Jacob Heilbrunn

George Bush's Unmemorable Memoir

[amazon 0307590615 full]So the Decider has decided to release Decision Points, his memoir of the days when he inherited an America, at the top of its game, only to leave behind a debauched nation, mired in two wars and burdened with trillions in debt. Yet the release of George W. Bush's memoir has, by and large, been greeted with a yawn. Most reviewers have emphasized that Bush has produced something of a snooze. It offers an inadvertent reminder that you don't have to be an interesting leader to be a terrible one.

The best treatment is in today's Washington Post, where Jonathan Yardley notes that the genre itself is a post-World War II creation and that

Only two memoirs by former presidents are worth reading today. The first, Ulysses S. Grant's two-volume "Personal Memoirs" (1885-86), is almost entirely about his military career and makes only passing reference to his two terms in the White House. The second is Harry S. Truman's memoirs, also two volumes: "Year of Decisions" (1955) and "Years of Trial and Hope" (1956).

Grant, of course, got a bum historical rap, mostly from Southern historians who sought to denigrate his reputation by depicting him as a drunk and a fool. Neither was true. Grant, as Joan Waugh has shown in her recent biography, was actually viewed in his own lifetime as a great man and compiled a good record as president. A good chunk of his presidency was devoted to taming a recalcitrant South and trying to unite it with the North. Grant's production of his memoir was itself a heroic feat--he was on his deathbed as he wrote it, in severe pain from throat cancer. But he finished it and the book proved a runaway bestseller.

Bush's book will doubtless sell, even if it pales in comparison to Grant's effort. But Bush's memoir should prompt renewed reflections upon his catastrophic presidency. It is really a saga of how a dauphin could take the leading power in the world and leave it crippled. Today the Wall Street Journal features no less than two articles in which German and Japanese leaders condemn America for fiscal folly. Specifically, they're objecting to the so-called quantitative easing that the Federal Reserve is continuing to pursue--the latest measure being to pump another $600 billion into the economy. The Germans and Japanese, meanwhile, fear a beggar thy neighbor policy, as the value of the dollar continues to tank.

The Fed probably doesn't have much choice. If the American economy were to lapse into a depression, it could easily turn into a world-wide one. But it's a potent reminder of the house that George W. Bush unbuilt. Callow, unreflective, and profligate, Bush has remained true to himself. His legacy could become America's permanent one.