Hey! We’re All on Amazon!

Have you ever read anything by George W. Bush?

Have any of us ever read anything that he’s actually written?

audacity-of-hopeI was thinking about this while reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, after having just finished his Dreams from My Father. They’re part of my research for the upcoming bio I’m doing on the President-elect.  I remembered back to when I did my bio of Dubya, and I had to pretend he wrote the words I quoted from “his” book, A Charge to Keep. Now, he did allow that Karen Hughes “helped” him write it, but how many of you think the pres spent long hours hunched over a computer or scribbling out in longhand, as Obama does, to get that book moving? Or how often has he crafted any speech he has ever given while holding public office? No, claiming bush-book1to be the author of A Charge to Keep was just the first lie.

I’m not totally naive. I know pols of every stripe have people write their statements and speeches, and have done so for decades (can you say JFK and Sorensen?). But some have played a big part in shaping the words that are supposedly theirs, and in his two books – and his career-making 2004 convention speech – Obama was the writer, with limited editorial input from others.

The two Obama books present an interesting contrast, read side by side. In the first, he is pretty open about himself and his past, yet as he stated and others have pointed out, it’s not totally history. Obama once had an urge to write fiction, and that shows in some of his narrative passages and descriptions. And it probably influenced the exact detail of some incidents he recounts – things are gussied up for literary effect, and not presented as fact. Audacity, coming ten years later, is the statement of somone who knows he has the ultimate political aspiration (though even the younger version had an inkling that politics was in the picture). There are personal recollections (after meeting Bush for the first time as a senator, Obama sees the pres take a healthy spritz from a bottle of anti-bacterial soap, and he encourages the young senator to do the same – cuts down on the colds, Bush informs him), but most of the book reads like the work of the professor Obama had become, and of the president-in-waiting he hoped to show others he could be.

If there’s less “literature” in the second book, there is this reassurance: Our new president is smart. And he can write. He is also complex – none of the unreflective arrogance we have seen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the last 8 years.  I  thought again about the words I quoted two posts back, with Obama talking about the connection between ambivalence and being a good writer. Those self-contradictions and moments of doubt are the signs of both good writing and acknowledging the complextity of what it means to be human. I feel a little better knowing we have a president who understands that.

Some of my biggest ambivalence, perhaps ironically, revolves around writing itself. It has come up here often in the documentation of the Crisis. I am good, I am not good. I have something meaningful to say, everything I write is banal. My playwriting is not quite mainstream enough for commercial success, it is not edgy enough for the avant garde. Or just plain not good enough for either.

I don’t know how  I got from Bush, to Obama, to me.  Must be that messianic complex of mine kicking in again. No, I guess it had something to do with words, how using them well or poorly or barely at all says something about who he are and how we think. And that I admire people who can use them well, though the end to which they use them also matters. I think, so far, Obama has used his to good ends (if at times self-serving ones – hey, he’s still a pol). Let’s hope it continues. And in this era of hope and change, I hope I can find the inspiration to write something meaningful and wise. Call this my early New Year’s Resolution.  Or a New Era Resolution.

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~ by mburgan on November 8, 2008.

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