In a speech about his book 31 Days that he gave last month at the Ford Library (and C-Span broadcasted yesterday), Barry Werth made the interesting point that in 1974, when Rumsfeld and Cheney were making their first inroads at the White House as officials of the Ford Administration and Richard Perle was throwing himself into Scoop Jackson’s presidential hopes, George W. Bush was drinking too much in Cambridge and trying to get into Harvard Business School.
Werth was underscoring a key fact about our humble president: he lacked political education. Those qualities that Bill Clinton had in spades—immersion in the game from a young age, the insane desire to step up to the plate himself, endless study of the history of our politics—well, George Bush postponed that experience out of goofy entitlement. Clinton screwed up in his own ways, but as a keen student of politics he did choose very able aides.
Bush has good political instincts and got a good political primer as Texas governor, but his responsibilities as president seemed to overwhelm him, and he knew it. Later in his speech, Werth said that being a president is a very “isolated” job, and a president is subject to the influences of those with whom he (or she?) surrounds himself. In this case, people with far more political education, like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Perle. All of whom just happened to be extremists.