"I have told various George W. haters that they had best not underestimate the man," I wrote, "that he’s smart, thoughtful in a brawny kind of way and, most of all, a good and decent man. … What I’ve never mentioned is that I didn’t vote for George W. I disagree with him on the Supreme Court, environment, abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action. So I voted against this good and decent man. It pained me to do it. … It baffles me that grown people must convince themselves that those with whom they disagree are stupid or malevolent."
This article was not at all what I expected, in a very good way. I have certainly been guilty of assuming and speaking the worst of Dubya. It can be easy to forget, in emotional times of deep disagreement on policy, that just like Obama, he is a well-educated man, he had information that I do not have, and even when I didn’t like the way he went about it, he was trying to do the right thing.
I had just read Bush’s 2010 memoir Decision Points, and I was struck by his many references to history. In the back of my mind was an article that Karl Rove had written for The Wall Street Journal in 2008, which revealed (much to the consternation of the president’s derisive critics) that Bush had read 186 books for pleasure in the preceding three years, consisting mostly of serious historical nonfiction.
I really wish I could have been there for this conversation:
President Bush leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and stared at me intently. "Are we off the record?" "Yes." And he began to talk—and talk and talk for what must have been nearly three hours. I’ve never told anyone the specifics of what he said that night, not even my wife or closest friends. I did not make notes later and have only my memory. In the journalism world, off the record is off the record. But I have repeatedly described the hours as "amazing," "remarkable," "stunning."