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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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on November 3, 2017
In the spring of 1991 following the Gulf War George Bush had an approval rating of 91 percent and looked about as safe a bet for reelection as one could imagine. Few of us who were of age back then foresaw what followed: Bush getting a paltry three in eight votes in the presidential election of 1992 eighteen months later and an unexpected early retirement. John Podhoretz chronicles some of the organizational problems in the administration that he thought led to Bush becoming a one-term president in "Hell of a Ride."

Podhoretz provides a look at working for an administration that few ever see or read about, showing what government work is like for mid- and low-level staffers, not those in Cabinet or other high-level positions. The work atmosphere was great indeed in early-to-mid 1991 after the war, but in the fall incidents began to occur that appeared to portend defeat and suggest that all was not well with the Bush presidency.

Bush began to be depicted more than ever as being out-of-touch, and the book notes how a chief executive can grow to be insufficiently attuned to what is actually going on in the country over the course of a presidential term. The author discusses some of the workings of the Bush administration that made it fairly unique and the differences in how it handled domestic and foreign policy.

Podhoretz opines that the lack of a strong domestic agenda and organizational chaos were strong contributors to Bush's 1992 defeat. However, this is not as likely as is commonly assumed. Had the recession arrived in 1989 and not 1990, the downturn would have been complete in the first half of Bush's term and recognized by everyone as well and over by November 1992, and Bush would have won anyway, with or without a strong domestic agenda.

Apart from the Interstate Highway System, Dwight Eisenhower had no strong domestic agenda for 1956, and after his 1994 midterm rebuke Bill Clinton had an exceedingly thin domestic agenda for 1996; both won easily. "In-box" presidents do not end up being considered among our greatest, but they do frequently fall into a range somewhere between decent and above average, as Bush and Eisenhower did (and as Tom Dewey and Mitt Romney likely would have had they been elected).

The author touches on the fall campaign, noting how liberalism and the Democratic Party and how conservatism and the Republican Party arrived at the points where they were in 1992. He describes the effect of the Bush presidency on the GOP and avows (in a book written in 1993!) the burden that being a Republican already was even way back then.

"Hell of a Ride" was written in the aftermath of the Bush defeat and has the sense of immediacy one would expect as a result. Time and perspective have changed how Americans look at the presidency of Bush Sr. in the quarter-century since, and 41: Inside the Presidency of George H. W. Bush is a more academic book that offers superb analysis that comes from the needed perspective that the passage of so much time provides. Both books are worthwhile, and while much of what is written in "Hell of a Ride" seems dated from the perspective of 2017, it is still worth reading as a snapshot-in-time evaluation of the country's last one-term presidency.
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on July 9, 2009
The most perplexing political question of my life is how in 1988, right after the Iran-Contra scandal, Republicans nominated Vice President George Bush for the presidency. Was everyone else seeking the party nomination even worse, or was it that the G.O.P. thought Bush, despite his shortcomings, just had the best chance of winning? That the vice president won the '88 presidential election was mainly due to Republican operatives making the electorate think it had to choose between Bush and not Democrat Michael Dukakis but, rather, felon Willie Horton.

The stain of Iran-Contra notwithstanding, politically George Bush only got as far as he did by appointment, not election, the John Podhoretz book HELL OF A RIDE reminds us. Before becoming Ronald Reagan's 1981-89 vice president, the only elections Bush won were two terms as a Texas congressman, serving from 1966 to 1970. After losing his 1970 race for the United States Senate to Lloyd Bentsen, Bush spent the next seven years as a selection to:

- Ambassador to the United Nations (1971-1974);

- Special Envoy to China (1974-1975);

- Republican National Chairman (1975-1976); and

- Central Intelligence Agency Director (1976-1977)

The son of a United States Senator, George Bush was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. However, without Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford keeping him in high places, Bush was out of public work by 1977. As if he didn't get the hint, in 1980 Bush sought the Republican nomination for president only to have Ronald Reagan upend him. It was back to appointments for Bush as Reagan selected him to be his running mate.

Having Ronald Reagan pick him off third base in 1980 was not enough of a lesson for George Bush, and with Willie Horton's black magic helping, in 1988 Bush actually managed to win the presidency. But as HELL OF A RIDE recounts, in 1992 the clock struck midnight and Bush found himself riding a pumpkin as Bill Clinton sailed past him. With no one to direct him, President George Bush proved the captain of a rudderless White House ship, and the public was not to give him another four years to finally steer toward a destination, the book says.

Read HELL OF A RIDE.
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on May 29, 2013
A lot of insider information in this book. Someone familiar with the Washington environment will probably have a greater appreciation for much of what is described in this book but for this outsider it is still not a bad read. It does leave me shaking my head and going, "no wonder our country is in such a mess."
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on December 26, 2002
Finding books about the first Bush Presidency is not that easy so when I came upon this one I gave it a shot. I knew that the author is a conservative columnist so I was expecting a rather right leaning account, but I was wrong. Either Bush put the authors wife in jail, took away his kids or killed his dog because the level of dislike he has from all things Bush is really something. Reading this book was like watching a boxing match were one guy just keeps getting hit, the author kept the zingers coming from everything from domestic policy issues to haircuts.
The book is not a all encompassing overview of the Bush years. It is an interesting and well written account of an inside the administration view from that second or third tear seats. The author found smart and funny comments on all topics and never were there dull spots in the book. Overall the book is great, my only complaint was that it was not longer.
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VINE VOICEon October 7, 2002
"Hell of a Ride" may not, from the standpoint of history, be the equivalent of Henry Kissinger's memoirs. But it's still, for my money, one of the most useful, insightful, and entertaining looks at the political and psychological makeup of the Bush (41) White House.
Podhoretz is especially good on the tensions between the true-blue Reaganite holdovers and the "moderate," "pragmatic" Bushies -- tensions that not only tore at the Bush presidency but at the GOP as a whole. 41 himself emerges as a man who was, if anything, too nice a guy for the presidency. His insistence, post-election, that OEOB staffers take down a large sign declaring (prophetically?) "We'll be back!" so as not to display "poor sportsmanship" is a fascinating contrast, viewed a decade later, with the GAO's evidence of vandalism carried out by departing Clinton staffers.
Podhoretz writes with flair, energy, and a good eye for both politics and comedy. Go ahead and read Baker and Scowcroft for the nitty-gritty. Podhoretz has the atmosphere.
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on February 4, 2017
Very good.
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on October 23, 1998
This is such a great book, full of the rage that only comes from betrayal. The surprise is the humor; how many political books are laugh out loud funny? The last chapter is chilling, and the strongest piece ever written on why Bush was rejected, and why he deserved to be rejected
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on July 9, 2000
John Podhoretz has written a good account of the Bush White House, from his perspectifve as a junior level staffer. An entertaining look at the decline and fall of a one-term President.
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