Sunday, December 12, 2010

Decision Points

BUSH, GEORGE W. Decision Points. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-307-59061-9. Pp. 497. $35.00.

I was expecting George W. Bush's book to be a memoir. It's not. It's the justification of a bad former president for making bad decisions. None of which were actually bad, or even erroneous, according to Bush. As long as you surround yourself with the right kind of people, all of whom already agree with you, no decision you make can be bad.

The book is structured strangely. The first hundred pages sum up Bush's life, leaving out anything of significance, like 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Hurricane Katrina. The biggies all get their own chapters later on. Still, all the personal soul-searching is left to the first chapter, which starts with an alcohol problem, digresses into childhood, college, marriage, and children, and finally returns to the decision to quit drinking and turn to the bible. Because this turns out to be the most personal chapter in the book, its lack of personality stands out the most. Whoever wrote this, assuming it wasn't really Bush, is young. Like, twenty-something year old young. I'm making this guess namely because of the college entrance essay language that poisons this chapter and the rest of the book. Here's Bush's one paragraph on attending business school at Harvard: "I came away with a better understanding of management, particularly the importance of setting clear goals for an organization, delegating tasks, and holding people to account. I also gained the confidence to pursue my entrepreneurial urge." And his college experience at Yale seems to be based off of the course catalog. By the end of the chapter, it really doesn't feel like giving up drinking held all that much at stake after all.

What does become more and more abundantly clear after the hundred-page mark is that not many decisions are actually going to be made, in the sense that the man deliberated over the issue before coming to a conclusion. He came to a conclusion, allowed others to deliberate in favor of that conclusion, and then acted upon said conclusion. In the case of stem cell research, in which his decision is led mainly by faith, the ends does not justify the means. Using available embryos to conduct important scientific research (or, as he puts it, "destroying" embryos), does not balance out morally. In a later chapters, on the other hand, torture is a means justified by the end. And while Bush is opposed to "destroying" embryos, he is in favor of "sacrificing" troops.

I shouldn't have thrown out the word "torture" in that last paragraph, especially since CIA experts said that the interrogation techniques we used do not constitutionally count as torture. In the 1950's, psychologists performed a series of experiments in pursuit of finding out how and why the Nazi regime and its death camps could have happened.  Regular American test subjects showed that if a man with the lab coat and clip board says it's okay to give an electric shock to a guy with heart problems, then it's okay to give an electric shock to a guy with heart problems. I'm not calling Bush a Nazi, but ignoring human decency in favor of the words of "experts" does not make for reassuring reading. Then again, none of Decision Points makes for reassuring reading. So let's just be happy the man's out of the White House.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry in advance, that this comment doesn't address many of the points you made in your review. I wanted to read it all, I swear, but see, my solar-powered laptop ran out of juice while I was reading only the second paragraph in the Whole Foods cafe. All the seats by the sunny windows were taken, so I threw the computer in my 100% recycled bag and rode one of those public yellow bikes over to this fair-trade cafe downtown to try to charge it. There, though, their triple-paned insulated heat-saving windows didn't let enough light pass through, so I still couldn't finish your post. I didn't have time to go home and plug it in, because on Wednesdays I volunteer at Planned Parenthood, and besides, I donated my cord to somebody who needed it more.