Obama and Bush: Different covers, different books
This being the last day of George W. Bush’s doleful claim on the White House, I thought that a blog dedicated somewhat to writerly matters should reflect on the literary differences between he and his successor, Barack Obama.
George Bush wrote no books and seldom, if ever, read one. In fact, when former White House spokesperson Scott McClellan published his highly critical tell-all memoir, Bush responded:
“I have no intention of reading Scott McClellan’s book, because it’s a book. If you’re trying to communicate some criticism to me, a book is pretty much the last place you’d put it. If I didn’t read the Iraq Study Group’s report, I really don’t think I’m about to read Scott McClellan’s little book.”
Barack Obama, as we all know, has written two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. The eloquence of his speech suggests he is well-read. However, most of his reading from now on will be government documents, briefing papers and political notes. Not the most scintillating of stuff , but essential for the job.
I’ve been looking over my own book shelves for titles appropriate to this moment of transfer of power in the White House. Leaving aside Canadian titles, some political biographies that reside there include Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston, William Manchester’s The Last Lion (Winston Churchill) Charles Williams’ The Last Great Frenchman (DeGaulle), John Toland’s Adolf Hitler, and a shelf of Kennedy books, especially Arthur Schlensinger’s A Thousand Days.
Among the raft of new books on Obama and the Presidency, a tome by White House insider Lawrence Lindsey, What a President Should Know (Rowman and Littlefield) is attracting a lot of attention. It tackles the key issues facing the new President and purports to provide briefings similar to that which President Obama will be receiving in the Oval Office.
If you think history is a better guide to the future than a so-called insider’s advice, you should read Mark Updegrove’s Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who Took Office in Times of Crisis (Thomas Dunne Books). He discusses how presidents from George Washington to Gerald Ford dealt with the issues of their times.
But I think the most relevant book one can read during this time of transition is Jean Smith’s FDR (Random House). The good part is that your library will probably have it. Smith, who also wrote a notable biography of U.S. Grant, views Roosevelt as the man who more than any other changed the relationship between the American people and their government.
Strong presidents are also controversial, and they attract many enemies. FDR was no exception. But he engendered a level of trust unequalled by any later President.
Barack Obama takes office with great expectations and a high level of trust. We should expect him to make many controversial decisions. He will be bitterly assailed by those who disagree with him. But he has the opportunity, more so than any President since Roosevelt, to win the respect, and yes love, of those who look to him to help build a more fair and just society.