The late administration of George W. Bush has found its Dr. Pangloss. In some respects, that might be a good thing.
Pangloss, of course, was the character in Candide who insisted against all contrary evidence that we live in “the best of all possible worlds.” In this new memoir, Bush’s longtime deputy director of public liaison, Tim Goeglein, paints his former boss as the best of all possible presidents. Indeed, his account of Bush sometimes borders on hagiography, as he gushes that in various ways Bush compares well historically with Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and even George Washington. He also makes the extravagant claim — ludicrous even for those of us who to this day defend the decisions to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq and who credit Bush for the famous “surge” in the latter — that Bush was “one of our country’s most effective wartime presidents ever.” Goeglein marshals little evidence to bolster this extraordinary declaration.
To appreciate this book, a reader must move beyond this annoying over-enthusiasm and beyond numerous instances where stronger editing could have improved the final product. Moving beyond, however, is well worth doing. Goeglein’s account is a convincing and necessary reminder that, on some fronts, Bush was a superbly dedicated and effective conservative president. Goeglein also provides a moving testament, on multiple fronts, to Bush’s essential human decency. Most of all, the author frequently, and with great eloquence, makes an intellectual and moral case for full-throated conservatism “without prefix or suffix,” and outlines an attractive vision for a conservative American “renaissance.”
Goeglein’s job as coordinator of the administration’s outreach to conservative-activist groups, combined with an earnest and eminently likable personality, made him a well-regarded professional friend for literally hundreds of right-thinking activists. It also meant that his well-publicized fall from grace in a plagiarism scandal sent waves of disbelief through the conservative-activist world. Goeglein forthrightly addresses his culpability, makes no excuses for his dishonesty — and, in an account almost chill-inducing, tells of the president’s grace-filled response to the staffer’s deep transgression. The Bush who emerges in this vignette, told at the book’s very beginning, gives the reader reason to excuse the grateful Goeglein’s overabundant praise for Bush’s job performance. A soul redeemed can be forgiven for looking through rosy lenses at a mentor who served as a key vehicle for that redemption.