Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush

by Frank Bruni

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Overview

Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush by Frank Bruni

In many ways George W. Bush did not seem built for the presidency or the paces necessary to win it. He was a laid-back good-time guy with little appetite and limited talent for formal oratory, someone who often projected affability more easily than authority. He was a homebody who seemed to prefer surroundings and situations that were utterly familiar to those that were risky and unpredictable. His interests could be narrow and his efforts to expand them only fitful.

But he got there, and after September 11, 2001, confronted a challenge more daunting than many of his predecessors had faced. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush was left with the responsibility to lead Americans through a time of unusual anxiety and uncertainty, to inspire and reassure them. Could he do it?

In Ambling Into History, Frank Bruni, who covered Bush's presidential campaign and first eight months in the White House for the New York Times, mines the countless hours during which he observed and interacted with Bush to explore that question, and to present sides of Bush that readers have never encountered. He looks to small moments for big truths, going behind the scenes and offering fresh insights into Bush's oft-chronicled weaknesses, sometimes overlooked strengths, and his journey-alternately earnest and reluctant-from an innate levity to a newfound gravity.

Bruni also takes readers on his own trip through the strange maze of presidential politics, wryly chronicling life in the insular "bubble" of political reporting and its frequently dispiriting effect on the coverage that politicians get. It is a candid, eloquent, and illuminating adventure that shows why Newsweek called Bruni "probably the most influential" reporter on the Bush beat.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780066213712
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/05/2002
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Frank Bruni, a reporter in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, now writes full-time for the Times Sunday magazine. For his previous work on other subjects, he was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and a winner of the Polk Award for Metropolitan Reporting. He has appeared on ABC-TV's Nightline and other programs to talk about the Bush campaign and presidency.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It would be hard to imagine an event more somber than the one Bush attended one Sunday morning in September of 1999 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Although the outdoor stadium he entered was usually a place of frenetic activity, it was now a scene of eerie stillness and quiet, its thousands of occupants sitting or standing with their heads bowed. They had come not to cheer a team but to mourn a tragedy, the deaths of seven people inside a nearby church. Once again, someone with a grudge and a gun had vented his anger with bullets, and once again, a nation reeled from the senselessness of it all.

Just a few days earlier, parishioners at a prayer service at the Wedgwood Baptist Church had been singing a pop version of a traditional Christian hymn when a long-haired man in jeans and a black jacket barged in, screaming obscenities. He opened fire, hitting more than a dozen of them, including many teenagers, before he was finished and turned his weapon on himself. It was the deadliest shooting in the city's history, and it precipitated the anguished and inevitable questions about what could have been done to prevent the violence, about why the hail of gunfire that traced back to San Ysidro and proceeded through Columbine continued to go on and on. Bush found himself in an especially awkward position, because his record as Texas governor was one of defending gun owners' rights; he had even signed a law permitting private citizens with proper licenses to carry concealed weapons. Now he, too, was under a different kind of fire.

The public memorial service at the university wasn't going to change that. But it gave him an opportunity to signal, through his presence, that he was not insensitive to the bloodshed, that he cared. It promised to cast him in the responsible, nurturing light of a leader come to comfort those he led, and because he had recently begun his presidential campaign, it was guaranteed to bring him national attention. He had made the judicious decision not to speak -- and, thus, not to make his appearance seem overtly political -- but there was a prime, center row of seats for him and his intimates. Print reporters, including me, positioned ourselves as close to it as we could.

Bush saw us as he walked in and sat down; he even nodded in our direction. It was a tiny gesture, nothing wrong with it. But he didn't leave it at that. As preachers preached and singers sang and a city prayed, Bush turned around from time to time to shoot us little smiles. He scrunched up his forehead, as if to ask us silently what we were up to back there. He wiggled his eyebrows, a wacky and wordless hello. These were his usual merry tics, but this was a discordant setting for them, and it was astonishing that he wasn't more concerned that one of the television or still cameras might catch him mid-twinkle.

At one point, when someone near our seats dropped a case of plastic water bottles and caused a clatter, Bush glanced back at us with a teasing, are-you-guys-behaving-yourselves expression, and he kept his amused face pivoted in our direction for an awfully long time. About twenty minutes later, he was at it again. The Rev. Al Meredith, the pastor of the Wedgwood Baptist Church, asked if everyone in the audience wanted "to see the spirit of the living God sweep over this land like a wildfire." Meredith called for raised hands, and he added, "Media, put your notepads down if you're in with us on this." Zoom -- Bush was looking in our direction, eyebrows up, head cocked, the possibility of laughter on his lips.

I was taken aback, but I was not really surprised. From the time I began covering Bush in late August, my first and strongest impressions were of a man chafing against and throwing off the formal constraints of the part he had signed up for, an irreverent rapscallion on intermittently good behavior, Jim Carrey trying to incorporate at least a few elements of Jimmy Stewart. Sometimes he succeeded. Sometimes he didn't. He was asking to be king, but he still reserved the right to play the fool.

