Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The White House's first choice for "The Book on Bush"


The WSJ's Alan Murray had a very interesting article yesterday: Woodward's Portrait Of Bush Nails Down The Man as He Is. Murray sought to explain why Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack is the number one book on the White House's suggested reading list. Note that:

"Rush Limbaugh called it an "anti-Bush, antiwar screed" in The Wall Street Journal. Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution calls it a "deeply disturbing indictment of the president and his policy," while MSNBC's Bill Press says it would cause presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to "win by a landslide" if widely read. It is fast becoming a staple on the Bush-hater's bedside table. According to, those buying "Plan of Attack" also bought John Dean's "Worse than Watergate" and Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them."
All this leads to the obvious question: Why is the "White House giving Mr. Woodward such a warm embrace?"

Some suggest that the Bush administration does not want to repeat the mistake of making another "all-out attack on former U.S. terror adviser Richard Clarke," which only served to increase book sales. "By endorsing Mr. Woodward's [book]" Mr. Murray suggests, perhaps officials think it might "get less attention."

The really interesting part of "Portrait Of Bush" is, as Murray terms it, the simpler explanation:

"This book gets it right. The president is exactly as Mr. Woodward portrays him: a man who judges his counterparts by their character -- he often uses an earthier term -- rather than their intellect. A man so certain of his positions that he loses no sleep to doubts. A man who talks to God about key decisions, but avoids long discussions with advisers who disagree. Love him or hate him, this is the real George W. Bush. And the presidential election of 2004 is less about defining him -- Mr. Woodward has done that very well -- than it is about defining us, the voters who will either re-elect him, or not."
I find that to be an astute observation. But where I disagree with Murray -- where he simply goes off the rails -- is his indictment of Bush's political opponents using a strategy of trying to accurately depict the President as who he is:
"There is a tendency among Mr. Bush's critics to think that if word just gets out -- if Americans find out what he is really like -- they will toss him from office. An example of that kind of thinking slipped onto the front page of Sunday's Washington Post, in a story arguing that the president's "skillful use of language and images" had enabled him to retain high poll numbers despite misadventures in Iraq. The story seemed to suggest that Americans were tricked by clever public relations into supporting Bush and his war.

Hogwash. That's "Blue America" elitism at its worst. By now, all Americans have taken fair measure of their president. And their sharp disagreements have less to do with who he is and what he has done than with who they are and what values they hold. Mr. Bush has become the ultimate Blue America-Red America litmus test. Your response to him determines which side of the great divide you populate.

Here's why I disagree with Alan Murray (for whom I have a wealth of respect): The public doesn't really know this President. This has been the most secretive administration since Nixon. Rove & Co. have displayed an ingenious ability to use misinformation and propaganda. Why do 57% of Americans still believethat Iraq was responsible for 9/11? This degree of prevalent false belief persists, despite Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield admitting Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.

Of course, the fact that the book places all of the WMD blame on CIA Director George Tenet didn't hurt. Indeed, Woodward quotes Bush as initially not buying into the WMD argument: "One of the book's best moments is when the president reacts skeptically to intelligence suggesting Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Tenet shuts the discussion down by rising up, throwing his hands in the air, and saying: "It's a slam-dunk case!"

Whether that actually happened or not is irrelevant to the White House. Bush has boxed in Tenet via Woodward, who has given the President a "fall guy" for the catastrophic failures in intelligence. Any Democrats who question the President's intelligence or political acumen would do well to pay attention to this brilliant bit of manuevering.

Indeed -- number one on the Bush Campaign reading list -- with a bullet . . .

Woodward's Portrait Of Bush Nails Down The Man as He Is
Alan Murray
WSJ, April 20, 2004; Page A4,,SB108302179226194161,00.html

Posted at 06:44 AM in Politics | Permalink


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"The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow." -- Bill Clinton in 1998

Where was Bill getting his information?

Posted by: Shane | Apr 28, 2004 8:59:29 AM

I'm not sure I understand what you are saying: Your comments are off the subject of what I was discussing. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what I (or Alan Murray) wrote about -- the strategies of embracing Woodward (as opposed to attacking Clarke).

Unless you are suggesting that Saddam was responsible for 9/11.

Please clarify . . .

Posted by: Barry Ritholtz | Apr 28, 2004 10:18:53 AM

"Of course, the fact that the book places all of the WMD blame on CIA Director George Tenet didn't hurt."

I should have been clearer about what I was referring to. I believe Bill and GW received their information from the same source. In my humble opinion, to say Tenet is just a convenient "fall guy" isn't accurate.

Posted by: shane | Apr 28, 2004 3:02:26 PM

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