We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush? I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy. The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they’ve appeared, and I’m hardly the only historian who has had this experience. I’ve found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn’t read the latest book on Lincoln, or on – as Bush refers to him – the “first George W.” I’ve even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results.

“Well, so Bush reads history”, one might reasonably observe at this point. “Isn’t it more important to find out how he uses it?” It is indeed, and I doubt that anybody will be in a position to answer that question definitively until the oral histories get recorded, the memoirs get written, and the archives open. But I can say this on the basis of direct observation: President Bush is interested – as no other occupant of the White House has been for quite a long time – in how the past can provide guidance for the future.

John Lewis Gaddis

58 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Gib

    So sometimes even those who do know history are still doomed to repeat it.

  • RRS

    Professor Gaddis has bypassed (or not shared) critical observations about a specific feature of politics, particularly at the Presidential level.

    Most political figures are, and have to be, constantly engaged in the “creation and maintenance of perceptions.” Those functions can, and probably should, decline once the Presidential level is reached. However, a “legacy” ambition is often alleged by the various wordsmiths who hold themselves out, and wish to be perceived, as “intellectuals.”

    Thus, in the cases cited by Gaddis, on closer observation, we may note a decline in, or absolute disregard for, actions designed to create or maintain perceptions.

    The executive offices, particularly that of President, confront an individual and his counsellors with harsh realities requiring actions that no fabricated perceptions can long mask.

    In the case of others who may be impelled by the love of, or facility for, the “continuous campaign” perhaps to preserve influence beyond the term of office, the functions of controlling perceptions plays a greater role that diminshes other functions. The fabrications generated for those perceptions erode and vanish.

  • Just another classical liberal



    Please read “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell, and then re-post your comment.

    I think what you are saying – in essence – is that George W only pretends to be interested in history because he thinks it will gain him popularity or because he wants to be seen as an intellectual. So why not just say so?

  • Kevin B

    Actually Just, what I took from RRS’s comment was that GWB was less interested in his ‘legacy’ than, say, Bill Clinton.

    So perhaps a re-phrasing is in order.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Let’s face it, the idea that Bush is a thicko is an urban myth put about the conceited liberal/left. I severely disagree with many of Bush’s policies, but to pretend he is an undeducated know-nothing is plain wrong. The same perception attached to Reagan, remember, when in fact the Gipper was well-read and interested in ideas.

    Bush got a good MBA and flew some pretty nifty jet aircraft, which is a bit more than one can say of Michael Moore.

  • Laird

    Or Al Gore.

    Johnathan is absolutely correct.

  • “So sometimes even those who do know history are still doomed to repeat it.”

    I think “doomed” is the wrong word.

    It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to reprise a Reagan, Lincoln, Jefferson performance.

  • M

    Blair is very interested in history apparently. I suspect that was partly why he was so obsessed with his ‘legacy’.

    Bush isn’t thick, it’s true. But I suspect all those books he reads on American history have probably contributed to him being a bad president. Think of what kind of presidents mainstream American historians glorify. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, JFK, etc. In other words, the war and big government presidents. Few mainstream historians have much good to say for the likes of Van Buren, Cleveland, and Harding, and I doubt Bush has read any books that praise them. So if Bush’s reading of history is doing anything for him, it’s probably making him want to ape the likes of Truman and FDR. Sure would explain a lot. I read that Bush thinks he’ll be remembered in a similar way Truman is remembered by mainstream historians now. Truman left office despised, but mainstream historians think very highly of him. I wouldn’t put it past historians seeing Bush like this in 50 years time. This glorification of Truman is rubbish though. The people in 1953, not modern liberal historians, were right about Truman. He was an awful president.

  • Jonathan

    “Nifty jet aircraft ”

    The F-102 was probably the worst jet fighter the USAF ever had in service. It was the last jet designed before they discovered the so-called “Area Rule” . Thus it was really hard to fly.

