Richard Cohen has this column today on Bush's reading list:
Reading Into Bush's Book List
By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, December 30, 2008; Page A15
In what without a doubt is the most astounding op-ed piece of the year, Karl Rove reveals that his friend and former boss, George W. Bush, has read probably hundreds of books over the course of his presidency. One of them was Albert Camus' "The Stranger," with its unforgettable opening lines: "Mother died today. Or perhaps it was yesterday, I don't know." After reading Rove's Wall Street Journal column, it's clear there's much we all don't know.
In his column, Rove says that Bush read 95 books in 2006 alone. In 2007, he read 51 books and as of last week, he had read 40 in 2008. The numbers are precise because Bush challenged Rove to a contest: who could read the most books. Rove always won, but Bush had the ready excuse that he was, as he put it, busy being "Leader of the Free World." This, though, is not an excuse. As Dwight Eisenhower once told me (I'm not making this up), he had more time as president to dabble in painting than he did in retirement. Such is the virtue of The Bubble.
Still, the fact remains that Bush is a prodigious, industrial reader, and this does not conform at all to his critics' idea of who he is. They [ed. meaning Richard Cohen] would prefer seeing him as a dolt, since that, as opposed to policy or ideological differences, is a briefer, more bloggish explanation of what went wrong. Still, in fairness to these critics (see Rove above), Bush himself has encouraged this approach. Aw shucks is an infuriating defense of a policy.
It is awfully late in the day for Rove -- and, presumably, Bush -- to assert the president's intellectual bona fides. Now feeling the hot breath of history, they are dropping the good ol' boy persona and picking up the ol' bifocals one. But the books themselves reveal -- actually, confirm -- something about Bush that maybe Rove did not intend. They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks -- and sees -- vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.
The list Rove provides is long, but it is narrow. It lacks whole shelves of books on how and why the Iraq war was a mistake, one that metastasized into a debacle. Absent is Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," Tom Ricks's "Fiasco," George Packer's "The Assassins' Gate" or, on a related topic, Jane Mayer's "The Dark Side" about "extraordinary rendition" and other riffs on the Constitution. Absent too is Barton Gellman's "Angler," about Dick Cheney, the waterboarder in chief.
My hat is off to Bush for the sheer volume and, often, high quality of his reading. But his books reflect a man who is seeking to learn what he already knows. The caricature of Bush as unread died today -- or was it yesterday? But the reality of the intellectually insulated man endures.
Prof Matthew Franck has an excellent retort at NRO and I sent the following email to Richard Cohen myself.
Hi, Richard - Enjoyed your column ("Reading Into Bush's Book List," Tuesday, December 30, 2008; Page A15), although I think it's ridiculous for you to suggest that the arguments put forth in any of the books you recommended weren't considered by Bush, either through his own analysis or through the analysis of those in his administration.The fact that Richard Cohen is surprised that Bush reads - books and everything!!! - is just amazing.
One question: Can you share your reading list for 2008? I suspect that it would consist of fewer books than the President and at the same time be just as "narrow." I have no doubt that most of the books on your reading list for 2008 only reinforce your worldview and that you are just as captive to your fixed ideas.
I am not a cheerleader for George W. Bush, but anyone can see the bubble you're trapped inside by simply reading each of your columns.
Regards & Happy New Year!
The oft-cited ridicule about the President being incurious because he does not read the New York Times every day is similarly amazing.
If the President is reading the New York Times to inform himself about the events in the world, than we have some serious problems.
If the left thinks that not reading the predictable opinions and columns in the New York Times and opting instead for the multitude of information sources available to him (both inside and outside of his administration) makes Bush incurious and unintellectual, I would counter that it is they who are insulated and unintellectual.
*** UPDATE ***
It would seem that others in the blogosphere had a similar reaction to Cohen's column.
ARC: St Wendeler