When George W. Bush was president, his communications with his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, rarely involved national policy. Instead, his father liked to send corny jokes to buoy his son’s spirits. But he couldn’t send them by computer. His son, while president, didn’t use email. So his father would email the jokes to a White House aide, who would bring them to the Oval Office.
In 2007, one of the emails related the tale of an 80-year-old man who had been arrested for shoplifting. Asked by the judge what he had stolen, the man said, “a can of peaches.” How many peaches were in the can? the judge asked. Told there were six, the judge sentenced the man to six days in jail. Then the man’s wife spoke up: “He stole a can of peas, too.”
This episode tells you more than you might suspect about the senior Bush, America’s 41st president—about, for instance, his self-deprecating sense of himself in his ninth decade. And it’s an example of why the book about him by his son, the 43rd president, is such a joy to read.
Not that “41: A Portrait of My Father” fails to discuss presidential matters. As his son’s narrative shows, Bush senior emphasized personal relations with foreign leaders. In 1989, he invited French President François Mitterrand to the Bush family retreat at Kennebunkport, Maine. His “cultivation” of Mitterrand “paid off,” Mr. Bush says, when France supported the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein ’s army from Kuwait in 1991. As President Reagan’s vice president, Bush senior was an early advocate of negotiating with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. After meeting Mr. Gorbachev, he “reported back that he felt the President could forge a unique working relationship with Mr. Gorbachev,” the son writes. His father was “a master of personal diplomacy.”
For a brief moment last week, The Scrapbook felt a twinge of compassion for President Obama. The setting was Berlin. Readers will remember the extraordinary (and extraordinarily peculiar) sight in 2008 of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking to a throng of 200,000 worshipful Berliners in the Tiergarten. No American candidate had ever before campaigned in a foreign country—especially one where spectacles of mass enthusiasm revive instructive memories.
Dallas President Obama is not known for his graciousness. But the occasion—the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum—called for kind words about his predecessor in the White House. So he said that if immigration reform passes Congress this year, “it will be in large part thanks to all the hard work of the president, George W. Bush.” Bush had “restarted” the drive to overhaul our immigration system seven years ago, Obama said.
On Wednesday night, former president Bill Clinton assured us that nobody could have managed the Great Recession better than Barack Obama. He compared Obama’s tenure to the period between 1993 and 1996, when the economy was recovering but people were not yet feeling it. He assured us that, soon enough, we will feel this recovery.
In happier times, the firm had been celebrated as a harbinger of the future. The political connections it enjoyed were the fruit not only of well-placed contributions but of a self-imposed ideological mission: It was going to deliver cheap energy in amazing ways. Top executives had dismissed accounting irregularities. The normal rules, it was said, did not apply.
Whether he wins the nomination or not, Rick Perry’s August charge into the top echelon of GOP presidential hopefuls marks at least this turning point: In national Republican politics, Texas is the new California.
Right after Easter, the irrepressible evangelical-left activist Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine announced a new “spiritual battle” against cuts to sacred federal programs in the 2012 budget. Enlisting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Salvation Army, Wallis proclaimed their “Circle of Protection” around federal poverty programs.
Former President George W. Bush recently gave a speech before a business group meeting in Houston, Texas. In the speech, he explained how he came to endorse bailouts for financial companies, auto companies, etc., toward the end of his term. He said that his personal inclination was to avoid bailouts – that if people or companies do imprudent things they need to suffer the consequences – including bankruptcy. He felt our system depended on that.