    Its weapons system was awful, the Falcon missiles were to put it mildly ‘complex and unreliable’ Also I’ve never heard anyone say one way or another if Bush was qualified to use the Genie air to air nuclear missile.

    That Bush survived flying such a plane speaks well of his skills and native intelligence.

  • M

    Or Al Gore.

    To be fair on Gore, he served in Vietnam despite the fact that he didn’t agree with the conflict there.

  • Tom

    Wasn’t Gore a reporter (on a short ‘visit’ to Vietnam) with his own bodyguards? Or is this urban myth.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Regarding Al Gore in Vietnam, he stole photgrapher Al (The Killing Fields) Rockoff’s photographs while there.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Dear Sirs,

    I have been following American politics since 1952. The Democrats have been singing from the same songbook since 1932 – “the President’s a dummy and the Attorney General is a crook”.

    John Kennedy was the smartest Democratic candidate in the last 56 years. He turned out to be a terrible President – all style, horrific performance.

    There is a tendency, reinforced by intellectuals, that intellectuals possess wisdom. They express lofty thoughts using ten dollar words and others say how brilliant.

    We hoi polloi prefer our wisdom with a little more clarity. Reagan’s strategy for the Cold War? “We win, they lose”. Bush: you’re with us or you’re against us – take your pick.
    I never could figure out anything that Adlai Stevenson said.


  • All that reading, and he missed the first rule of history: no land wars in Asia.

  • dre

    Posted by M at August 27, 2008 05:40 PM


  • kentuckyliz

    Well, he has to have something to do to occupy his time while Dick Cheney runs the country.

  • RAB

    Who? Rita?

    Had the Revolution come in 68,
    This could have been your President and first lady
    singing their acceptance speech.

    He was a Rhodes Scholar too you know,
    like Little Billy Blow!


  • nick g.

    I suppose people think he’s from Texas, therefore he’s dumb. Are there really smart Texans to offset this image?
    And Bush can do more than read Churchill- he could emulate him by writing a well-thought book on American History. Whilst I won’t hold my breathe waiting for it, other people might have bigger lungs.

  • michaelv

    Nick G, that’s a good idea. He has to write down all that reality he’s made up somewhere, or he’ll lose track of it all.

  • RRS

    Despite having read Orwell, perhaps it was a mistake to read Gaddis’ commentary. He cited, inter alia, the cases of Truman and Eisenhower, who departed from the political concentration on creating perceptions, which is likely to be the future judgment on our current President.

    Before commenting one should have read Gaddis, not a limited exegesis.

  • nick g.

    I think that ex-leaders should be made honorary members of Cabinets, or else they’ll write their memoirs for posterity. When Bush gets his marching orders, how will he then occupy the time? What does Carter get up to?
    Put these exes to use! Make them feel useful, or you might end up with another deathless work of fiction on your hands!

  • It ceases to amaze me the way that Bush’s reputation has been so ridiculously slandered and misrepresented, most especially in Europe, for the single reason that he isn’t a democrat.

    Gore had his ‘stolen’, Kerry was just too ‘smart’.

    Bush meanwhile presides over one of the most threatening time periods in the history of western civilization and emulates those before him by placing principle ahead of politics. He has been pretty much useless domestically, but so were some other great presidents.

    I know I’m not alone in saying that we were much better off with this ‘dumb cowboy’ than what the last two choices were.

  • What Gib and Joshua say.

    The first George Bush had read and understood history books (he referred to Martin Gilbert in interviews, for example) and that was why he ‘liberated’ Kuwait, gave the Iraqis a good kicking while they were in retreat and then called it a day. That is also why he didn’t turn up at the Berlin Wall to humiliate the Soviets in 1989 (he sent his proxy David Hassellhoff) because it would have been too provocative.

  • manuel II paleologos

    It’s nice to have leaders who don’t really give a monkey’s about what people (and in particular noisy but irrelevant people, like European students) think of them.

