Week of the Retread

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Hey, former President George W. Bush was hanging out at a few selected US media outlets last week, did you know? Granted, you had many more important things to do during that time – by definition – than to notice, but it’s true. He got himself out of his comfy Dallas townhouse and back into some degree of public exposure, mainly on the Today Show, on Oprah, and with Sean Hannity on Fox. He didn’t have much of interest to say – to the sharpest questions from his friendly, hand-picked TV hosts he usually replied with a plug to buy his newly-issued memoires, Decision Points to get an answer – but anyway, there he was again.

Over at the leading German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung it was Nils Minkmar who drew the short straw to actually pay this man some token amount of the attention he was seeking in order to write about the brief book-tour. The result is The week of the retread (my own interpretation of the German word Wiedergänger), which turns out to be an excellent bit of coverage even as Minkmar’s distaste with the whole exercise comes through loud and clear. Of course he wouldn’t welcome George W. Bush’s reappearance: most of the European continent held Bush in rather low regard throughout most of his presidency and certainly do now, when they can be compelled to think about him at all. The lede:

The preparation for the TV appearances on the occasion of his book lasted two years. After three days no one talked about them anymore. The comeback with his memoirs was a PR-disaster, as is only fitting for George W. Bush

Minkmar does brieflly go into the bizarre “scoop” Bush had ready with which to reward his TV-hosts, namely the strange tale of his mother showing him the preserved-in-formaldehyde remains of a stillborn sibling. But it is rather two other elements that stand out. The first is rapper Kanye West; apparently it was his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” remark in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster which moved NBC to invite West on the air after the Bush-Matt Lauer “Today” interview to give a response. There West managed to deliver a reasoned message on racism that completely overshadowed anything the ex-president had just said! If there was one name on people’s lips as a result of this book-tour, Minkmar claims, it was “West” and not “Bush.”

The second notable bit which Minkmar emphasizes is the torture issue, which inevitably reared its ugly head no matter how much Bush might have preferred to send such questioners off to consult his book about it instead. Minkmar asks, Wasn’t a government prosecutor listening in when Bush explicitly confirmed and defended his approval for torture techniques during his time in office? When, in response to questions of “Isn’t that illegal?”, he responded that, in fact, it must have been legal because his lawyers told him that it was? This hiding-behind-your-lawyer defense is particularly ironic, he notes, when contrasted with the tough, no-nonsense “Decider” persona which Bush was using the book and this book-tour to try to establish as how he will be remembered through History.

And indeed, that is what is important: not this brief and cynical publicity campaign, but George W. Bush’s historical legacy. Minkmar:

His appearances were deeply saddening for all friends of the United States. Here was a man challenged above his abilities, who took over at the beginning of the century an admired, young superpower and in just eight years plunged it into a financial, political and above all moral ditch. The judicial working-out of this era has hardly yet properly begun. That must change after this week.

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