens to seek psychiatric counseling to cure himself of this "love-hate" syndrome, knowing that will make me laugh. Both Bush pere and fils are notoriously allergic to introspection and analysis, considering even questions about TV and movie tastes a dread attempt to put them "on the couch" and plumb the unconscious depths.
After moderating the panel on "The Media and the White House" at his library, the former president took me, along with a bunch of his former officials, to a red-meat feast at a local barbecue joint. He was charming, and glowing with pride at being only the second man in history to have his son follow him into the Oval Office.
But in hushed voices, out in the parking lot, some of his former aides, men who had worked for the pragmatic, realpolitik team of "the Velvet Hammer" James Baker and "H.W.," as 41 sometimes differentiates himself from his presidential namesake, confided that they were already anxious and mystified about the chest-thumping, ideological foreign-policy tone of Bush II.
In its first two months, the new administration had gotten into tussles with Russia and China, blowing off treaties and making the rest of the world jittery. After running against the hormonal irresponsibility of the Clinton era, could W. be indulging in an even more destructive teenage rebellion against his family? Prodded by the "forward-leaning," my-way-or-the-highway twins, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Bush the younger was doing an Oedipal loop-de-loop, intemperately shredding the internationalism and traditional alliances so cherished by his father and grandfather, a Wall Street banker and Connecticut senator. (My two older brothers were Senate pages in the early fifties for JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon and Prescott Bush, whom they described as a central casting senator, tall and craggy, favoring gray worsted suits even in warm weather.) W. was replacing the old family motto of noblesse oblige with a new one: Oblige this. It seemed odd that Mr. Popularity at Yale, the gregarious frat president who gave everyone cute nicknames and led pranks like scalding DKE pledges with hot wire hangers, was suddenly scalding the world and not leaving them laughing.
At the barbecue dinner, a top official of Bush I fretted that the Bush II foreign-policy team-the seasoned hands who were supposed to be the adults taking over from those Clinton adolescents who seemed to make it up as they went along-was too belligerent, too conservative, too blunt, too negative and too improvisational in dealing with the globe on everything from missile defense to Kyoto. (W. mocked enviros as "green, green lima beans.") "These guys are linear," the official said. "They have to have black and white. They have to have bogeymen."
Bush 43 exhibited a weird combination of arrogance and tentativeness. "You're never quite sure," another Bush I official observed, "if those papers in front of W. blew away in the wind, if he would know what to say."
The old man, as his admiring former officials called him, reflected only paternal pride in W.'s fledgling presidency, even though his son was consciously patterning himself not on his own father but on Ronald Reagan. The Great Communicator so overshadowed his vice president that the syntax-mangling Poppy seemed to droop a bit in the Gipper's presence, managing to look shorter even though he was taller. One of 41's speechwriters called it his "deferential Episcopalian tilt."
Bush 43 certainly wasn't following in the diplomatic footsteps of his father, who practiced an intensely personal, folksy, feet-up style of diplomacy. I spent half of 41's presidency watching him aggressively charming world leaders-sometimes too aggressively. He loved demonically driving visiting heads of state on his cigarette boat around the Kennebunkport bays-except Francois Mitterrand, who begged off, saying he got mal de mer. Continuing a social diplomacy tradition he'd practiced as ambassador to the UN and liaison to Beijing, he dragged Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel to the Air and Space Museum to see the movie To Fly, King Hussein down the river from Mount Vernon on a boat, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to his first baseball game to see the Orioles play the Red Sox, complete with hot dogs and horseradish. When the announcer gave the names of the celebrities in attendance at Memorial Stadium, the name Ted Williams got a roar from the crowd, while the name Mubarak provoked only silent wonderment. ("Who did he play for? The Indians?") Bush 41 loved Saudi Prince Bandar so much, pheasant hunting at his British estate and allowing Bandar alone to smoke cigars at Kennebunkport, that the Saudi ambassador became known as "Bandar Bush."
41's still at it. He invited Mikhail Gorbachev to come to College Station for his eightieth birthday parachute jump and tried to persuade the former Head of the Evil Empire to jump with him. "Afraid," Gorbachev demurred. W. attended his dad's birthday party but did not stay to watch him fall 5,000 feet, returning to the White House for a T-ball game.
For Poppy, who belonged to three men's clubs in Washington and the all-male Bohemian Grove in California, the global stage was the ultimate exclusive men's club-Margaret Thatcher, "the Iron Lady," who ordered Bush Senior not to "go wobbly" on Saddam, included.
Before 41's 1990 summit with Gorbachev, Richard Perle, the cold war arms expert who would one day be a leading Bush hawk on Iraq, pooh-poohed such personal diplomacy. "It's very easy to get caught up in personal relationships and fail thereby to analyze the situation accurately," Perle sniffed.
