Customer Reviews: The Bush Tragedy
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on January 25, 2008
In The Bush Tragedy, Jacob Weisberg does what most of President Bush's critics have never tried to do: Take him seriously. In doing so, Jacob paints a devastating portrait of a man haunted by his father, crippled by a fatal lack of curiosity, and driven by ego to pursue aggressive and ill-considered policies. His Bush is not the cartoon of ignorant evil imagined by many of the president's critics, but a deeply complex man whose intellectual and emotional shortcomings have made him a disastrous president. Jacob, who (full disclosure) is a colleague and friend, has unearthed extraordinary new details about Bush's religious conversion, ancestral history, and family dynamics. My favorite bit--check it out on page 90--is an anecdote about how the president, always willing to make his own reality, decided that a painting of a horse thief was actually a portrait of a brave evangelist minister.
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on February 13, 2008
It's hard to know how many books have been written about George W. Bush during the course of his presidency that skewer him on just about everything, but Jacob Weisberg's "The Bush Tragedy" is a welcome addition to that increasing number as the author looks at his subject from a standpoint different from many of the others....his family. Weisberg is dead-on on his assessments of our nation's forty-third president and from that vantage point, we get to know much more about this latest tragedy in a series of family members that were as dysfunctional as they come. And the current president is the worst of them all.

Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, I've always been well aware of the Bush family from the days when "W"'s grandfather, Prescott, served in the U.S. Senate. The Bushes, then, were known as the "respectable" Republicans...the kind that used to be identified with the east coast, and a point well reviewed in this book. Few in town these days want to be associated with the name "Bush" least the Texas kind. As the Bushes moved south and west they developed into another kind of family with George W. Bush taking the family name off the deep end, with the help of religious conservatives. If Bush #41 began a trend of the northeast toward the Democratic party, Bush #43 sealed the deal. Yet as Weisberg points out, "W", who had been a cajoler in his days as Texas governor and did his best to keep the name "Bush" as a uniter, turned out to be a divider as president. This is one of many aspects of "The Bush Tragedy" that Weisberg covers well.

Much of "The Bush Tragedy" features the ginning up of the war in Iraq...Bush's most notable and long-lasting failure. The author's accounts of the president's change of rationale for being in Iraq every eighteen months or so is terrific. Here, the Bush rhetoric comes under some intense scrutiny, all the better to remember those presidential miscues from a few years ago that now seem almost like scenes from another time.

George Bush has claimed to read a good deal of history and counts Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill among his heroes. Weisberg brilliantly deconstructs this and the middle paragraph of a page not far from the end of the book sums up Bush to a tee. "The Bush Tragedy" is the most apt name for a book I've seen in a while. I highly recommend it and credit goes to Jacob Weisberg who reminds us that once in a while a really bad apple inhabits the White House.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 5, 2008
Trying to understand just what has gone wrong over the past 7 years was my motivation for picking up "The Bush Tragedy". To say that I have been disappointed in his presidency would be a gross understatement. In "The Bush Tragedy" author Jacob Weisberg offers up an intimate look at George W. Bush, his family and his inner circle of trusted advisors in an attempt to explain many of this President's ill-advised actions and policy initiatives since 2001. It is fascinating reading.

Throughout "The Bush Tragedy", Weisberg compares George W. to Prince Hal in the Shakespearian play "Henry V". The similarities between the two men are remarkable. It turns out that George W. Bush is a very complex individual whose personality was shaped and formed by a complicated relationship with his father, the former President and his brother Jeb with whom he has been in competition with all of his life. His father's failure to defeat and remove Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and his subsequent defeat at the hands of the despised Bill Clinton in 1992 would leave an indelible mark on Bush 43. He was bound and determined to do things differently if he was elected President. After the disputed election of 2000, George W. would surround himself with a cadre of advisors who were idealogically driven and would ultimately contribute to the undoing of this presidency. This circle would include his political advisor Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to name but a few. Weisberg points to numerous situations after 9/11 where these individuals and others would mislead the President and encourage him to pursue flawed policies including the war in Iraq. These decisions would prove to be the President's undoing. Of course George W. Bush's own lack of intellectual curiosity would contribute mightily to his downfall as well.

