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W.:The Rough Draft

by Matthew Continetti

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, by Peter Baker (Doubleday, 816 pp., $35)

In April, the five living American presidents gathered in Dallas for the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library. Sitting on an outdoor stage under a bright Texas sun, they addressed an assembly of dignitaries, journalists, and former Bush-administration officials, including Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. When it was Bush’s turn to speak, his description of his former vice president was gracious and kind. “From the day I asked Dick to run with me, he served with loyalty, principle, and strength,” he said. “Proud to call you friend.” Cheney, relaxed and healthy thanks to a successful heart transplant, and wearing dark sunglasses and a ten-gallon hat, smiled coolly.

The relationship between the 43rd president and the 46th vice president is the main topic of Peter Baker’s mammoth book. Baker says Days of Fire is “the most documented history of the Bush-Cheney White House to date” and “a neutral history of a White House about which no one is neutral.” He’s right on both counts. It’s also the latest episode in an ongoing reconsideration of Bush that began as soon as he departed Washington, D.C., for Texas on January 20, 2009.

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