Proverbs 27:17 — The proverb expresses the gain of mutual counsel as found in clear, well-defined thoughts. Two minds, thus acting on each other, become more acute. This is better than to see in “sharpening” the idea of provoking, and the point of the maxim in the fact that the quarrels of those who have been friends are bitter in proportion to their previous intimacy. — Barnes’ Notes on the Bible







Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.





Friend sharpening friend:   Son W. Bush’s sharpening up with iconic sage scribe Kathleen Parker   —



Obviously what a president says and does is fair game for criticism. The way Bush chose to express himself was the way he would be perceived and judged. To act arrogantly is to be arrogant in the public eye. To speak awkwardly is to be awkward.

But in private, Bush was a very different man. In small groups, he was articulate and confident. When the cameras were off, he was relaxed and natural. Not everyone is made for TV, and this is no criticism. It can be a deficit for public figures, but people who are at one with lights and cameras are sometimes better actors than statesmen.

Everyone is familiar with Bush’s history and performance. What I offer is an anecdote or two that I think reveal what the cameras and critics could not. These recollections are simply recorded for the sake of biography in the interest of  providing a more complete picture of a two-term, transformational president who changed our world in ways that won’t be fully understood or judged in our lifetimes.


Somehow I manage not to burst into tears. After the meeting, President Bush  returns to give me another hug, whereupon I ask a favor. Would he write a note to my deceased friend’s son [friend had just died in a car accident]? Absolutely. In the Oval Office, he asks the boy’s name. Jackson. He writes: “Dear Jackson, I know your heart is broken. I will pray for you. Sincerely, George W. Bush.”

More or less. Unfortunately, I failed to copy the letter before delivering it to the son at my friend’s funeral.

I tell this story because it should be part of the public record of this president, not least because such gestures were not rare. Bush often met privately and without fanfare with the families of fallen soldiers. He often visited the wounded without anyone’s knowing. He really did feel others’ pain.

During a one-on-one interview on Air Force One, I asked him about his hardest days as president. He rejected the question as irrelevant. The hardest day of his life was seeing his father lose his bid for reelection, not because the Bush family needed more time in the Rose Garden but because seeing his father, “this great man,” suffer was so painful.

Every president (thus far) is also just a man, which is to say, human. His frailties and flaws are in plain sight, every gesture a potential weapon of self-destruction. For reasons that are perhaps a characteristic of our untamed nature, we seem intent on elevating presidents only to bring them down.

Thus it was with Bush, who, our favorite cartoons notwithstanding, was more than a composite of swagger and smirk. He was also a kind man with a gentle heart who should be remembered as such.





“Sharpening” as quarreling:   Son W. Bush’s provoking of iconic sage scribe Maureen Dowd  —



BARBARA BUSH is a word that rhymes with fright.       

She’s right.       

Asked on the “Today” show whether she thought her son Jeb should run for president in 2016, as W. has urged, the famously candid and caustic Silver Fox offered the most honest assessment of her oldest son’s legacy.       

Aside from the cascading disasters that the country is still struggling to recover from, a key W. legacy is derailing the path of the son Poppy and Barbara Bush dearly wanted to be president: Jeb.       

For the first time, the 87-year-old former first lady acknowledged, in essence, that W. had worn out the family’s welcome in the White House. “He’s by far the best qualified man, but no, I really don’t,” she said when asked if her second son should aim to be the third Bush in chief. “I think it’s a great country. There are a lot of great families, and it’s not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we’ve had enough Bushes.”


But Barbara, who was also giving the back of the hand to the Clintons, spit out the truth. It is wearying that America, a country that broke away from aristocratic England in a burst of rugged individualism, has spawned so many of its own royal political families, dynasties that feel entitled to inhabit the White House, generation after generation, letting their family competitions and tensions shape policy and history to an alarming degree.       

Why does a George P., Chelsea, Beau Biden, Joe Kennedy III presidential sweepstakes feel so inevitable?


W.’s presidency will go down in infamy because he ignored Katrina and the Constitution and cherry-picked intelligence with Tony Blair to build up a faux case for invading Iraq. That is why the three Democratic presidents who talked at his library’s dedication had to cherry-pick their topics, focusing mostly on W.’s good work on AIDS in Africa.       

Though he presents himself as the Batman of anti-terrorism, W. ignored the warning that Osama was going to strike and didn’t catch him dead or alive. He failed to fix the egregious problems of agencies coordinating watch lists and dropping the ball on information about terrorist suspects, which flared again in the Boston bombings.       

W. and other Bush officials continue to say they could not possibly have known that Saddam had no W.M.D. But I’m now told that Saddam sent word through the Saudis to the Bushies over and over that he had no W.M.D. and was only blustering to keep his nemesis in the neighborhood, Iran, at bay.       

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld weren’t looking for the truth, and they weren’t hitting the pause button the way President Obama is with Syria right now, sensitive to the quicksand nature of the region. They simply wanted to blast some Arabs and Saddam was a weak target, just as W. was a weak president, easily led wherever Cheney and his co-conspirator Rummy, along with their bellicose band of neocons, wanted to take him.       

Obama and others praised 43 last week as “comfortable in his own skin.” That’s absurd. People who are comfortable in their own skin don’t shape their lives and actions so self-consciously, and often self-destructively, on another. W. veered between aping his father and doing the opposite of his father.       

Pressed by Charlie Rose on “CBS This Morning,” W. reiterated the unfathomable fact that he went to war with the same dictator that his father did, without ever seeking his dad’s counsel. “He knows,” W. said of his father, “that each presidential decision requires advice from people who have studied an issue.” That’s quite a rationalization. Who, after all, has studied the issue more closely than another president who decided against invading Baghdad?       

Sadly, no one in W.’s inner circle studied the issue. As Colin Powell has noted, there was no proper debate or meeting of the National Security Council before the invasion. W. went to war on body language, manipulated by the war-mongering gargoyles who would also bring us torture, domestic spying and secret prisons.       

“I can’t remember a specific incident where I called up and said, ‘What do I do?’ ” W. said about getting advice from his level-headed dad.       

And that’s the shame of it.



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