Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Review: What Happened

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception

Oh, Scotty boy.

The book he wrote was ABOUT interesting things, and that's why it's got three stars. I also appreciated his general handling of Iraq - it made me think about the whole long-term implications of the region slightly differently. The writing style was mediocre. He tries to be a somewhat dispassionate narrator, but ends up just being mostly boring. I listened to it on audiobook, and Scott himself narrated it. His vocal style is very George W. Bush-esque, and that got a little grating.

But I think the main issue I had was the content. Scott tries to paint Bush as this bipartisan, honest Texas governor who got to the White House pledging to root out the political way DC runs, and was taken down by his advisers, some personality quirks, and the 'permanent campaign' of the Bush White House, Congress, and the press, who likes to 'pick on people.'

First - I'll trust Molly Ivans' interpretation of Governor Dubya over your wool-covered eyes, Scott. Bush was a horrible governor, who didn't have to do much, and what he did do, he made worse. Trying to whitewash him as this great leader is a convenient trope that allows you to set yourself up as a betrayed non-prodigal son later in the book. There's a reason more people voted for (then) boring old Al Gore than your amazing boss - he was awful then, and he was awful as President.

Second - DC takes many queues from how the White House is run. And how the people who work there interact with the press and the national constituency. You were part of that, and while you take some responsibility, there was nothing keeping you from speaking up at the meetings you say you felt you had to remain silent at, or going to the press back then.

Also - the national press's major fault is trying to find conflict in issues where there might not actually be conflict, because they want interesting stories. They weren't just trying to 'pick on' you - your actions, and the actions of the White House you took flak for, were actually that bad. It wasn't unfair bullying. There was just so much the WH had to answer for, and the press was treated with such disdain, that I'm sure it started to feel one sided. Most of the time I would wonder why they weren't hitting you more often.

But you get three stars because it was an interesting peek partially behind the curtain of the west wing and because it was novel to get your perspectives on White House machinations in a somewhat honest fashion. Most Bush aides never seem to tire of repeating their same old talking points, and while you were guilty of this as press secretary, you at least seem to try to come to terms with the Bush years with something approaching honestly and self-reflection.

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