Harsanyi: Who wants to read a politician’s memoirs, anyway?
posted at 1:37 pm on March 20, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Earlier this week, we found out that Crown Publishing will give George W. Bush a $7 million bonus for the rights to his presidential memoirs, and that Bush already has 30,000 words written for the book. Bush will join Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon in efforts to write their own legacy after leaving office through autobiographies; Nixon wound up writing several books and creating a career as a political analyst after his disgraceful exit. David Harsanyi wonders why anyone bothers to read them, given the lack of honest perspective found in the genre:
When news broke this week that former President George W. Bush planned to pen a book exploring the tough decisions of his presidency, my initial thought was: Who cares?
But then I remembered that this kind of assault on our intelligence never ends. And it is not confined to a political party or ideology, and no creed, race or religion is immune from the generic dullness of books authored by politicians.
Is it conceivable that a politician could write a candid or fascinating book? The answer, I submit, is hell, no. Politicians are inherently risk-averse, obsessed with message control, legacy building and revisionism.
Well, it is conceivable, although perhaps not for American politicians. Winston Churchill wrote enormously illuminating histories of his experiences in both World Wars, especially his indispensable six-volume series on World War II, while still remaining and competing in politics. Any serious student of the period knows that it is required reading, quite gripping, and for the most part avoids revisionism entirely.
But that is the exception to the rule, and Harsanyi has great fun in a terrific column running down the execrable subgenres of the political memoir: The Bogus Campaign Manifesto, the I’m So Intellectual, The You Think You Have It Tough, and his favey-fave, The Let Me Explain To You How The World Works You Dolt subgenres. Most of today’s political class have availed themselves of at least one of these tools, and Barack Obama has managed to do combine all four into his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, which I found to be tedious and lecturesome. Obama just got $500,000 for a bonus for his pioneering effort to add a fifth for his new children’s book. George Bush is no exception to the rule, either, with his Bogus Campaign Manifesto A Charge To Keep.
That doesn’t mean that Bush’s upcoming memoir is doomed to failure. He might provide an honest self-exposure and add something substantial to the historical record, as his hero Churchill did. But anyone who followed this President knows that he may have been one of the worst communicators in modern White House history. He repeatedly failed to defend himself against substantial and silly charges alike. He rarely spoke to the American people, had almost an allergy to press conferences, and generally defaulted on defining the issues and his presidency.
Based on that track record, does anyone expect his memoirs to provide a wealth of enlightenment? And if it did, wouldn’t it serve to annoy the hell out of those of us who complained bitterly about the Bush administration’s competence on communications for the past eight years?