Insightful memoir of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign by a New York Times correspondent.
Traveling with the candidate, Bruni initially found him superficial, childish, and largely unknowledgeable about world affairs—unprepared and even unmotivated to be president. As they became better acquainted, the journalist began to see and appreciate Bush’s basic goodness and kindness toward others, his flashes of wit and compassion, his devotion to family, the loyalty he engendered in friends and associates, and his deep religious faith. Bruni shares the fruits of many close encounters with the Bushes: wife Laura is either extremely reticent or very dull; Mom Barbara is not above making catty remarks about the Clintons; daughters Jenna and Barbara barely pay attention to the campaign; George W. himself gets painfully homesick for Texas and is likely to fly off the handle at anyone who gets between him and his favorite meal (a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich). The author offers sharp, informed views about the troubled nature of big-money politics, from the unhealthy predominance of spin over substance to the complicity of the reporters who know better but participate in the frenzy for breaking stories anyway. Bruni watches Bush mature first as a candidate, then as president; he begins and ends with discussion of September 11, favorably rating his response and growth under trying circumstances. Bush was not ideal presidential material, suggests the author, but he’s not much kinder to candidate Al Gore; Bruni’s conclusion seems to be that for a variety of reasons, Americans in the year 2000 wanted a president who did not seem particularly eager or qualified for the job. The subject and many of the incidents discussed here are familiar, but this economically written and tightly organized account is a pleasure to read.
One of the few insider accounts of an American political campaign to successfully reveal the immense impact the process itself has on shaping candidates and, in the end, public officials.