Falling Out

In light of Richard Clarke’s new bombshells, two books also set their sights on Bush & Co.

Call it an idée fixe. Richard Clarke does, in his exposé of President George W. Bush’s wartime performance that hit shelves last week. It’s an accusation that has been offered twice in three months by disgruntled officials of Bush’s inner circle: The president makes his facts fit his conclusions instead of the other way round.

Eric Alterman and New York politico Mark Green have released their behemoth Book on Bush, declaring their devotion to providing voters with a clearer picture of Bush 43’s policies than we had during the 2000 election. They’ve crafted an exhaustively researched bible for those who take intimate pleasure in partisan infuriation. Alterman, columnist for The Nation and tireless MSNBC.com weblogger, repeats the performance of his previous bestseller, What Liberal Media?.

Among the tastier morsels are rundowns of the president’s economic programs, detailing whom they’ve benefited, whom they’ve broken, and how they began.

Also included are downright sinister glimpses into the machinery of Christian fundamentalism and its impact on Middle East foreign policy, and the conservative chicanery that surrounded the 2000 election.

Along the way, Alterman and Green do their best to strip away the polished just-a-good-ol’-boy-never-meanin’-no-harm Dubya image, and leave instead the picture of a callow, conniving man with a messiah complex.

If you haven’t picked up The Price of Loyalty, no need to consider yourself too far behind—yet. But make sure your deadline for reading it is Election Day. If you don’t, concludes author Ron Suskind in his piecing together of Paul O’Neill’s time in the belly of the White House, don’t consider yourself a great defender of democracy.

When O’Neill told his wife he’d decided to re-enter government as Treasury secretary, she sobbed. That was the night of Dec. 18, 2000. Her foreboding was for the hard road she knew she’d be traveling with O’Neill—already labeled a maverick by many in Washington for his apolitical economic stances—in Bush’s America.

Considering his eventual firing less than two years later, she was right to worry. Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal scribbler and Pulitzer winner who uses O’Neill’s meticulously kept notes and over 19,000 official documents, trusts his conclusion sharing a similar philosophy with O’Neill. “Secrecy,” he writes, in a working business or in a working democracy, “has almost no value. The threat to our national security is not from secrets revealed; it’s from bad analysis.”

It’s as an example of that philosophy that Suskind reveals O’Neill’s annotated bundle of believed bungles by the administration. The collection pits the former secretary’s zeal for fact-based, logical processes against the president’s come-to-Jesus ideology—from his sweeping tax cuts to his supposedly “scripted” cabinet meetings—and offers what might be expected if he wins again.

O’Neill’s account of how Iraq seemed to be at the forefront of discussions even before 9/11 received validation in Clarke’s latest book.

It’s shaping up to be a bumpy ride to fall—perhaps to the fall.

The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America By Eric Alterman and Mark Green (Viking, 419 pages, $24.95) The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, The White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill By Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster, 348 pages, $26) Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror By Richard Clarke (Free Press, 304 pages, $27)

Originally published in Willamette Week