    Bush’s problem is that he doesn’t only ignore “spin”, he actually seems to enjoy winding people up with that “I don’t give a stuff what you think cos I’m President” grin that people find so infuriating. And whether you like it or not, the propaganda war is important. Against a foe as risible as the Jihadists it should be easy too.

    Still, a weakness at propaganda is minor compared to his basically sound instincts and bravery.

  • John K

    The F-102 was probably the worst jet fighter the USAF ever had in service. It was the last jet designed before they discovered the so-called “Area Rule” . Thus it was really hard to fly.

    Surely Dick Cheney was really flying it for Dubya?

  • Corsair

    The Genie – now, there was an air-to-air missile!

  • Ham

    Few world leaders will have read more history than Gordon Brown…is the answer to elect illiterates?

  • “The F-102 was probably the worst jet fighter the USAF ever had in service. It was the last jet designed before they discovered the so-called ‘Area Rule’ .”

    The F-102 that went into service was an Area Ruled design: the modification went into one of the prototypes, and thereafter into production. There were no F-102’s ever in service without the AR mod. The Deuce was active in manned USAF service for almost twenty years. (Many were finally destroyed as QF drones.) In the context of Cold War interceptor doctrine, it wasn’t that rotten an airplane at all, and many of its crews loved it. In his book “Thud Ridge”, Col. Jack Broughton (Vice-Commander, 355th TFW — F-105D) was quite complimentary. (Broughton was an old interceptor hand and some say this made him a bit less than a great Thunderchief commander.)

    The Genie wasn’t that great an idea.

    Anyone who could mount-up in a single-engine single-seat Century Series fighter has my respect, for sure. This was a big deal that BDS sufferers will never understand. Bush took his life in his hands every time he pushed the throttle up.

  • J

    Ummm.. who and how was this measured? Does the president have to have his reading material vetted? Or is there a survey done every quarter?

    People often mistake literacy for intelligence, thoughtfulness, wisdom, or common sense. Bush’s extreme difficulty expressing himself well, verbally, in public is not a strong indicator of intelligence or the ability to make good decisions behind the scenes. It does, of course, make him look and sound like complete fool, which even if it doesn’t make him one might be a good reason to think he’s a poor choice of president.

    There are so many reasons to dislike Bush, I find it hard to know if I should add stupidity to the mix on the grounds that if it’s slander it’s well deserved; or if I should omit it on the grounds he has so many more obvious faults already.

  • “Bush took his life in his hands every time he pushed the throttle up.”

    What Billy said.

    It is amazing to me that Bush made so little of his military service. He was attacked as a draft dodger, yet he flew a very dangerous airplane. He did not go to Canada or otherwise sit out the war.

    One of scores of inexplicable communications failures on the part of Mr. Bush.

  • Tedd McHenry

    One of scores of inexplicable communications failures on the part of Mr. Bush.

    My explanation is in two parts.

    First, I think Bush prefers not to expend effort trying to change the minds of people who are unlikely to change. I agree that he could have done a better job of explaining the reasons for the Iraq war, particularly after the media starting running with the WMD angle. But he may have judged it a waste of effort. After all, the war’s opponents were doing a pretty good job of alienating the undecided voters, all by themselves (as demonstrated by the results of the 2004 election).

    Second, I’m told Bush is (or was, in college) a very skilled poker player. I’m no poker player, but I’m also told that the most important skill in poker is the ability to get your opponents to underestimate you — specifically, to believe you’re bluffing when you aren’t. I think that explains a lot of things about Bush during his presidency.

  • “It is amazing to me that Bush made so little of his military service. “

    In some ways, there’s not that much to be made of it. Consider that tactical aviation is a pretty small community. Everybody knows what’s going on. I wrote this up some years ago and would have to review it, but a great deal of where he ended up had to do with his timing in the training pipeline, the fact that he drew assignment in a dog-jet that had nothin’, really, for the current fight, and the fact that LBJ suspended Rolling Thunder in ’68. Added to all that is the mess that was personnel. The official USAF line was that “Everybody goes once before anyone goes back again,” but it didn’t really work out that way. There were qualified people who couldn’t buy a combat ride, and others who went around a couple of times and shouldn’t have. (The matter of mutli-engine drivers getting stuffed into single-seat cockpits after minimal training was notorious.)

