Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

January 21, 2005

True Confessions: A Democrat Likes GWB

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:52 am

Lanny Davis was Special Counsel to President Clinton from 1996-1998, during the impeachment procedings. He is an unapologetic and enthusiastic liberal and Clinton supporter. He also seems, as far as I can tell, to be an honest guy, notwithstanding his spirited defense of some of Clinton’s whoppers. He even apologized to Ken Starr after it was all over.

Given his liberal credentials, it is not surprising that he waited until after Bush’s last campaign to come forward with this information. It turns out he knew George W. Bush in college and considers him a friend. He remembers two really interesting things about GWB as he writes in the Los Angeles Times:

I have known President Bush for 40 years — ever since we attended Yale College together in the 1960s. I’m a Democrat (and I was a Democrat then), but I liked him and I still like him, as a sincere and kind man and a good friend.

Because I’ve known him for so long, it was clear to me when he first began running for president that he could beat Al Gore, and I warned Gore of that early on. I knew it then (and again in 2004) because I knew, from my earliest memories of George W. Bush, that not only did people routinely underestimate him — but that he encouraged them to do so. Ask Ann Richards, who was 20 points ahead in the closing weeks of Bush’s first campaign for governor of Texas but lost to him after his last-minute surge.

The master of low expectations — that is my clearest, and fondest, memory of George Bush at Yale. We would hang out together in the wood-paneled common room at Davenport College, where we both lived. I’d be worried about studying for my history exam or outlining my outlines; he would be relaxing on the couches, observing people walking by, maybe chatting up a girl or talking sports with another guy. As far as I could tell, he never studied or worried much about his grades. He looked exactly the same then as today, without the gray hair. Same sardonic grin, always comfortable with himself, no sense of pressure, coasting intellectually. Yet when the term was over, he would get by — sometimes Bs, sometimes Cs. I could never figure how he did it without, apparently, ever opening a book. [Perhaps he was smart -- and/or studied in private? --DR]

But despite what you may have heard or read, George was not just frat-house party boy. One of my most vivid memories is this: A few of us were in the common room one night. It was 1965, I believe — my junior year, his sophomore. We were making our usual sarcastic commentaries on those who walked by us. A little nasty perhaps, but always with a touch of humor. On this occasion, however, someone we all believed to be gay walked by, although the word we used in those days was “queer.” Someone, I’m sorry to say, snidely used that word as he walked by.

George heard it and, most uncharacteristically, snapped: “Shut up.” Then he said, in words I can remember almost verbatim: “Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while and see how it feels before you make a comment like that?”

Remember, this was the 1960s — pre-Stonewall, before gay rights became a cause many of us (especially male college students) had thought much about. I remember thinking, “This guy is much deeper than I realized.”

(Boldface added.)

I’m not sure it’s a good thing that we live in a society where it’s considered “deep” to object to gratuitous insults. But if we only get to have a few people who object to gratuitous insults, we might as well elect one of them President.

Thanks to PowerLine for the link.

2 Responses to “True Confessions: A Democrat Likes GWB”

  1. romy Says:

    sorry to trod on what is otherwise a rather nice tribute, but i don’t think we can consider it a praiseworthy mark of intelligence to get through college without ever opening a book. and i know i’m rubbing salt in a wound, here, but … i got Cs on my econ tests without ever opening the book. it doesn’t make me smart at econ. it makes me lazy, not to mention intimidated by numbers and logic problems.

    i do like your last sentence, though. very good point.

  2. Different River Says:

    Romy: Farbeit from me to consider it praiseworthy to get through college — or any other part of life — without ever opening a book. I have enough books in my house to fill 10 bookcases, and that’s not counting the kids’ books! And I’ve (at least) opened them all. However, while it might not be praiseworthy, getting B’s and C’s in college before the great grade inflation of the 1970s without reading is probably a sign of either raw intelligence or a good ability to assimilate information quickly, if not of scholarship as such.

    Nevertheless, the focus here is on GWB’s tendency, possibly intentionally, to create low expectations of himself in others. Note that we don’t really know he never opened a book — we just know he didn’t open a book in the common room, other otherwise in the presence of Lanny Davis, and that he spent a lot of time in the common room schmoozing. It’s possible he studied elsewhere — his room or the library stacks — and didn’t let people see it, either because studying wasn’t “cool,” or to create low expectations.

    I think it will be interesting to see, a decade or so after GWB leaves office, what people in his administration say about his work habits. Ronald Reagan had a public reputation for being far above the details and nitty-gritty, and not a reputation for being well-read. Yet, after his administration, staff members like Michael Deaver wrote books discussing how he read huge amounts of material from staffers, and returned it to them with comments. Out of a fear of being caught leaving something out, the staffers responded by giving him more to read, and Reagan read it all. I read somewhere — can’t find the reference now — that when scholars went into his personal library, they found not only huge numbers of books, but most with notes scribbled in the margins indicating he’d read them.

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