Oprah awaits as tour brings Bush back into public after two years

Rupert Cornwell
Tuesday 09 November 2010 01:00

Less than two years after he left the White House as one of the least-loved presidents of modern times, George W Bush is back in the limelight – as the author of memoirs that promise to be America's publishing event of 2010.

Decision Points is unlikely immediately to transform the reputation of a leader who took the US into two wars and found himself, as he puts it, "blindsided" by the most devastating economic crisis since the 1930s. Even so, its launch has been orchestrated with a lavishness and meticulousness befitting a book with a print run of 1.5 million copies, that commanded an advance rumoured to run to eight figures.

The first drum roll came last night with an interview on NBC television. This morning the 43rd president kicks off a national book tour by signing copies at a shopping mall near his home in Dallas, before an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show this afternoon.

As a historical document, Decision Points breaks little new ground. The Bush that emerges is familiar: a leader for whom the supreme attribute is an ability to make up his mind, who prides himself on making judgements by gut instinct, rather than after a lengthy perusal of the facts. "Dubya" comes across as a nice guy and one of the boys, incurious and defiantly anti-intellectual.

"This is going to come as quite a shock to people... that I can write a book, much less read one," Mr Bush told friends a few months ago, in one of those garbled sentences known as Bushisms. In fact, he didn't exactly write it; that task fell to 28-year-old Christopher Michel, a former speechwriter, known to the former president as "Junior Bird Man".

As the title suggests, Decision Points is structured somewhat differently to the conventional political autobiography. It focuses on a dozen crucial moments, starting when he kicked alcohol at the age of 40, continuing through his decision to seek the presidency, the 9/11 attacks, and the war to topple Saddam Hussein. But it may be summed up in two words: no regrets.

The book's publication marks Mr Bush's first sustained return to the public arena since the end of his time in office. Even those who considered him an unsuccessful president have praised his conduct as a private citizen. Unlike Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, he has refrained from criticising the record of his successor Barack Obama. Indeed, he has praised Mr Obama's "calm demeanour" at a White House meeting on the bank bailout package in 2008.

And he has shown few signs of intending his public life to extend beyond the shelf-life of his memoir. In contrast to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, he appears quite happy to be a relatively inactive ex-president. Golf and dog-walking appear his favourite pastimes. Mr Bush's next big project is his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, whose ground-breaking ceremony takes place on Saturday.

Indubitably, Americans now look less unkindly on him. According to a Gallup poll in July, 45 per cent had a favourable opinion of him, well above Mr Bush's 34 per cent approval rating when he left office, not to mention the all-time low of 25 per cent at the peak of the financial crisis in October 2008.

Publication of his memoirs was delayed to avoid giving Democrats ammunition ahead of last week's Congressional midterm elections. That did not stop them running against Mr Bush's record – and much good it did them. Memories here are short, while history tends to burnish presidential reputations.

Ronald Reagan, once famously described as "an amiable dunce", is now regarded as one of the most successful 20th-century presidents. Mr Bush's father is increasingly admired, and the odd nice word is to be heard even about Richard Nixon. To read the second Bush, however, he doesn't care how contemporary judges view him.

"Whatever the verdict on my presidency, I'm comfortable with the fact that I won't be around to hear it," he writes. "That's a decision point only history will reach."

George Bush on...

Hurricane Katrina

'As the leader of the federal government, I should have recognized the deficiencies sooner and intervened faster'


'[I regret that] we did not respond more quickly or aggressively when the security situation started to deteriorate after Saddam's fall'


'Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al-Qa'ida leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked'

Abu Ghraib

'I had no idea how graphic or grotesque the photos would be'

Donald Rumsfeld

'There was no way I was going to let a group of retired officers bully me into pushing out thecivilian Secretary of Defense'

The Credit Crisis

'We were blindsided by a financial crisis that had been more than a decade in the making'


'Barney [his dog] spotted our neighbor's lawn, where he promptly took care of his business. There I was, the former president of the United States, picking up that which I had been dodging for the past eight years'

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments