Sep 11, 2007

Salon Flops in Interview with Bush Biographer Robert Draper

Presidential historian Robert Draper’s new biographical book on George W. Bush is out, Dead Certain, the Presidency of George W. Bush.

And Salon, typically among the most insightful and candid of journals covering the Bush administration, runs an interview with Draper.

But Salon’s interview with Draper by Rob Patterson is disappointing for employing the same lack of skepticism towards Draper that the establishment writer Draper employs towards the president.

Patterson presupposes that Draper’s extraordinary access to the most-scripted, the most managed, the most-inaccessible-to-critical-and-independent thinkers, and the most vindictive president did not come with a guarantee to Draper’s friend, Bush media strategist and image maker Mark McKinnon, that Draper would not make Bush look like the idiot that he so clearly is.

Not surprisingly, Draper comes to the opposite conclusion.

The interview between Patterson and Draper exemplifies the dance that the Washington media engages in constantly: Let’s all pretend that the president is not an idiot surrounded by liars. David Broder would be proud of these two.

The great journalist H.L. Mencken is reported to have said, “When someone says it's not about the money, it's about the money.”

Today, one can say when someone assures you that George W. Bush is not stupid, Bush is stupid.

Just in case six years of Bush’s inability to answer a question coherently leaves the public doubting Bush’s intelligence, Draper sets us straight.

In the Salon interview, Draper illustrates the president’s brain power, a well-kept secret that Draper tells with great conviction in Dead Certain and in Salon’s interview, in which Draper assures that not only is Bush smart, but he is clear in his vision, and his history-making speeches are a testament to his remarkable lucidity.

Draper: I think that the president's chief attribute is his clarity -- they say people know where he stands. His certitude can come off as steadfastness, as on Sept. 20, 2001, with his great speech.

Wow, I was inspired by that clarity; I wonder if Bush wrote that speech.

Here’s a piercing question from Patterson in the invigorating exchange:
In the book you portray Bush as a voracious reader of history. Does he draw on the lessons of history -- as Santayana put it, that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

Hmmmm, maybe that question would be more properly phrased:

In the book you portray Bush as a voracious reader of history. Are you nuts?

Here’s a wonderfully insightful Draper response from the interview:

But beyond the fact that Bush is charming and there's this incredible loyalty that is cultivated between him and his subordinates, he has a surprising intellect. A guy who reads Cormac McCarthy isn't a dummy. And a guy who can listen to an economist talk about a tax scheme and just eviscerate the guy because he doesn't seem to really understand what he is talking about and there's a loose thread in his argument cannot be intellectually lazy. I think that what's difficult to reconcile is this man's brightness with his capacity for incuriosity.

Draper and Patterson can pretend all they like that Bush is no idiot surrounded by liars. At least among the D.C. establishment media, they’ll have plenty of company.

But readers have come to expect more out of Salon than this fluff.


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