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The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush
By David Frum
Random House
HC, 384 pgs. US$25.95
ISBN: 0-3755-0903-8

The right man at the right time

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted February 3, 2003

The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. BushDavid Frum's bestseller, The Right Man is not a behind-the-scenes exposé of the George W. Bush White House - if that was what you were expecting, you can save your money. Rather than tabloid fodder, this tome is an insightful, but clearly deferential, examination of Bush's character and ideas that are cogently shaping his presidency. Sure, Frum was a Bush speechwriter for only a year, but it was one heck of a year! The September 11th "Day of Infamy" not only ignited a battle-royal against terrorism, but revealed the true mettle of George W. Bush as resolute world leader confronting an unparalleled threat. As Frum notes, "George W. Bush was hardly the obvious man for the job. But by a very strange fate, he turned out to be, of all unlikely things, the right man".

The overarching message of Frum's book is twofold: a) character is key, from which all else flows, and, b) the US is blessed with proper and moral leadership with President George W. Bush at the helm during these crisis times. Most Americans accurately sense that Bush is a good and honest man who has the courage of his convictions despite myriad vitriolic attacks by naysayers. Bush projects as pure Americana, the quintessential tough guy holding his emotions in check just beneath the surface. As Frum rightly observes, "Bush was (and still is) hopeless at faking emotion". Thank heavens, Bush is not a lip-biting phony that manipulatively turns on and off the tears in a Clintonesque manner.

But it was much more than the superficial aspects of Bill Clinton's personality that Republicans, and others from a variety of political stripes, found abhorrent in our prior president. The GOP base was particularly offended by Clinton who left an unseemly dirty bathtub ring of immorality as he left the oval office -- given his history of sexual indiscretions, habitual lying, scandal-ridden pardons, etc. Unquestionably, Republicans yearned for a leader who would restore the honor and dignity of the presidency, and they found that in George W. Bush, who was widely viewed as the anti-Clinton or as the author asserts, the "Un-Clinton". Frum rightly states, "Bush's base liked his tax-cut plan. They supported him on missile defense, on Social Security reform, on faith-based charities, even if less enthusiastically on education. But what they most wanted from him was something much simpler: They wanted him not to be Clinton."

Bush, in fact, is a very spiritual and religious man, and his Evangelical Christian faith permeates the culture of the White House. The Bush team "lives clean", according to Frum, and is almost totally comprised of Bible-believing Christians. The author was amazed by the modern culture of Evangelicalism: "To understand the Bush White House, you must understand its predominant creed. It was a kindly faith, practical and unmystical. It had absorbed a surprising amount of the culture of the non-evangelical world around it -- feminism, country-rock music, psychotherapy, even permissive child rearing". Frum, who described himself as a "not especially observant Jew", found that he was a stricter parent than most of his Evangelical co-workers at the Bush White House. Although Frum got along well with his Christian colleagues, he offered up some interesting insights regarding the mindset of Jews toward Bible-believing Christians. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is staunchly pro-Israel, many Jews are more than leery of Bush's evangelical religiosity, they are out-and-out intimidated by it. Frum notes that the "American Jewish Community is so terrified of non-Jewish religiosity that any reference to God by a non-Jew, no matter how friendly the intent, unnerves them". Obviously, the GOP needs to be cognizant of these sensitivities as we outreach to the Jewish community.

In the wake of September 11th, Frum notes that, "It will someday be difficult to describe to people who did not live through the 9/11 attacks of the blood-red fury that swept the country in the days afterwards…Bush's great gift to the country was his calm and self-restraint". Frum describes President Bush's National Cathedral speech as "flawless", as he spoke of the evil ones that waged war against us "by stealth and deceit and murder", and which reflects the advent of the "new Bush". Up in New York City that same day, Bush connected with the firefighters and volunteers at Ground Zero in an unforgettable, emotionally-charged atmosphere, almost transcendent in nature. With bullhorn in hand and a retired firefighter at his side, Bush told the crowd, "I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon". The crowd kept roaring "USA!, USA!, USA!" - which was a riveting moment playing out over the airwaves for the entire nation to see.

President Bush was not the only dignitary to make memorable comments that day. As the motorcade of Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki, and President Bush made its way from the Wall Street heliport to Ground Zero, they were met all along the short route by ebullient rescue workers, policeman, firefighters, and medics who were cheering wildly in support of their leaders. Frum notes that Giuliani pointed out the window of the limousine at the crowd, saying to Bush: "You see those people cheering for you? Not one of them voted for you". It was truly an amazing day in the history of New York City, which is ordinarily a bastion of liberalism and Democratic partisanship.

The Right Man is a terrific insider's account of the Bush White House. I would highly recommend it.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

Buy David Frum's The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush at Amazon.com for only $15.57 (40% off)

Other related stories: (open in a new window)

  • Life during wartime by Steve Martinovich (November 4, 2002)
    Steve Martinovich finds Bill Sammon's Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the Bush White House a little too laudatory
  • From frat boy to president by Steve Martinovich (April 1, 2002)
    Steve Martinovich reviews Frank Bruni's Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush and comes away disappointed at the missed opportunity

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