I would have to agree with Time political columnist Joe Klein who opined that Jacob Weisberg has written " a scorching, powerful and entirely plausible account of this perverse family saga." After reading "The Bush Tragedy", I feel that I have a much better handle on just what has happened in this country during the Bush 43 years. It really is quite tragic. This is a well-written and highly informative book that is well worth your time. Recommended.
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HALL OF FAMEon January 22, 2008
Weisberg provides a psychological background for Bush '43 and his actions and decisions. The biggest focus is on George W.'s competition with, and efforts to be like his father - Yale graduate, war hero, successful oilman, political leader, and President. We also read (again) about his early drunken years, conflicts with his father, and religious conversion.

Weisberg goes on to provide explanations for why George W. was attracted to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, as well as some of their backgrounds guiding them. Ultimately, Bush '43 sees how Rove's extremism and "take no prisoners" style has burdened his presidency.

Weisberg's book is sympathetic towards Bush '43, and does not pursue some of the more damning actions of his presidency. Nonetheless, he sees the Bush '43 years as a tragedy that will only become darker over the years.
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When I read non-fiction and notice one factual error I wonder a little, and when I find two or more, I worry that what I'm reading is not correct.

Weisberg has Lynne Cheney graduating from University of Colorado; in fact, she (like her two daughters after her) graduated from Colorado College, a private college in Colorado Springs.

Weisberg also writes about Bush reading a biography about John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, the only other father/son set of presidents. He refers to John Adams as being a "two-term President", which is wrong. Adams pere served from 1797 to 1801, one term.

These are facts that Weisberg's fact-checker should have picked up on. I can only wonder what other facts presented are wrong.

This concern is trivial, I know, but it colors my review of what I otherwise consider a very good book. As others above me have noted, Weisberg is for the most part non-judgemental (even though he's a writer for Slate). Weisberg is spot-on in his analysis of George Bush and the ruin his two terms in office have caused our once-great country. He notes the influences, both inside his family, and from outsiders like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, have had on Bush, with devastating consequences for our country and the world.

Weisberg's also a very smooth writer.
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This is a rather unusual book, one that takes a clever approach of seeking to understand Bush Junior in the context of a Shakespearian tragedy, and specifically, Henry V.

Here are my flyleaf notes--this is a totally worthy book by a real professional with insight.

+ Three myths of the House of Bush:

- Made it on my own
- Not really rich
- Running for office to serve the Nation

+ Seven Lessons from the House of Bush

- Treachery of the press
- Importance of moment
- Money before politics
- Primacy of manners
- NE moderates an endangered species
- Don't give up
- Trust only the family

+ The author opens early with his conclusion that George Junior is a Walker (the differences are explained), not a Bush and the rest of the book is a lovely explanation of a family tragedy in three acts:

- ACT I: the loser struggling to be like Dad and failing
- ACT II: success at being different (drunk, boorish, inept, but different)
- ACT III: descent into mesianism (what happens when a village idiot gets the illusion of power)

+ Early on I have a note: national and global catastrophe rooted in a broken family whose black sheep got promoted more than one rung too far. It must gall the second fiddle that his own mother does not like him and thought the Presidency should have gone to Jeb.

+ Despite my extensive reading on the last eight years of high crimes and misdemeanors, this book contains information I have not seen before. The author hits the reader early on with:

- Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice were "enablers" for George Juniors' idiocy (Powell in my view confused loyalty with integrity)
- The second term flame-out was avoidable--Bush had good intentions but Rove held sway

+ The author addresses Bush's faith as false, non-theological, more like "self-help Methodism," using Alcoholics Anonymous meetings instead of church as a group activity.

+ There is a superb discussion of the juxtaposition of Bush's linguistic blunders combined with the manner in which he was gifted at using evangelical and conservative code words.

+ There is fine coverage of George Juniors meanness and overbearing humiliating toward all, Rove in particular, who accepted every humiliation, including the nickname "Turd Blossom."

+ The author summarizes the scandals on Rove's watch: Plume, Katrina, Iraq, firing of prosecutors (I would also add, subversion of Congress in violation of Article one, see Breach of Trust and also Broken Branch).

+ We learn in passing that Rove was abandoned three times:

- By his father who ran away
- By his stepfather who ran away (one of the two was homosexual, I forget which)
- By his mother who committed suicide

+ It was Rove, the author tells us, who pushed privatization of social security. As I review this book there are ads on the radio that seek to communicate that 40% of America's shares are owned by normal people. What they do not tell you, which you can lean in John Bogle's book, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism, is that we are no longer an ownership society, we have abdicated to financial management intermediaries, and they have skimmed one fifth of the value off for themselves, a select few.

+ According to the author it was Rove and not George Junior that pressed for a strategy of demonizing terrorism. The author says Rove destroyed the Bush II presidency with the "catastrophic blunder of politicizing the War on Terror."

