A readable life, at once respectful and critical, of Bush I, who nursed “what must have been a burning desire to become president of the United States” without formulating any particular plans for what he’d do once he got the job.
Novelist/historian Wicker (Easter Lily, 1998, etc.) bookends his Dwight D. Eisenhower (2002) with this study of Bush père, who, like Ike, “did not offer himself as a proponent of certain issues or of a definite ideology or of any particular policy—such as, say, helping most Americans achieve affordable health care.” Yet, Wicker observes, Bush fought hard to attain office, and fought hard for much of the privilege that would accrue to his children, including the current president. Though he may have been born, in Ann Richards’s famous quip, with a “silver foot in his mouth,” Bush was no stranger to hard work, and Wicker’s account gives reason to admire his accomplishments as a businessman who carved out a small empire for himself in the oil fields of West Texas, to say nothing of his bravery in combat during WWII. Wicker is less inclined to admire Bush’s political career, however; confronted with a notoriously hard-right Texas Republican Party in the age of Goldwater, Bush betrayed his moderate inclinations and “moved almost as far to the right as was Goldwater himself,” denouncing civil rights and then cluelessly wondering why Texas’s black voters did not embrace him. Bush’s subsequent appointments to diplomatic and civil service postings in places such as Beijing and Langley were uneventful, Wicker writes, and his spot on the Reagan ticket was a matter of political expediency; Reagan had to be lobbied hard to endorse Bush’s candidacy once the Gipper’s two terms were up. In office, Bush accomplished almost nothing and couldn’t seem to offer any reason for voters to return him to office—and so they didn’t.
In the end, Wicker offers little more than “a nice man with good connections”: perhaps not the worst president, though the acorn doesn’t fall far from the oak.