Monday, May 23, 2005

Prof. Gaddis of Yale goes to the White House...

Who could have guessed this (via Atrios):
But the President said: 'Sit down. Loved your book. Tell me more about Bismarck.'

There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush asking all the questions. After which we found, cooling their heels outside, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Under-Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers. 'This is Professor Gaddis,' the President said, waving the book at them. 'I want you all to read his book.'

Well, I don't know how you would have responded in such a situation, but I was somewhat surprised.

I'd been told, first of all, that the President never read anything beyond his daily press and intelligence digests. So it was certainly a surprise to find that he had read my book, and that he had done so ahead of his own staff. We've since learned, of course, that the President has a pretty eclectic reading list, ranging from Nathan Sharansky and Ron Chernow to Tom Wolfe.

I'd been told, second, that this was an administration that could not take criticism ' that it listened only to people who agreed with it. But the criticisms I'd made didn't seem to bother anyone.

And I'd been told that this was an administration that was incapable of changing direction, of learning from mistakes, of assessing its own performance. But the whole tone of the discussions was one of acknowledging that, while the overall direction of policy was right, much had gone wrong along the way, and that in the second term ' if the voters were to grant one ' there would have to be certain changes.
Powerful stuff, well worth reading. My take: Bush's error isn't so much the lack of noble intent as a lack of regard for "enlightenment liberalism" - the set of values and ideas that once liberated the West from the tyranny and theocracy of the dark ages. Same goes for Prof. Gaddis.

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