I make it a rule not to write reviews of books I haven’t read. I also do my best to avoid pontificating about them.
But I’m also a Quaker, who follows this rule about rules by the Elders of Balby, which they appended to a long list of rules for Quakers in 1656:
Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.
So in that spirit, here are some comments, not so much about the book, as about a review of the book “Decision Points,” which is just out from our most recent Ex-President, and getting a lot of attention.
Whether or not he fair to the book I can’t say, because I haven’t read “Decision Points.” (Have I been forthcoming enough about that?) Nevertheless, Shivani makes many points about the era of the author’s reign that are undeniably true and important, if mostly unwelcome.
Perhaps the most critical point Shivani makes is here:
“Bush truly was a transformative president, among the rare few, and we deceive ourselves — as many in the commentariat continue to do. . . if we consider him an anomaly, a rare eruption of a virus that won’t repeat itself. This book’s ideas will have resonance with a large segment of the population, and a notable number among the elites; we need to study Decision Points (Crown, Nov. 9) seriously, as onerous a task as it may be, if we are to make sense of the perpetual aura of crisis that has enveloped America, and why we seem to be stuck on a self-destructive path. . . . .” (Emphasis added.)
Transformative indeed, and I don’t mean that as a compliment; neither does Shivani. Another key point is in this quote from the book:
A favorite myth in the liberal press for the past decade. . . has been that Bush was a puppet, and that Cheney, or other dark forces, were the puppet-masters; or that Bush’s Oedipal conflict with his father propelled him to take risks. This myth should be put to rest once and for all with Decision Points. Bush compares himself to Harry Truman, who laid the institutional foundations for the national security state that lasted all through the Cold War. He always saw his mission in comparable terms:
“‘I made it a high priority of my second term to turn those tools into institutions and laws that would be available to my successors.’” (emphasis added.)
My comment: and as we have seen with Obama, regrettably, his successor has fully availed himself of these repressive institutions, and shows no inclination to roll back any but the barest few (e.g., Obama banned “torture,” but there’s growing evidence it continues under a more effective cloak of secrecy).
The review continues:
“Just as Truman is still with us, more than sixty years after the inauguration of the national security state, Bush will be with us for the duration of this indefinite war. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was the primary creator of the perpetual-war state. . . .”
I don’t know if I can muster the fortitude to read “Decision Points.” But Shivani’s review has repeated some necessary truths about Bush’s impact that can’t be ignored, whether or not we read his book that revels in this reality.