Cohen Head

Today’s Washington Post had an op-ed piece by the inestimable Richard Cohen tagged Reading Into Bush’s Book List. Cohen riffs off of a recent piece by Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. In the WSJ piece, Rove provides insight into Bush’s reading habits and describes the book-reading competition that the two have waged each year for the past three years. The competition is simple. The winner is the one that reads the greater number of books. Rove won the 2006 competition by a final score of 110 to 95. According to Rove

Bush’s 2006 reading list shows his literary tastes. The nonfiction ran from biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan to Andrew Roberts’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,” James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,” and Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower.” Besides eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, Mr. Bush tackled Michael Crichton’s “Next,” Vince Flynn’s “Executive Power,” Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact,” and Albert Camus’s “The Stranger,” among others.

Fifty-eight of the books he read that year were nonfiction. Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events (mostly the Mideast) and six on sports.

In 2007, Rove prevailed 76 to 51. Again, according to Rove

His list was particularly wide-ranging that year, from history (“The Great Upheaval” and “Khrushchev’s Cold War”), biographical (Dean Acheson and Andrew Mellon), and current affairs (including “Rogue Regime” and “The Shia Revival”). He read one book meant for young adults, his daughter Jenna’s excellent “Ana’s Story.”

In 2008, as of the date of the article, Rove was ahead 64 to 40. According to Rove

His reading this year included a heavy dose of history — including David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter,” Rick Atkinson’s “Day of Battle,” Hugh Thomas’s “Spanish Civil War,” Stephen W. Sears’s “Gettysburg” and David King’s “Vienna 1814.” There’s also plenty of biography — including U.S. Grant’s “Personal Memoirs”; Jon Meacham’s “American Lion”; James M. McPherson’s “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief” and Jacobo Timerman’s “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.”

Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.

Cohen’s piece is a classic drive-by, meant for consumption by the simple-minded. Here is Cohen

Rove always won, but Bush had the ready excuse that he was, as he put it, busy being “Leader of the Free World.”

And here is Rove

At year’s end, I defeated the president, 110 books to 95. My trophy looks suspiciously like those given out at junior bowling finals. The president lamely insisted he’d lost because he’d been busy as Leader of the Free World.

Hmm. I detect a difference in tone.

Here is Cohen

…most of Bush’s books have been biographies and histories. Biographies are usually about great men who often did the unpopular thing and were later vindicated. As for histories, they are replete with cautionary tales.

You can see where Cohen is going with this reasoning, right? Here is Rove

Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events (mostly the Mideast) and six on sports…in 2007…[h]is list was particularly wide-ranging…from history…, biographical…, and current affairs….in 2008…[h]is reading…included a heavy dose of history.

You see, Cohen wants to imply that Bush has been reading about similarly flawed historical figures. But Cohen, whose intellectual honesty couldn’t stand up to a nematode, can’t bring himself to actually name names.

What Cohen does name is a bevy of books, the absence from Bush’s reading list which causes him no small amount of pique. These books include

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.

[Nice dig there on Cheney, Mr. Cohen. Do you mind if I call you Dick?]

I’m sure the authors listed above are fair and balanced and have no particular axe to grind.

According to Cohen

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.

and this

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.

I find the use of the words “metastasized” and “debacle” particularly interesting. “Metastasized”, as in just about the worst news a seriously ill patient could hear. And “debacle”. Mr. Cohen wouldn’t recognize a debacle if it came up and bit him. A debacle, Dick, is what we would have had if Bush had listened to the small-minds and withdrew from Iraq back in 2007. Do you recall what the prognosis was for Iraq and the Middle East, for that matter, if the US had withdrawn to leave Iraq to a Civil War? Go back and do some reading. The small-minded were willing to throw the entire region into turmoil to score political points. Thank God that Bush was “captive of fixed ideas”, such as the fixed idea that we were going to get it right, that we were going to win. We have paid a very heavy price, no doubt. And speaking of captives of fixed ideas, Dick, is that anything like Obama’s refusal to admit that the surge worked?

You Can Call Him Dick

You Can Call Me Dick

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