Bush v. Ivins
I've always loved the writings of the late columnist Molly Ivins, though never read any of her books. I finally got around to reading her most famous, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, co-written with Lou Dubose, about her years covering him in the Texas statehouse, as well has his checkered career before.
The book is terrific, and interesting historically since it was was published in 2000 before he became president, and was released during the Republican primary. It was also difficult to read, particularly in retrospect, knowing what a dismal and divisive job he did in the White House and seeing how it was all there in his record, and worse.
I'm not going to get into that, though, because I'd end up quoting almost the entire book. In fact, I want to single out two brief passages that come in the introduction. They both point to one of the reasons I like to read current events books when they are no longer current, but history. They add a perspective you would never see -- could never even possibly see -- if you read them at the time of publication.
The first comes on the very first page. Ivins is discussing how conventional wisdom is often wrong, and the course of history often takes a different route than what we expect. And in writing about this, she makes an example to prove her point -- but then makes an off-handed quip, indeed tossed in as the last sentence of the paragraph, not knowing how it makes her point even far better than she could have ever imagined, because it's so pointed to today, 16 years after being written. She writes --
"The quality of leaders does change history, even in a world supposedly dominated by economic and technological forces. Just for example, Nelson Mandela and Slobodan Milosevic were elected within a few years of one another, each at a point when the unity of his country hung by a hair. They got different results. Since there appears to be a shortage of young Abe Lincolns about these days, it's a mercy America is at no such dire divide."
And here we have Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, born with a few years of one another, at a point when the unity of our country hangs by a hair. Each offering different results, at a time of dire, racist, hate-filled, violent divide.
The second in some ways is even more prescient. At the very least, it's more head-shaking, though we shouldn't be surprised since it's written by someone who studied and wrote about George W. Bush so closely and for so long. She's talking about Bush's frat-boy personality, and his sense of pompous macho to prove his toughness. Again, remember, this was written in 2000, before George W. Bush was even elected president. She writes --
"For an upper-class white boy, Bush comes on way too hard-ass -- at a guess, to make up for being an upper-class white boy. But it's also a common Texas mail trait. Somebody should probably be worrying about how all this could affect his handling of future encounters with some Saddam Hussein, but that's beyond the scope of this book."
You just read that and keep flipping back to the publication date to make sure that it really, actually was written before he became president. And then you again understand why you always liked and admired Molly Ivins so much.
And why you love reading current events after the facts.
And why you think it's critical to always remind people of the famous quote by historian Georges Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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