Team DP has indeed created ‘a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears’; one learns almost nothing about George W. Bush from this book. The names of hundreds of other people are mentioned, almost always in praise – it is, in its way, the world’s longest prize acceptance speech – but none of them, outside of the Bush family, has any life as a character. Each new person is introduced with a single sentence, noting one or more of the following: 1) Texan origins; 2) college athletic achievements; 3) military service; 4) deep religious faith. The sentence ends with three personal characteristics: ‘honest, ethical and forthright’; ‘a brilliant mind, disarming modesty and a buoyant spirit’; ‘a statesman, a savvy lawyer and a magnet for talented people’; ‘smart, thoughtful, energetic’ (that’s Condi); ‘knowledgeable, articulate and confident’ (that’s Rummy); ‘a wise, principled, humane man’ (Clarence Thomas); and so on. Then the person does whatever Bush tells him to do.
Bush is the lone hero of every page of Decision Points. Very few spoken words are assigned to him, outside of the public records of speeches and press conferences, and in nearly all of them he is forceful, in command, and peeved at the inadequacies of his subordinates:
‘What the hell is happening?’ I asked during an NSC meeting in late April. ‘Why isn’t anybody stopping these looters?’
‘By the time Colin gets to the White House for the meeting, this had better be fixed.’
‘We need to find out what he knows,’ I directed the team. ‘What are our options?’
‘Damn right,’ I said.
‘Where the hell is Ashcroft?’ I asked.
‘Go,’ I said. ‘This is the right thing to do.’
‘We’re going to stay confident and patient, cool and steady,’ I said.
‘Damn it, we can do more than one thing at a time,’ I told the national security team.
As I told my advisers, ‘I didn’t take this job to play small ball.’
More generally, the DP Bush bears little relation to the George W. Bush of memory. The DPB is always poring over reports; GWB insisted on one-paragraph summaries, usually delivered orally. (Rumsfeld, who knew his man, presented his daily reports with shiny colour covers that had a stirring combat photo accompanied by an inspirational line from the Bible.) The DPB continually mentions his favourite books and maintains that he read two a week while president; GWB was rumoured to be dyslexic, and read no book other than the Book (much like his counterpart, that other wealthy bad boy, Osama bin Laden). GWB famously never asked anything at meetings, but the DPB claims:
"I learn best by asking questions. In some cases, I probe to understand a complex issue. Other times, I deploy questions as a way to test my briefers’ knowledge. If they cannot answer concisely and in plain English, it raises a red flag that they may not fully grasp the subject."
The DPB works tirelessly to keep the free world free; GWB spent long hours in the White House gym and took more vacations than any other president. The 29-year-old DPB goes to Beijing to visit Dad, then ambassador, thinks about the French and Russian Revolutions, and learns important lessons about liberty and justice; the real GWB said at the time that he went to ‘date Chinese women’.
In the book, as in his life, Bush the postmodernist is a simulacrum: a Connecticut blueblood who pretended to be a Texas cowboy, though he couldn’t ride a horse and lived on a ‘ranch’ with no cattle. He was, and is, happiest when surrounded by professionals in the three areas in which he was a notable failure: athletics, the military and business. He is like a sports fan who dresses up in the team jersey to watch the game. References to his ‘military service’ recur frequently throughout the book, as though it were actually more than a few months spent avoiding it. He was the only modern American president to appear in public in a military uniform – even Eisenhower never wore his while president – like a ribboned despot from a banana republic. He has said that one of his proudest moments was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch in a World Series game. The frontispiece to the book is the photo of Bush in his other proud moment, standing in the ruins of the Twin Towers with his cheerleader bullhorn, just one of the relief worker guys.