Every man has an important story to tell - even more so if he was once the president of the United States. George W. Bush, unfortunately, barely skims his.
Yes, his memoir "Decision Points," covers a great deal of ground, and for the intended purposes. The post-presidential retelling of events is always an effort to goad a legacy forward. So, as is to be expected, Bush's recently released book is being dissected by historians, politicos and pundits alike.
But Bush's allure for both detractors and fans has long been his golly-gee, easygoing demeanor. He's the guy you'd choose to have a beer with, as the conventional wisdom once had it, rather than his more cerebral political foes.
So why not use that gift for a greater good? Give us a lesson worth engaging.
I wish President Bush would tell us about the drinking. The full story, not the cursory, told-in-three-pages bullet-point version offered in "Decision Points." Really engage us with how he traversed the route that has tripped up so many others. Explain the sneaky way alcohol has for morphing from social fun with pals to a daily habit of near ravenous cravings.
Obviously, we're all curious about what Bush has to say about the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, as well as his reflections on hanging chads, water-boarding, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan and the financial bailouts. Indeed, few of us can fathom what it must have been like when Bush's chief of staff whispered into his ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." But his struggle with alcohol - clearly central to Bush's life - gets short shrift. He opens his book with it. "Quitting drinking was one of the toughest decisions I have ever made," Bush writes. "Without it, none of the others that follow in this book would have been possible." Bush lets readers know his faith in God, and his love for Laura Bush and his twin daughters loomed large in the decision to stop. He alludes to an aptitude for addiction and of replacing the craving for alcohol with running and chocolate.
But then ... period, new paragraph.
To learn more you have to combine husband's and wife's recent autobiographies.
Laura Bush, in her memoir, "Spoken from the Heart," is far more candid, descriptive and therefore riveting. Maybe it is her librarian's knowledge of the power of words.
She gives context by recounting dry Texas counties and setups for bottles of booze kept in lockers at country clubs. And, equally important to addiction, a culture where "you might talk about the wind and the weather, but troubles you swallowed deep down inside." She talks of a date with a boy who drank too much and being scared as he drove her home while drunk. She writes of being the wife to the man who is drunk at a party. And perhaps most importantly, she tells of the lineage of drinking.
Laura Bush's father was a drinker.
"Years after George quit, as Mother and I sat talking one quiet afternoon, she turned and said that, unlike me, she had never thought to ask Daddy to stop drinking." The passage is set apart by extra lines for emphasis.
Laura Bush knows it is pivotal. She played a role in stopping the cycle of alcohol in her family. Daughters of drinkers are almost programmed to fall in love with drinkers. Too many never hear their mother's say those words.
Here's a pitch for an intrepid publishing agent. How about a dual autobiography? A book co-authored by Laura and George W. Bush. Draw from the literary skills of Laura and her ability to tease introspection out of George.
If they are ready to reveal more, and I suspect they might be, have them pen a book that is less a memoir of the presidential years. Give us more of the young couple they once were, newly married in Texas.
Next time, address drinking for what it is - a societal problem that is as acute today as it was in 1986, the year George W. Bush took his last drink.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.