41, the book

forty one 3

I was genuinely looking forward to reading “41: A Portrait of My Father.” But about halfway through the book I couldn’t escape just what a flat read it was. This likely reflects one of the greater weaknesses of 43. He simply doesn’t have the capability, or maybe the desire, to be self-reflective and questioning. He rightly mocks those who want him to go the route of pyschobabble, exploring every hidden nook and cranny of the father-son relationship. That said, W almost always seems to go to the other extreme, writing in platitudes.

 

Another aspect of the book that actually struck me as a bit troubling was 43 departing from the story of 41 to justify some of his decisions during two terms as the President. The book’s tone jarringly went from a loving narrative by George W, attempting to provide a larger, almost transcendent perspective to his father’s life, to a defense of his own policies. This would have been better left unwritten. His critics are not magically going to see the light. And part of this is because he is never going to allow a true exploration of where he made mistakes.

 

But “41” does have its fair share of inside glimpses into what is an American dynasty. As everyone knows and accepts, the book is not a balanced view of George H. W. Bush. Rather, it’s like comfort food for the soul of America. We see all the wise choices and gentility of 41. It is remarkable how he plotted his course and was so well versed in exactly those areas in which the world was changing most. He was a diplomat in China, the Ambassador to the United Nations, a congressman and the chairman of the GOP. He cultivated lasting personal relationships of the inside-baseball type so essential to raising funds and being elected. But his personal relationships extended well beyond the borders of this countrty.

 

He was ideally positioned as China began its ascent. He already knew the key players there. The ties he developed at the UN provided one of the largest coalitions ever when he would later ask countries to join the fight to take Kuwait back from Saddam Hussein. But possibly his wisest move was not making a move. When the Berlin Wall fell, many politicians and many in the media wanted President Bush to join in the chest-thumping celebration. But he realized, as he said, how “dumb” that would be. He knew it would be rubbing salt in the wound of the nationalist forces in a shaky part of the world. If you win, win with grace and silence for there are the vanquished whose world has been shattered. They will need to be welcomed into the fold and nurtured. One gets the feeling, 41 has acted with this grace and compassion his entire life and in every type of situation.

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