Motivations of a Statesman?

Since finals ended last week, I’ve been taking a nice break from schoolwork, job applications, and other responsibilities by settling in with a few books. One which I’ve been working on is George W. Bush’s Decision Points, certainly not bound to be a literary classic, but one which any self-respecting young conservative ought to pick up. For whatever reason, I never lost my affection for W, even in the darkest days of his late presidency, and when his poll numbers languished in the low 20s. There was always a kind of contrarian pleasure in standing up for GWB when all others ridiculed him. 

Despite my admiration for the president, I couldn’t help but be a bit alarmed by this passage from the book, in which Bush makes his decision to run for the presidency:

Ultimately, the decisive factors were less tangible. I felt a drive to do more with my life, to push my potential and test my skills at the highest level. I had been inspired by the example of service my father and grandfather had set. I had watched Dad climb into the biggest arena and succeed. I wanted to find out if I had what it took to join him. Even if I lost, I would still have a wonderful life. My family loved me. I would be governor of a great state. And I would never have to wonder what might have been. ‘When my time is up,’ I would tell friends, ‘my dance card is going to be full.’

I have always shooed away Oedipal explanations for W’s actions, particularly among those political observers for whom the father-son dynamic seemed to be the only analytical tool in the rhetorical kit (I’m looking squarely at you, Maureen Dowd). 

Nevertheless, Bush’s admission that one of the primary motivations guiding his decision to run was that “I wanted to find out if I had what it took to join [Dad],” seems to confirm some of the pop-psychology which Bush and his team spent eight years fending off.

What’s most disappointing, however, is that Bush never mentions larger reasons for why he should run. There were no issues about which he was passionate. He didn’t have any real vision for the United States. He was running so that he could fill out his dance card. This is probably true of nearly every presidential candidate: at least GWB has the honesty to tell it forthrightly. But that hardly makes it easier to swallow. 

Charles Dameron