Despite this publishing campaign, it is very clear that Bush doesn’t really mind terribly what people think and say about him.
Where does he gets his insouciance from? Is it his religious faith, or might class have a part to play? Does he have the sublime self-confidence not to judge himself by others’ criteria because he is a genuine American aristocrat? “Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” he answers, in precisely the way that a real aristo would. His theory is that “I just always tried to do what was right, and never compromised my principles”. He might have made errors, like every president, but they were not over matters of principle.
Decision Points is unlike most politicians’ memoirs, which try to prove omniscience. Bush admits to making several mistakes, but puts these in their context and invites the reader to consider alternative scenarios. “You’re rarely judged by the decisions you don’t make,” he points out. “The Middle East would be an even more dangerous place today, for example, if we’d backed down in front of Saddam. It takes time for history to take a broad enough perspective.” Yet there are signs that it is already starting to. Karl Rove – who Bush describes as “a sort of political mad scientist” – called the other day to tell him about a poll where he and Barack Obama were running neck-and-neck with 45 per cent approval ratings, a major advance on the 34 per cent when he left office in January 2009. Yet Bush clearly could hardly care less.
“I didn’t care when I had a 90 per cent approval rating after 9/11,” Bush says, “and I don’t care now either. A lot of my relaxed attitude to life — I feel no need for a desperate struggle or for refashioning myself — comes from the knowledge that they called Lincoln ‘a baboon’ and almost drummed Truman from office. A long-term view is the only way to judge an administration. Also, with a new president, you tend to get judged against the backdrop of predecessors and successors.” Which is why the timing of this book publication, the week after Obama’s “shellacking” in the mid-term elections, is inspired. Yet Bush won’t be drawn on any current political controversies, just to help him sell books. As I ask him about the Ground Zero mosque or the Tea Party or Obama’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan next July. He just counters with: “Nice try.”