+ When the author finally gets around to covering Dick Cheney he casts him perfectly as "Lord Chief Justice" from Henry V, the sycophant who revels in pulling the strings behind the scenes. I have the line, my own interpretation of the author's words, "played Bush like a fiddle."

+ The author asserts that Cheney was not transformed, as Brent Scowcroft believes, but rather finally found an opportunity to exercise his own judgment about the irrelevance of Congress and the need for a unilateral Presidency autonomous from oversight and able to take bold initiatives without consultation. [See One Percent Doctrine for a review of Cheney's mal;feasance going back to the Ford Presidency, in ursurping Presidential power].

+ The author, editor in chief of Slate, observes that the press really missed this about Cheney, his intent focus on expanding Presidential power and dismissing Article 1 of the Constitution.

+ The author reminds us that Cheney went from intern to Chief of Staff of the White House in 6 years, and I cannot help wondering what pathologies came from too much power too soon (see The Pathology of Power - A Challenge to Human Freedom and Safety)

+ Addington receives concise but chilling coverage.

+ Pages 170-171 are a priceless summary of how Cheney

- Managed Bush's mind
- Framed choices
- Accelerated Bush's neurotic shoot from the hip uninformed decision making (while ensuring behind that Cheney's decision was preset or, if necessary, counter-manding the President behind his back after the fact, alleging to others not in a position to question, that President had changed his mind).

+ The author discovered in Lynn Cheney's "Executive Privilege" (evidently no longer carried by Amazon) a telling fictional tale all too real.

+ The section I found most interesting outlined the six phases of Bush Doctrine:

- 1.0 Unipolar Realism (we make reality in our own image)
- 2.0 With us or Against Us
- 3.0 Preemptive attack
- 4.0 Democracy in the Middle East
- 5.0 Freedom Everywhere
- 6.0 No doctrine at all

+ The author surprises me with one defense of Cheney that I consider credible: Cheney truly wanted to vaccinate the entire nation against smallpox because he truly believed the threat existed. I am reminded of Daniel Elsberg who in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers recounts how he warned Henry Kissinger that reliance on Top Secret Codeword information would "make him like a moron, unable to listen to those who actually know."

+ The author tells us that Bush II reads books many of them "but does not know how to think historically." I am reminded of my youngest son, 12 years old, a brilliant wide receiver and first baseman, who at this point can read a book and not remember a thing from the plot.

+ The author ends with a devastating comparison of Winston Churchill, who did outgrow Lord Randolph and make his mark, and George Junior who "in the end, ... failed to be his own man or displace his father." Naturally there is the humiliating irony of proving that his father was right not to have gone on to Baghdad.

I just shake my head wondering how the American people have been so silent. Here are a few other books that round out the catastrophic decrepitude of the Bush-Cheney regime:

Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
A Pretext for War : 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency

Some time a go I wrote a piece on 9/11, "who's to blame," and it boiled down to this: We the People are to blame, for having dropped out of the democracy and abdicated our civic responsibilities. Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors, not least of which was letting 9/11 happen as FDR let Pearl Harbor happen, Congress abdicating its Article 1 responsibilities, the mainstream media refusing $100,000 fully paid ads against the war; a piss-ant like Wolfowitz being able to get away with questioning Shinseki's experience, insight, and honor--all of these are secondary causes and I would hasten to include the "failure of generalship," flag officer who, like Colin Powell, forgot their Oath of Office and confused loyalty with integrity. The prime cause is that we gave our government over to what I now consider to be four organized crime families: the Clintons, the Bushes, the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party.

As McCaffrey said on CNN last night (13 Feb 08), "anyone who votes for an incumbent in 2008 should lose their American citizenship." Tongue in cheek? Perhaps. Relevant and actionable? Absolutely. It's time to abolish this government and start over.
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on January 28, 2008
This is one of the best books about a Presidency in a long time. It is not so much about how Bush JR is obsessed with Bush SR, as some reviews have suggested, but an explanation of how and why Bush JR is like the Walker branch of his family, and his dad is like the Bush branch. It has a lot of new stuff including stunning detail about family politics. It tells us that Bush SR's dad Prescott Bush lived in a house bought by his father-in-law and worked at an investment bank owned by his father-in-law who was a Walker. Bush SR himself got his house in Kennebunkport ME by convincing the Walker widow who owned it to sell it to him. It also appears to show the George H. Walker branch of the family to be deceitful and dishonest (the current one worked at Goldman Sachs).

