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Looking forward.

Looking Forward.

George Bush with Victor Gold. Doubleday, $18.95. There is nothing so galling as a good ghostwriter. Here I was primed for mining some easy humor and cheap invective out of the droll notion of George Bush writing his autobiography just in time for the Iowa caucuses. I envisioned a political version of Vanna Speaks replete with helpful hints on how to choose the proper color watchband for a state funeral. Or better yet, a political memoir filled with telling omissions and Freudian undertones. But what I was not prepared for was the competence of former Spiro Agnew speechwriter Vic Gold, who has managed to make Bush's life story half-way interesting without providing much ammunition for either cynical reporters or curious rivals. Perhaps the best thing that can be said for George Bush after reading Looking Forward is that the guy does know how to hire decent help.

Still, with a little digging we can find some inadvertent humor in this up-from-Andover saga of Bush's life through 1981, with a nervous eight pages thrown in on the Irancontra scandal. There is, for example, the gloriously obtuse footnote in which Bush purports to be puzzled by unshakable charges of "preppyism' without mentioning that he did indeed prep at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Then there is Bush's bold prediction in the book's last chapter (an ersatz question and answer session) that the dominant issue in the 1988 campaign will be "leadership itself and how the various candidates perceive it.' Connoisseurs of banal understatement might appreciate Bush's reflections on the loss of two crewmen when his plane was shot down during World War II ("I still don't understand the "logic' of war--why some survive and others are lost in their prime'). But my favorite is the historical ignorance that prompted free-market, conservative oilman George Bush to name his company after a Mexican revolutionary, because he and his partner had just seen Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata.

It is, alas, pretty thin gruel. Little in the book helps us unravel the central mystery of George Bush and his Amazing Resume: how one could have done so much, accomplished so little, and remain so unaffected by the experience? There are moments when one fears that "Doonesbury' has Bush pegged perfectly as the Invisible Man. Take Bush's reaction when he was asked to become the first outsider in history to head the CIA. Does he reflect on the role of good intelligence in the East-West struggle? Does he wonder whether he knows enough to oversee covert operations? Of course not. In a characteristically arid passage, Bush reflects, "After 13 months of duty in China, I liked the idea of administering a worldwide organization, a job that would require 110 percent effort from early morning to late night.'

But it is unfair to ridicule the vice-president as totally devoid of principles and beliefs. As Bush reveals in this memoir, he made a courageous stand when he ran into confirmation problems over his nomination as CIA director. Told by GOP supporters that he would have to publicly reject the possibility of serving as Jerry Ford's 1976 running mate to win Senate approval, Bush petulantly refused. "Enough was enough,' he writes. "Being at the service of the president was one thing, but catering to partisan demands to be confirmed was asking too much.' That incident could be read another way: the only cause that ever prompted Bush to rise above ambition (to be CIA) director) was greater ambition (to be Ford's vice president). Even this brief profile in courage was marred when the would-be CIA director agreed to a face-saving compromise in which Ford announced that Bush would not be on the 1976 Republican ticket.

What then are we to make of George Bush on the cusp of achieving that final line of the resume? My guess from reading this memoir is that Bush once knew precisely who he was and what he wanted. Up until his fortieth birthday, Bush concedes, he viewed money "as the ultimate measure of achievement.' There is a sincerity about this admission that rings true. But Bush never says precisely what replaced avarice. He talks vaguely about "having passed the age of 40, I'd concluded that there were other important ways to contribute to our children's future.' That notion has driven many men into public service. But most of them have had a much clearer vision of what they wanted to accomplish. For George Bush, however, the strategy has always been to get ahead and figure out what to do once he got there. It is an odd and scary reason to seek the presidency.
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Author:Shapiro, Walter
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1987
Words:774
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