Ten Things We Learned About George W. Bush From His Ex-Speechwriter


Back in August, there was reportedly considerable hand-wringing among Bush's inner circle about the tell-all account soon to be released by George W. Bush's former speechwriter, Matt Latimer, about his time in the Oval Office. And, it turns out, it was maybe for good reason. GQ snagged some excerpts of the book, Speech Less: Tales of a White House Survivor, and the portrait it paints of the ex-president (and his advisers), is, though not horrible, often unflattering. But not always! Herewith, the top ten things we learned about Dubya.

10. Bush Wears Crocs: Particularly when he practices speeches.

9. Bush Nicknamed Speechwriter Jonathan Horn "Horny": This is not surprising at all, just funny.

8. Bush Is Arrogant About Things He Shouldn't Be Arrogant About: "I know it sounds arrogant to say," he told Latimer, “but I redefined the Republican Party." Uh, yeah, you made it into something that nobody wanted to vote for.

7. Bush Isn't As Good at Delivering FDR-type Lines As FDR:
White House counsel Fred Fielding, writes Latimer,

let us know that the president needed an FDR line — like "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." The president had his own suggestion for such a line, however: "Anxiety can feed anxiety." So we produced a speech with no real information and our FDR knockoff line. Here were some of the kinder reviews: "lackluster"; "there is no news here"; "the president should go away for a while."

6. Bush Takes Pride in Thinking Up Very Simple Jokes:

“Dana, did you tell them my line?” the president once asked with a smile on his face.

“No, Mr. President,” Dana [Perino] replied hesitantly. “I didn’t.”

He paused for a minute. I could see him thinking maybe he shouldn’t say it, but he couldn’t resist. “If bullshit was currency,” he said straight-faced, “Joe Biden would be a billionaire.” Everyone in the room burst out laughing.

5. Bush Refers to People As "Cat": "We got to make this understandable for the average cat," he said of one speech. Another time, talking about candidate Barack Obama, Bush said, "This is a dangerous world, and this cat isn’t remotely qualified to handle it." Relatedly ...

4. Bush Didn't Have Much Regard for Barack Obama: Continuing his assessment of Obama, Bush remarked, "This guy has no clue, I promise you."

3. Bush Thought Hillary Was Fat, Would Become President: Latimer writes: "'Wait till her fat keister is sitting at this desk,' [Bush] once said (except he didn’t say 'keister')." We bet he said ass!

2. Bush Didn't Understand His Administration's Own Economic Proposals: “We’re buying low and selling high,” Bush kept saying about the Treasury's plan to snap up troubled mortgages.

The problem was that his proposal didn’t work like that. One of the president’s staff members anxiously pulled a few of us aside. “The president is misunderstanding this proposal,” he warned. “He has the wrong idea in his head.” As it turned out, the plan wasn’t to buy low and sell high. In some cases, in fact, Secretary Paulson wanted to pay more than the securities were likely worth in order to put more money into the markets as soon as possible. This was not how the president’s proposal had been advertised to the public or the Congress. It wasn’t that the president didn’t understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn’t seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three.

Eventually, Bush, exasperated, delivers a classic line: "Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?" he asked.

1. Bush Was Remarkably Prescient About Sarah Palin: Right after Palin was selected as John McCain's running mate, amid the euphoria of his White House advisers, Bush delivered what would become a spot-on assessment of her liabilities. "This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for," he said. "She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out." Never mind the fact that Bush, when he ran for president, also lacked experience on the national level. The guy nailed that one.