Earlier this week I finished reading Decision Points, George W. Bush's book.
Two things struck me while reading this book:
1. President of the U.S. is a full-time, nonstop job. You don't get a vacation, even when you are purportedly "on vacation." Every day there are briefings, phone calls, and decisions to make. This goes on all day long. It's mind boggling, and one wonders if it is a job one person can even handle anymore, given the state of the world. In fact, Newsweek has an article on that topic in this week's issue. (The one with the ridiculous picture on the cover of Obama as a Hindu god.)
2. Hindsight is always 20/20, and it's easy to criticize when you aren't the one who has to make the decision. However, the fact is that the President has to make the hard decisions, and thus the President gets blamed when his decision turns out to be wrong. I think we all have to take a leap of faith at times and accept that the President is privy to more information than we are, and that the President is doing what he thinks is the best thing to do. That's why he (or hopefully someday, she) got elected in the first place. I'll try not to be a hypocrite on this point going forward.
The book is a good read, and Bush explains pretty clearly why he did the things he did, to the extent that he can without releasing classified information. He covers most of the major issues of his Presidency -- 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, stem cell research, etc. I feel like I have better knowledge of him and why he did the things he did after reading it. I also think he was a pretty good leader and an intelligent man, despite what the polls say.
There were some things I learned that impressed me:
1. He personally wrote a letter to every family who lost a child/spouse/parent in Afganistan/Iraq while he was in office. This amounted to over 5,000 letters.
2. In Thanksgiving 2003, he made a surprise trip to visit the troops in Afghanistan that was so secret many of the secret service agents at his ranch in Texas didn't even know he'd left. It was a dangerous trip for him to take at that time, given what was going on with the war, but he wanted to go.
3. I hadn't realized the true extent of his work in treating and eliminating AIDS in Africa. He is an extremely compassionate and caring person. In some ways this explains why he was so utterly offended with Kanye West's statements about him being a racist in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
4. He accepted the blame for a lot of things that weren't really his fault because he recognized that he should. (Again, for example, Hurricane Katrina and Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin's failings in that department.)
5. He did make a lot of efforts to reach across the aisle, but on some things he just wasn't going to fold. I do have respect for that.
All in all, it was a good read, and I highly recommend it, particularly if you are a person who hated Bush.
I also recently read In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect which was pretty fascinating. A lot of good tidbits and gossip about some of the Presidents and their families, as well as an inside look into the Secret Service organization. (Apparently I'm now in my "political book phase.")