George W. Bush
From Act I, Chapter 3
Like it or not, everyone walks in George Bush's shoes on September 11.
It's the way it works when any one person is so utterly blended into a moment in history, a date that repeats itself over and over, resonating through living memory until everyone who was alive that day is gone.
Wearing those shoes, if they happen to be yours, is a kind of solemn obligation to the living, and to the dead.
It was, after all, Bush's day, too. Part of the American saga of this age is the improbable tale of a bully's heart breaking. Everyone saw that. He's always been a bit of a bully. Just ask his brother, Jeb, his mom, his old buddies from Yale. No one would tell you otherwise. And America detected that in him, along with the bonhomie and vengefulness, the insouciance and impulsivity. Gore, though lively in private, offered a flat public persona. That was a main reason why Bush was able to wrestle him into a virtual electoral tie; in a president, in this era of public survival through continuous storytelling, people want someone who might surprise them. Like a high-wire act with no net, Bush made it to the top mostly on pure nerve.
Which he lost on 9/11. That was visible to anyone who saw him on the tarmac making his first timorous statements and speaking uncertainly at first before the rubble at Ground Zero. This began to turn when he grabbed the bullhorn. By the time he delivered the best speech of his presidency, two weeks after the attack, he was rebuilt, a chastened bully, who wiped away tears, brushed off the dirt, and was reconstituted by vengeance dressed up as high purpose.
The moment was so cathartic for Bush it's easy to see how it would be difficult for him to move past it. Seizing on the moment to set in motion policies such as the war against all terrorists, everywhere, or an excuse, finally, to get Saddam Hussein--efforts Bush led but had forceful company in creating--eventually caged him. It corrupted real emotion with tactical convenience.
Big anniversaries--five, ten, twenty-five--are mileposts to stop and think, to reassess the journey up to this point and consider the path to the next milepost, far ahead.
And that's what many Americans are thinking about on this 9/11. All right, five years. Where are we now, where might we end up? . . .
In past books and articles, Ron Suskind has provided unique access and insight into the Bush White House and the inner workings of the administration. The Way of the World closes out the Bush era with stunning new disclosures and analysis, taking the reader inside the Oval Office, the Situation Room, and the mind of the president.