    Bush could trumpet some of it, but here’s what I think: he knows what other fast-movers were able to do and he’s not going to try to shade that with his experience. It’s a close profession — whether or not he’s ever paid attention to it since he got out — and they don’t like to pose in front of each other.

    Almost nobody who criticizes Bush’s time-in knows a thing in the world of what they’re talking about.

  • Billy Beck: speaking of 100+ model numbers, what about the Starfighter? You have to admire the balls of people who’d take to the skies in a machine with a downward-firing ejection seat (it was later replaced with a zero-zero seat). That it and the Delta Dagger were called the ‘Widowmaker’ and ‘Flying Coffin’ respectively is testament to just how high risk an enterprise flying them was.

  • Ken

    To address RAB’s comment back upstream-

    Actually, this is more like what we would’ve been singing.


    Sorry, I’m not as clever or good as RAB is.

  • Ken

    Hey, it WORKED! (I impress myself.)

  • “…what about the Starfighter?”

    It killed Germans by the number when they started flying it, IIRC. It was a big problem.

    Flying these airplanes was no joke. The F-100 had a crazy adverse-yaw streak in it that took a while and many lives working out. It was a regular killer behind the power curve (the place where more throttle = more trouble) on landing (read: no altitude/energy to work with). Gen. Chuck Horner wrote about one of those scenes at Wheelus, out in the desert (“Every Man A Tiger”). Fuckin’ murder, but he made that one.

    If these morons slagging Bush understood — really thought about it — how often people got killed in appalling ways all the time, doing this, then they might have something to say to the facts. (Anybody here recall that “Sabre Dance” film of the F-100 with wheels & flaps down on landing and slippin’ & slidin’ all around and trying to find a way before it inevitably rolls off on a wing in a ball of fire? That guy died of asphyxiation: he threw up in his oxygen mask. He barely survived the crash and that’s what the autopsy told.)

    When the Supreme Court settled the 2000 election, I wrote that Bush would be a “spectacularly rotten president”. I’m satisfied. But the people trying to run this angle on him are quite beyond ridiculous. The vast majority know nothing at all about affairs military, nevermind trying to understand, say, just the alien environment of a Century Series cockpit (“where’s the cup-holder and why does this seat suck?”) or anything else about it. “Take-off roll calculations”? Bush figured out stuff like that all the time, with his very ass hanging in the balance.

    True and obvious ignoramuses, they are. The essential problem is that there are so many of them.

  • M

    I’m not sure to what extent military service is to a presidential candidate. Bill Clinton defeated two WW2 veterans, and John Kerry’s service in Vietnam was used against him rather than being an asset for him.

  • M

    Correction: I’m not sure to what extent military service is an asset to a presidential candidate.

  • Let me expound for a while:

    In “Thud Ridge”, Broughton tells a hair-raising story about the F-105D. In a bombing run, he took a flat hit that destroyed the jet’s stability augmentation system.

    Just file that in mind for a moment: “Stability Augmentation System”.

    So, he’s all alone in a 45,000-pound airplane in a 500-knot dive straight at Hanoi, and the airplane’s rudder is slamming back & forth to full left/right deflection all on its own, with the result that his head’s banging off the insides of the canopy. He has seconds to live in that shape. Strapped to his seat in ways that make it impossible to turn his torso in either direction, he has to reach behind him to his left and below to a circuit-breaker panel, identify one breaker button in a whole panel of them, that he cannot see but can only touch with a gloved finger, pull it out and disengage that broken system that’s trying to kill him at least as hard as the gunners are, now.

