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The Bush Presidency in One Line

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Former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer has a searing look at the final days of the Bush White House in this month's GQ. It begins in the moments at the bottom of the financial crisis, when serious people were saying things like "the economy is about to collapse." George W. Bush needs to do something. So he does...something.

After Chris, Jonathan Horn, and I learned about the president’s $700-billion-bailout proposal and drafted the remarks announcing it to a stunned nation, Ed said the president wanted to see us in the Oval Office. The president looked relaxed and was sitting behind the Resolute desk. He felt he’d made the major decision that everyone had been asking for. That always seemed to relax him. He liked being decisive. Excuse me, boldly decisive. The president seemed to be thinking of his memoirs. “This might go in as a big decision,” he mused.

“Definitely, Mr. President,” someone else observed. “This is a large decision.”

The problem is that Bush didn't understand his own proposal. He thought it bought low to sell high. He wanted that in the speech. Instead, it bought high to recapitalize failing banks. Eventually, this is explained to him. And he replies with a line that should serve as the epitaph for his presidency. “Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.

Helluva question, Georgie.

Photo credit: By Pablo Martinez Monsivais — Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  September 15, 2009; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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Next: A Number Is Worth a Thousand Words

Comments

And yet Steven Pearlstein and your other Post colleagues insist that this action was key to saving modern civilization.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 15, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

a good article....you could laugh and cry at the same time, while reading it.
.......it was like having laurel and hardy running the entire country.

Posted by: jkaren | September 15, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

it did buy low to sell high. sort of. we'll get some of the money back, anyways.

Posted by: jfcarro | September 15, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

At least, so far, GWB has had the common decency to stay out of sight, not make public remarks, and be generally invisible.

I wonder if he and Cheney ever speak to each other.

I'd luv to see them both in the docket in some foreign or international court facing the prosecutors and judges, as at Neurenberg.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 15, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Did anyone involved in TARP really understand it? I doubt it.

However, how appallingly stupid the 43rd president was, if he signed a massive entitlement program without understanding the details.

Clearly, from 2000 - 2008, our country had no rudder. No leader. No thought behind any of the actions we took. (Thanks Justice Scalia!)

The age of Bush coincides with the American lost decade....

Posted by: anne3 | September 15, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The MBA president. A guy who failed at 3 businesses and as a "partner" of the TX Rangers and was bailed out by the taxpayers of Arlington TX for a new stadium.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | September 15, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

"The age of Bush coincides with the American lost decade...."

It'll be interesting if the unpersoning of Bush over the past year by Republicans ("Bush Who?") turns into an actual denunciation of the man as a betrayer of True Conservate Values.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 15, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I read the entire GQ article. Among many other inescapable conclusions, it's pretty clear Matt Latimer has decided to leave conservative speechwriting behind. Scorched earth and burned bridges come to mind...

Posted by: jslamen | September 15, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I suppose in a way this indicates the neutralizing of the 9-11 powerbase.

Prior to that pivotal event Bush was portrayed in political cartoons as a child with a short attention span, while "Mr. Cheney" took care of the dull, adult things.

Without that terrible event in 2001 Bush by 2004 would certainly have been running on the "competence" issue, trying to demonstrate that his laughing-stock administration wasn't the most incompetent in decades, and that he himself wasn't some kind of simpleton.

Posted by: rosshunter | September 15, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I just finished the article, and my God, this guy was Bush's speechwriter? He writes like a sixth grader with a book of clichés for a thesaurus. Given the incompetence of Bush's other appointments, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

Posted by: tbomb | September 15, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Without defending George W. Bush, I think it's important to note that whenever a president departs from his deliberative executive role and instead assumes the unconstitutional role of legislator-in-chief, part of the beauty of American republicanism disappears and the system begins to resemble a monarchy. Usually, decisions which appear foolish and which are, at best, unsustainable, result. One aspect of the American form of government is that the people can ultimately, even though not immediately, overrule the decisions of a president, a congress, and the courts simply by electing a sufficient number of legislators; nevertheless, some folks have always (and perhaps will always) favor a monarchy, even if such a monarchy is led by a fool.

Having said that, I can imagine the disillusionment of White House speech writers, Court clerks, and Congressional aides. I'd imagine that "explaining The View to a group of 65-year-old white Republican men" is often not the most difficult task ("He [then-President George W. Bush] told us he’d gotten an earful from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Speaker had yelled at him for fifteen minutes and expressed her view that the president’s speech was a mistake and would screw up their deal."). I don't think I'd have been comfortable trying to explain President Johnson's decision to commit additional draftees to the longest war in American history, just as I wouldn't have been comfortable trying to work the word fellatio into a speech by President Clinton. But I also don't think I'd feel justified in writing a tell-all book or article, at least until a respectable period of time had passed.

Posted by: rmgregory | September 15, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

America will never recover from George Bush. NEVER. Poor Barack Obama. So talented, so optimistic, so visionary, but his whole presidency will be derailed by the irreversible damage that this "president" inflicted on the country. And it won't change for many years to come.

Posted by: impikk | September 15, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, if you read a little more of the book, it's clear that Ezra is picking and choosing his excerpts in order to mislead his readers. Here's what the author actually says:

"It wasn’t that the president didn’t understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn’t seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three."

Ezra's not letting the facts stand in the way of a good sound bite.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 15, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

"Helluva question, Georgie."

Why "Georgie"? This is dumb stuff.

Posted by: J_Whick | September 16, 2009 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Use your brains people!
It takes more than one president (administration) and eight years to "irreversibly damage" a strong and powerful country as the U.S; so no worries, your new "visionary" (gives me goose bumps), optimistic, smart and talented president will fix everything! The president (Obama)who apologizes to terrorists for All The Evil done by America; who calls totalitarianism DEMOCRACY...does he sound like a president of the U.S of America?? Next election isn't that far away, watch who you vote for!

Posted by: eurotechauto | September 16, 2009 1:25 AM | Report abuse

J_Whick - "Helluva question, Georgie," is almost certainly a reference to W's infamous "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job," line in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The quote is often remembered simply as "Heckuva job, Brownie."

So, not dumb stuff if you catch the reference.


Posted by: David_StHubbins | September 16, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

The MBA President.

Ah well. Molly Ivins warned us. We didn't listen. There's nothing here she didn't observe in Shrub's character back in 2000. She provided the history and context; pretty much everything that followed was consistent with it.

His MBA? Maybe Harvard can tell us how that happened. By now we all know little it meant. Ivins told us ten years ago: Shrub's business history is insider connections, trading on his name, failing at business after business, and getting bailed out and handed more money. Turned out that did not remotely qualify him to be President.

Posted by: jpk1 | September 16, 2009 7:36 PM | Report abuse

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