It was a role he had inhabited for much of his life, partly because it was thrust on him early, partly because he had discovered over time that it was a way to distinguish and carve a niche for himself in worlds where his other abilities were not always superior. According to some friends, the death of his younger sister, Robin, when she was three years old and he was seven had left him, for a while, not just as an only child but as one of the principal sources of consolation for his mother, Barbara. So he spread good cheer and sowed laughs, and that became his way as he moved through the stages of his youth. He was unexceptional at competitive sports and unexceptional at academics; his father's excellence in both endeavors was something he couldn't match. But he refused to be weighed down by his limitations and found an alternate path to prominence and popularity. He worked his personality, developing a reputation as a good-time fellow and dauntless prankster.

He never once made the honor roll at Andover, although 110 other boys in his class did. He stood out by cracking people up. During his senior year, he put on a top hat and rose to his feet at a weekly school assembly to announce that he was forming a stickball league -- a rebellious digression from the school's hyperserious athletic traditions -- and appointing himself its high commissioner. He named one team the Nads, which predictably led to the testicular game-day exhortation: "GoNads!" Another team was called the Beavers. At Yale, he impressed classmates not with his brains or his brawn but with his bonhomie...

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Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
...where's the beef? both in this fluff chronicle and in the man himself. do you ever feel like you've been swindled?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I must agree completely with the person who rated this book two stars. Too much 'fact' is missing in this sugar-coated book on Mr. George Bush. Example: his careful and calculated omittion in any of his speeches about the leading giant Corporation during the height of the biggest scandal in America. and is this Horrific War a personal vendetta because of the supposed attempt on the Sr. Bush life by Saddam? The many strange people in the make-up of our present administration and many of his past close friends (Enron for one) should tell us much about President George W. Bush.... My father used to say, 'Tell me who you're with, and I'll tell you who you are'...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading this book, one gets the impression of a good-natured, gentle man who just likes to have fun and does not have a mean bone in his body. The book does not address, for instance, the mean-spirited whisper campaign the Bush team launched against John McCain. The book does not address Bush's dirty business dealings - why, for instance, his start up money for his first losing business in Texas needed to be laundered through an offshore company. (See Washington Post article by George Lardner, Jr on July 30, 1999) Nor does the book address Bush's mean-spirited lieutenants, such as Karl Rove and John Ashcroft. In other words, the book paints a superficial image which Bush wants us to believe. The author would have us believe that Bush suddenly grew up on Sep 11. The author does not mention Bush's month-long vacation which could not be interrupted by acting on the warnings he received on August 6. And the ranch. The author says Bush would rather be at his family ranch, which has allegedly been the touchstone of his soul for his entire career. I wonder why the author does not mention that the ranch was built only after Bush won the Presidency, and that the entire thing was designed more as a movie set than a home. So, once again, Bush can portray himself as something he is not. I was disappointed in the book, as you can see. I would like to know the real Bush. How can a man make jokes about a woman who is going to be executed? How can a man be so manipulated by such as Kenny Boy Lay
Guest More than 1 year ago
A well written book by an author who would know President George W. Bush much better than even his own friends. The author has spent bountiful amounts of time as an observer of the President before and especially during his campaign for the high Office and his views of these observations are not politically biased. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what life is like on the campaign trail and what makes President Bush tick. I learned that President Bush is a very wise and clever man who is well aware of his quirky grin and it's misconceptions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Regardless of your political persuasion, Ambling Into History presents our 43rd President in his truest form. The book covers the epic of his campaign in no particular order and cites countless examples of his goofy personality and invaluable charisma, which ultimately led to his spotty election and unlikely beginnings of a great President. ¿Decision 2000¿ will forever be etched in our minds as the struggle between good and evil and depending on your perspective, one that we try to forget. I myself have attempted many times to block out Chris Matthews¿ commentary on the recount ¿down in Florida¿ and multiple incessant interviews about ¿hanging chad.¿ I deshelved this book with the impression it was an analysis of pre-9/11 Bush and post-9/11 Bush and the disparaging difference between. What it revealed instead was the man behind his ¿compassionate conservative¿ campaign. In a recent interview, Tom Brokaw jocularly chided President Bush for occasionally wandering off into a grammatical wilderness. Many of these ¿Bushisms¿ are exemplified in Ambling, which several times forced me to lay the book aside from tearful laughter. ¿When I was coming up,¿ he told a crowd in Council Bluffs Iowa, ¿it was a dangerous world and we knew exactly who the `they¿ were. It was us versus them and it was clear who them was. Today, we¿re not so sure who `they¿ are, but we know they¿re there.¿ And there are plenty more examples. Although many have stamped George W. as an incapable heir to the throne who only got lousy C¿s while studying at Yale, the real man is really rather shrewd and overly aware of his actions and their calibrated intentions. Just when you expect him to fail, he compensates with absolute resolve and enthusiasm. He pays little attention to exacting details but demands the big picture and surrounds himself with highly capable people like Colin Powell, Andy Card and Karen Hughes. Yet until 9/11 Bush eluded a defined political identity. Author Frank Bruni writes: ¿He lacked the churning ambition of Lyndon B. Johnson, the roiling demons of Richard Nixon, the pristine idealism of Jimmy Carter, the ideological certainty of Ronald Reagan, the enormous and self- destructive appetites of Bill Clinton.¿ Ambling serves as an objective critique to the personality of our current President. If you¿re a Bush watcher or enjoy studying the social side of politics, I recommend it for your reading enjoyment.