A FEW MONTHS ago I read my first political memoir. It was Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary of War by Robert M. Gates. Having never read a political memoir, I don’t recall why I started with Gates.
But I found it so interesting, I decided to plow on. Next up was In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir by Dick Cheney. Then came Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown Deluxe: A Memoir. After Rumsfeld I was totally out of control, so I read Decision Points by George W. Bush.
Bush’s book is less a traditional memoir than the others. He took a different tack, focusing a bit on his life but primarily on several important decisions he made as president, and elaborating on them.
Bush’s book is my favorite so far. It raised my opinion of him considerably. Of course, memoirs invariably paint a positive portrait of its author, but even with that as a given, I still came away thinking highly of Dubya, as I often have called him, which now shames me.
I left the United States when Bill Clinton was president, so I observed Bush’s years in office from afar, but that’s not difficult in these high-tech times. I’m ashamed to say that I long embraced the left-wing (I am a fully recovered Democrat) notion that George W. was something of a dimwit, a lightweight, and that Cheney was the de facto president.
Simply was not so.
Gates seems like a good guy. Cheney and Rumsfeld have reputations as right-wing hard-asses, but knowing far more of their lives makes them more human, especially Cheney even if he is truly a right-wing hard-ass, something I do not hold against him these days, having become one myself.
After Bush, I had considered reading RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon but at 1,400 pages I decided no and opted instead to read Nixon’s Leaders: Profiles and Reminiscences of Men Who Have Shaped the Modern World. I’m just getting into that, and Nixon’s telling me about Winston Churchill.
Churchill was a writer of histories. I tried one of his histories recently and found it turgid.
Possibly next in the memoir list will be Condoleezza Rice’s No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington. The free Kindle sample sits in the sample file, one of the great aspects of the Kindle.
You may be thinking: What is it that inspired this post’s headline? Tricky Dick’s truth. It was this quote I found in his chapter on Winston Churchill:
“The difference between politics before and after Watergate is striking … Today the chances of receiving much approval or esteem for accomplishments in public life are slim. The risks of glaring invasions of privacy are much greater, and the kinds of sacrifices and disclosures required for entering politics … have simply become prohibitive for many. This is bound to affect detrimentally both the quality and the number of men and women who are willing to present themselves for public office.”
I have taken this position before, most recently in Newspaper days: Houston. I was quite surprised to see Tricky Dick parroting me. The quality of people in public life has fallen. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans,* and my former occupation — the news media — is responsible for that to a huge degree.
A nation reflects its leaders and the leaders are mediocre. The future looks very dicey.
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Bonus material: You likely noticed that all the memoirs mentioned are written by conservatives. Not to worry. A few days ago, occasional Moon reader and commenter Kim G. of Boston gifted me via Kindle with John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. It is on my list, and I may actually read it, but I’m unsure when. It’s like gifting the Bible to the Devil. The Amazon book description reveals that Dean says conservatives are authoritarian and present a danger to democracy. We are evil people.
But I am sure that Barry Obama would agree with that.
Dean was one of the principals who tried to cover up the Watergate situation for Nixon. He admitted in court to forwarding hush money and confessed to obstruction-of-justice charges. He had earlier asked Nixon for immunity to the obstruction charges. Nixon refused, and Dean was fired. With this background it would be a bit hard to take his book knocking conservatives very seriously.
Smells of revenge.
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* Far truer of Democrats than Republicans, of course.