Three questions people kept asking me when I told them I was reading George W. Bush’s Decision Points:
– “Why?” My answer: I was eleven years old when Bush was elected, and he was our president through most of my teen years. I barely remember Clinton. Bush’s presidency ultimately shaped my political views, and it resulted in my fascination with learning more about the American political system.
– “I didn’t know he could write. Can he?” My answer: Well, technically, he can. He wrote a book. His technique is limited and it’s not profound by any measure, but it’s a book. I’d like to say, “It’s not like he was Harvard educated!” But he was. Not as a writer, though!
– “Is it any good?” My answer: I didn’t hate it.
Bush’s Decision Points offsets much of the vitriol directed at him during his eight-year presidency. Rather than filling the 477 pages of his memoir with disparaging remarks about his critics in the media or the Democratic Party, he explains, sometimes humorously, the triumphs and failures of his decisions. He reflects upon his judgments, the media’s portrayal of him, and controversial topics. Though there are portions of the book that are defensive, he is highly self-critical and explains where he could have made better choices. Decision Points is, for the most part, chronological, but the focus of this memoir is chronicling how he dealt with expected and unanticipated events. He does this in fourteen chapters: Quitting; Running; Personnel; Stem Cells; Day of Fire; War Footing; Afghanistan; Iraq; Leading; Katrina; Lazarus Effect; Surge; Freedom Agenda; Financial Crisis.
For Bush critics, many of the chapters should be of interest. His chapters “Stem Cells”, “Katrina”, and “Financial Crisis” were particularly interesting. After reading such chapters, it is clear the president is held accountable for events out of his control. For example, in “Katrina” Bush explains that the 1988 Stafford Act places direct responsibility of natural disasters at the local and state levels. This requires the governor of any given state to request aid from the federal government, and in the case of Louisiana, the local officials did not make any request. With the inefficiency of the local government, Bush wanted to send federal troops to Louisiana, but another law, the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, prevented him. Ultimately, Bush deployed federal troops without law enforcement authority, but the delay in his action was greatly criticized.
Bush’s memoir does not serve as an apology for those seeking it. He does write, however, “I believe I got some of those decisions right, and I got some wrong” (476). For a presidency that some view as a “failure”, Bush tries to clarify his decisions surrounding the circumstances of events such as 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, and the financial meltdown.