I believe that Bush was so far from deserving the [honorary] degree [that Yale conferred on him at the 2001 commencement] that in the years to come Yale alumni familiar with Bush’s “accomplishments” will be as amazed as I was chagrined and embarrassed that in the year 2001 our alma mater conferred such an honor on such a man.President Lewin didn't contradict that assessment1.
And neither, apparently, does George W. Bush himself, if his recent book is any evidence. I of course haven't read Decision Points, but my wife had told me, "There's a review of Bush's book in The New Yorker, I think you need to read it." She added, "The review, not the book."
I said, "I understood what you meant."
She said, "I would never read anything by that man. But I think you'll like the review."
The review is "Dead Certain," by George Packer. He writes:
What's remarkable about Decision Points is how frequently and casually it leaves out facts, large and small, whose absence draws more attention than their inclusion would have. In his account of the 2000 election, Bush neglects to mention that he lost the popular vote. He refers to the firing, in 2002, of his top economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, but not to the fact that it came immediately after Lindsey violated the Administration's optimistic line by saying that the Iraq war could cost as much as two hundred billion dollars....Packer says "what's remarkable" as though there's nothing else remarkable about Decision Points, but I attribute that to a momentary lapse by both the writer and his editor at The New Yorker. There's at least one thing even more remarkable than that:
The structure of Decision Points, with each chapter centered on a key issue...reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all....I probably didn't "need" to read the review, but at least it served to remind me that I should be grateful that George W. Bush's uncritical evangelism played a helpful role in the progress of my thought from uncertainly theistic to confidently atheistic.
In Bush's telling, the non-decision decision is a constant feature of his Presidential policymaking....
...Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them. If there was an honest and legitimate argument on the other side, then the President would have to defend his non-decision, taking it out of the redoubt of personal belief and into the messy empirical realm of contingency and uncertainty. So critics of his stem-cell ban are dismissed as scientists eager for more government cash, or advocacy groups looking to "raise large amounts of money," or Democrats who saw "a political winner."
Bush ends Decision Points with the sanguine thought that history's verdict on his Presidency will come only after his death. During his years in office, two wars turned into needless disasters, and the freedom agenda created such deep cynicism around the world that the word itself was spoiled. In America, the gap between the rich few and the vast majority widened dramatically, contributing to a historic financial crisis and an ongoing recession; the poisoning of the atmosphere continued unabated; and the Constitution had less and less say over the exercise of executive power. Whatever the judgments of historians, these will remain foregone conclusions.
- Of course, in President Lewin's need not to offend anyone who might donate money to Yale, he didn't indicate whether he agreed or didn't agree with my assessment of Bush.