H.W. and his pal Baker had an ad hoc, practical, and sometimes disturbingly unsentimental "we know best" foreign policy, with none of the moral umbrage of Jimmy Carter or soaring dreams of Ronald Reagan. As Tom Friedman and I wrote in a Times magazine piece in 1990: "They regard themselves as good people who will do the correct thing and, if circumstances permit, the right thing. The approach is: split the difference. Keep things stable. Democracy where possible. Free markets where possible. Apple pie where possible.... If what seems reasonable at the moment is to side with the Chinese power elite rather than the students in Tiananmen Square, then you side with those in power. If what seems reasonable is to split the difference between the aspirations of Lithuanians and the interests of Gorbachev, then you split the difference.... Bush and Baker failed to convey passion on issues, and that can be a real liability."
Long before his son strutted as "Top Gun," Time magazine had hailed the elder Bush and Baker as "Top Guns on Top of the World" on their February 13, 1989, cover.
It became clear during W.'s 2000 campaign that the one-term Texas governor, who got sober and serious late in life, had not studied up on foreign policy at his father's knee. In his time around the White House, when he was still known as "Junior," he had hung out with Lee Atwater, the Machiavellian wunderkind of the revived Republican Party, in the political chop shop. Junior was the loyalty enforcer, making sure that Bush staffers were vetted as true-blue. He was a good-time guy with a quick temper, not considered by the Bush family and staff as presidential material, or even gubernatorial material.
I came a cropper of him once, back in those days, when I was on summer duty at Kennebunkport as the Times White House reporter. Wanting some playful payback against his dad for making reporters awake at dawn to watch him tee off for one of his breathless games of "aerobic golf" or "golf polo," as we called it, I rummaged around in my suitcase and came up with a "Bob Dole for President in '88" T-shirt and a "Jesse Jackson for President in '88" hat. I knew 41 would get the joke, but when father and son swung by me in their golf cart, Poppy wasn't looking and Junior gave me a scary glare. Later he sent back word that he was not amused. I comforted myself with the knowledge that Junior, a Midland businessman, would never be in a position to wreak revenge on me. After all, Jeb was the family comer.
W.'s quick turnaround from black sheep to boy king took a large measure of grit and discipline. When I ran into him covering his Texas state house and White House races, he was genial, appreciatively noting my green cowboy boots or bantering about his parents. On the day he announced he would run for president, we reminisced about the golf course contretemps, sitting on the back porch of the Bush estate in Kennebunkport, overlooking the sparkling Atlantic, as his parents perched nearby. Grinning disarmingly, W. asked, "Are you still holding that against me?"
One of Barbara Bush's White House aides had predicted that W. would never make it through a presidential run because he was too much like his mother, prickly, tart-tongued, an injustice collector. But he surprised everyone-including his parents-and got his Roman candle side under control. His father had helped to swaddle him with a foreign-policy "dream team" that would give voters confidence-even if there were a few slips along the way, like the pop quiz that had W. sputtering "General" when asked who the head of Pakistan was. The patrician bequeathed to the prodigal son his own foreign-policy war council-Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz-to tutor him and confer gravitas upon him.
Dick Cheney was just the sort of family retainer and consigliere the Bushes loved-deferential, loyal, leakproof, not competitive. So when, as head of the vice-presidential search committee, Cheney chose himself, both father and son were well pleased.
But it soon became clear that this wasn't the cautious, modulated Dick Cheney of Bush I, such an invisible staff man that the Secret Service gave him the code name "Backseat" when he was in the Ford White House. This Dick Cheney was quietly but firmly running the show, and the show was swaggering and ideological. He brought in his mentor from the Nixon and Ford years, the charismatically cranky Donald Rumsfeld, the famous infighter who had been a sharp-elbowed rival to Bush Senior in the old days, rooting for Bush for CIA director because he thought it would hurt 41's chances to be president. Rummy, of course, thought he would make a stronger president than H.W., whom he considered flighty and insubstantial, pulled up the ladder by his pedigree and given appointed jobs by his friends.
Cheney brought in a neocon chief of staff, Scooter Libby, a protege of Wolfowitz, and Rummy swept into the Pentagon the neocon gang of Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, William Luti, Stephen Cambone and, as Pentagon advisers, Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich.
Excerpted from Bushworld by Maureen Dowd Copyright © 2004 by Maureen Dowd. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Maureen Dowd was born in Washington, D.C., received a BA in English from Catholic University in 1973, then began her career at the Washington Star. From there she went to Time magazine, then moved to The New York Times in 1986 as a Washington correspondent. She has covered four presidential campaigns and served as a White House correspondent. In 1995 she became a columnist for The New York Times's Op-Ed page and in 1999 won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary.
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Politics bore me. Most columnists and commentators fail to capture my attention. But, Maureen Dowd, unlike other who dabble in politics, has been a favorite. I don't always agree with her opinions but I always enjoy reading them. She's witty. She's ironic. She's entertaining. She's normally dead right on! She says things out loud, the very same things we think or suspect. A must read.