    Now, really think about that. One life and death implication is that he has to know that airplane that intimately in order to save his life, like; right now.

    This is one illustration of what it means when we’re talking about “single-seat, single-engine” airplanes. And they don’t have to be involved in combat to break disastrously.

    Try explaining something like a “Stability Augmentation System” to some imbecile stomping the street with a “Bush Coward” picket sign.

    {snort} Fuggetboudit.

  • “I’m not sure to what extent military service is to a presidential candidate.”

    Me, either, but that’s rather a different subject from people calling Bush a coward and idiot.

  • M

    Oh, I don’t think Bush is a coward or an idiot. If he was a mere idiot, his lousy presidency would be much easier to comprehend.

  • michaelv

    Billy Beck, I’m not sure what this tangent you’re tirelessly pursuing is supposed to accomplish. OK, flying airplanes is hard, especially in combat.

    I’m pretty certain Bush didn’t see any of those situations. And even if he did, what’s the point? He’s still one of the worst Presidents to ever wear the title of President of the United States of America, no matter how hard flying one of those airplanes is.

  • “Billy Beck, I’m not sure…”

    If you thought your way through it, you could be.

    Nobody can do that for you.

  • Ken

    The first jets were, IIRC, even worse than the first aircrat flown for killing pilots-and in inventive ways.
    The point I take-I’ve argued it also-from Mr Becks argument is-THEY DO NOT HAND THE KEYS TO JUST ANY JACKASS THAT WANDERS OUT ON TO THE FLIGHT LINE!

    Being said, I didn’t vote Bush, I voted NOT GORE/KERRY.

    (after all, it’s not like an F 102 is a Ford Fiesta in anyones book? Or did I miss something?)

  • Panther

    Let see… the man is stupid, hmmm…

    How did a dyslexic go on to get a college degree, then to fly a very questionable fighter plane, then became a mediocre business man, after that a much better state governor & then went on to become president of the US twice in a row… many facts that seems too be lost on many of his worst vocal critics?

    I guess if he were a democrat he would have gotten more sympathy from the press and public? No wonder a good percentage of Americans can’t be bothered too involve themseleves in the electoral process! Yeeeesh!

    D@mn… politics can be such a pain in the arse!


    Tactical aviators themselves grade that on a curve. In his book, “When Thunder Rolled”, Ed Rasimus describes training antics that ordinary people would consider actionable through psychotherapy.

    In the main, however, you understand.

  • Wind Rider

    Like BB, I’ve always chuckled at the folks that constantly called Bush a moron, usually immediately after describing a conspiracy theory involving diabolical genius. . .his succesful completion of pilot selection, UPT, Fighter follow-in, and some time ‘flying the line’ without inadvertant planetary contact is a big reason why. Cause while he may have had (and I don’t really buy it) daddy help him get in the door, well, once inside, he was pretty much on his own. Daddy didn’t pass any of his check rides for him.

    I do have to depart from what appears so far to be a collection of generally backhanded defenses of Bush’s intellect, all the while allowing for his performance in office. I actually voted for the man twice, and am fairly satisfied with the majority of the job he’s done. There are some aspects that he could have handled better, mostly on domestic issues, and the White House message operation for the last 7 years has been absolutely nothing short of totally buffoonish at times – still –

    Based on results, the actions this man initiated, once spurred to action by 9/11 have been radically historical, of a sort that will long be noted. He’s led a coalition (yes, despite the cries of unilateral action) that has brought a semblence of Western Style Liberal Democracy to over 35 million people, directly, who were previously living in fear under either a Stalinist or Medieval Theocratic regime. Counting simply the women that gained the right to vote – that’s one hell of a voter registration drive. His quiet (as in – not glamorized and sensationalized by the media) work to fight AIDS and improve lives also helped and touched millions in Africa – far more than the plans and programs of those before him ever did. And despite the liberal proclivity to mention the words ‘Plame’ and ‘Scooter’ together, then begin writhing in orgasmic glee, and the continuing crack pot calls for impeachment proceedings (which, in the end, really, really sound like ‘they did it to our guy’ payback) – for all of that – where are all the indictments, subpeonas, grand juries, and the entire three ring DC circus that surrounds scandal and corruption? With anecdotal memories going back to the days of Carter, I can’t really recall a less scandal plagued administration. It’s certainly been awfully quiet compared to the previous bunch.