In other words, although the Bush family seems to sell hardwork and Yankee values, it has really lived on the hog of the Walker side. Bush JR was so obsessed with his richer cousins that he likes their brash style and adopted it for himself.

Of course all the psychoanalysis takes away from the book which reads as well and as seriously as any Presidential biography, even as good as David Mcculloch's John Adams. Few books this year have been so good
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HALL OF FAMEon January 28, 2008
In this very unique book the authro seeks not to assault the Bush administration based on complaints and bias but rather to examine how the Bush administration and his phenomenal team fell on their swords in Iraq and have so far not accomplished much of what they set out. While many Republicans support George Bush there is a very real feeling that he let down the party. The budget has ballooned and libertarians fume at the new powers of the government. Conservatives and Christians are annoyed at the lack of action on a number of promises to them. Isolationists and Paleo-cons can't understand the idealism and neo-cons are annoyed that the ideas haven't worked. In Iraq alone billions has disappeared, a bleak mark on a country that scolds the U.N, rightly, for wasting billions.

So what of this tragedy? The author seeks to understand Bush and his failures from the perspective of psychology and analysis rather than politics and this method and view is refreshing. A stimulating read that many will enjoy whether they are on the right or left. Certainly this book is not run of the mill. The tragedy of the Bush administration will be questioned for years to come.

Seth J. Frantzman
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on February 7, 2008
Bush description reminds me of the three characteristics of the immature personality I read about years ago (28.5) when I came into Alcoholics Anonymous: 1.Inablility to make accurate self appraisal of personal defects 2.Inability to withstand frustration.3. Grandiosity.."His Majesty the Baby". He reminds me of what is known as the "Dry Alcoholic" rather than the more mature state of "Sober Alcoholic".Also,Sick and Dry Alcoholics evaluate themselves on their intentions rather than their effects or results.And they expect you to look at their intentions as well. Wonderful book..I would be so embarassed to be known as a Republican after the mess the Conservatives have made of our country. I will give copies of this book as gifts.
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on May 25, 2010
I have to admit to being apathetic during both of 43's terms in office. I remember in 2004 many of my friends disclosing "If he gets re-elected I'm headed to Canada". I wasn't taking any notice .... After 43 left office I started to see more and more how his legacy is a trail of devastation that will resonate around the world for many years to come.

The Bush tragedy starts by defining one very pointed moment in Bush's two terms when, as passenger, he landed on the deck of the USS Abe Lincoln and came waddling into view in his flight suit. Remembering that moment and delving into Bush, the more relevance that moment has in defining Bush, his politics, his personality and his view towards leading the free world. Basically, "hey look at my crotch".

This book is probably the third or so I've read about the whole farce that was 43, Rove, Cheyney, Rice etc ... and, the overwhelming feeling is one of Bush wasn't really ever at the helm of his presidency other than symbolically.

The Bush Tragedy goes further than the others I've read in so much as it paints a very good picture of the Bush "dynasty" via it's history and melding with the "Walkers". Seems that the off springs all basically did the same thing in their search and quest for "independence". Which becomes apparent as you read through.

"W" seems to have been the laziest in terms of academics and self motivation. Stumbling into most of his life by way of privilege and "unseen" guiding hands (Mainly daddy's). His character is one of zero inquisitiveness, limited intellect and more suited to the ranks of the Armed forces as he's really just one of the boys. What sets him apart though is his overwhelming self-confidence and arrogance. In his mind he doesn't need what it takes to succeed as he just "knows" he knows how to.... some how.

When Mr Rove first met Bush, the sight of Bush in his Texan garb gave Mr Rove a political boner and the relationship that moved and shaped the free world into a tailspin had begun. I think Rove saw 43 as amiable, charismatic and, more importantly, VERY pliable. Rove had the skill to manipulate Bush in a way as to make Bush think he was driving when he was really 3 - 4 rows back.

Another feature of Bush that had Mr's Rove & Cheyney foaming is the fact that once W has made up his mind, either manipulatively or otherwise, he will not waiver and, should popular or public opinion go against him he just digs in deeper. Very powerful for those in the shadows trying to further their own agendas.

You get the feeling George is a sad person in so much as his whole adult life has been about proving himself either To his siblings, his father or pretty much everyone who knew him back in the early days. He really is a privileged nobody kid who, via his connections, gentle patting and nudging, made it to the most powerful spot in the world and then set it all on fire.

Highly recommended.
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