During any Presidential Administration, there are heated debates, accusations of horrible mismanagement, and political intrigue, but they are actively papered over and downplayed by a powerful White House communications operation dedicated to protecting the image of the President. Once everyone leaves office, however…..
It seems the floodgates of insider accounts that “make news” and tell heretofore unknown details about the good old days of the Bush Administration are opening, and the stream of details might be more interesting than most.
Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security, has a memoir coming out September 1, and the tease of salacious material is the revelation that the Administration did in fact manipulate the color-coded threat level with political considerations in mind.
Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is also working on his memoir, and there are sure to be others (I’m not going to do the exhaustive list, you get the idea…)
The most interesting of course are those from the principles themselves. Former President Bush is working on a memoir where he revisits the 10 most important decisions from his presidency, focusing on terrorism and how it dominated his presidency.
And of course there’s the revelation that former VP Cheney is also at work, penning a memoir (the old fashion way, on legal pads that someone else can type up for him…) where he breaks with Bush on some key issues. Cheney, of course, was famous for deriding those who wrote tell-all books, right up until he started writing one.
With all these memoirs, there will be the obligatory book tour and media appearances on all the major cable TV outlets. These guys need to sell books, so they will lay out some hints of juicy gossip and brilliant insight.
As interesting, I think, is methodological question of how to use these documents as sources for the upcoming article on decision-making in the Bush White House (what–you don’t have that started yet?). On the one hand, these are valuable, primary source documents, the recollections of decision-makers and participants (or at least recollections as told to their ghost-writers/assistants). For scholars writing about the massive shifts in US foreign policy of the first Bush term, it might be useful to include both Bush’s and Cheney’s views on a key decision–information that can easily be gleaned from memoirs.
However, its important to be careful how one uses memoirs. I’m reminded of the exchange between Brooks and Wholforth and English about the end of the Cold War. In arguing over competing arguments over the same events using much of the same evidence, they pick a fight over how to interpret the memoirs of Gorbachev and other high party officials. Each claims that the memoirs support the argument.
Today, memoirs are about selling books and continuing the image-making process. That said, they still reveal interesting details about a situation that won’t appear in any contemporaneous journalism or even archived memos.
What I’d really like to see–once all the “good” memoirs come out–is a discourse analysis of Bush Administration memoirs. Viewing these books as part of the construction of history rather than attempts at more accurate reconstructions of historic events would be quite the interesting project. Something to file away under the to-do list….