    I think history will look very respectfully at Bush, and once there’s some distance from the heat of the partisan rancor, he’ll be regarded as one of the all time greats – a man that not many expected much from, who rose to the occasion literally thrust upon him by circumstance.

    That evaluation is certainly going to come along, particularly once it’s considered by those who don’t have a huge personal investment despising the man, or a long standing dislike to begin with.

  • M

    he’ll be regarded as one of the all time greats

    Are you smoking crack?

  • Alasdair

    Wind Rider – if I hadn’t seen the generally minuscule calibre of M’s comments, I’d be wondering if you had paid him to provide an example of what you mean …

    In M’s defence, it should probably be pointed out that M doesn’t actually know any better, most likely … M probably believes that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister because of “identity politics” … after all, anything else just isn’t possible, now, is it ?

    For M, “critical thinking” seems to mean ‘actively expressing criticisms’ … poor dear – the echo-chamber tolls again …

  • M

    Margaret Thatcher had been an MP for years and a government minister before becoming Tory leader, and she was Tory leader for 4 years before becoming PM. Palin has been governor of an irrelevant state for 2 years and mayor of a tiny town for six.

  • Ken

    “Palin has been governor of an irrelevant state for 2 years”

    Given that Alaska is an “oil kingdom” in it’s own right, I hardly find it “irrelevant “.
    “Drill here, drill now” anyone?

  • M

    It has a population of 600,000. Hardly Texas, New York, or Illinois is it?

  • Ken

    ” Hardly Texas, New York, or Illinois is it?”

    You forgot to mention-Dark 8 mo’s- cold 10 mo’s, mosquitos the size of light airplanes, blackflys the size of small birds and did I mention it’s cold and dark most of the year?
    So is Siberia, doubt that Siberia(I haven’t checked the stat’s so that’s a ‘guesstiment’) has 600k year round residents, but hey, in todays “energy world/resource game” it’s , in the term of the “street” “ah playa’ on the world stage.
    Alaska is rich beyond measure, but it’s 90% ?(guestiment again)locked down under US Fed. regulations.

  • Laird

    A little OT, but does anyone remember when Texas tried to join OPEC? Maybe Alaska should try it. Might get them a little more clout in dealing with Washington!

  • a.sommer

    I’m pretty certain Bush didn’t see any of those situations. And even if he did, what’s the point? He’s still one of the worst Presidents to ever wear the title of President of the United States of America […blah blah blah…]

    Are you old enough to remember some guys by the name of Johnson, Nixon, or Carter?

    We’ve had far worse than Bush.

  • cb

    “Palin has been governor of an irrelevant state for 2 years”

    Palin was mayor for a decade (town of about 9000), Lt Gov for four years, and Gov for two.

    She also is a pilot and ran a fishing business.

  • “Daddy didn’t pass any of his check rides for him.”

    That’s exactly right, WR, but right there, you’re already in it way, way above the understanding of most people who take this tack on him. They have no earthly idea what you’re talking about or what it means.

  • Nate


    You’re knocking Palin’s experience as governor of an irrelevant state of only 600,000?

    I’m not trying to pick a fight or anything — just curious — are you from the US?

    I couldn’t imagine being governor of any state to be a simple task no matter how few people; however I would reckon that governing Alaska would have many unique challenges wrt the lower 48.

    As far as experience that translates well for POTUS and VPOTUS credentials, I would place governing Alaska much higher than say, governing Connecticut (~5x Alaska population), Missouri (~9x Alaska population), etc.