Monday, July 18, 2005

Aikman's other book...and something better by Wallerstein

At the same time thirdpartydreamer took up the task of reading David Aikman's book on Christianity in China, I agreed to look at his other book, A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush. I did find a few interesting things...although not nearly as much as thirdpartydreamer found in that other one. (And the present book does include some nice, complimentary photos of Bush--take that, Michael Moore!--including his staged "turkey" platter surprise in Baghdad in 2003...)

Man of Faith is basically a themed biography of Bush. The author adopts a tone of reverence mixed with apology, and the book reads to me like the uncertain product of someone struggling to be careful with the facts while still portraying his subject as essentially good. For example, on Bush's murky college and post-college years, we find that time period introduced as follows: "The career of George W. between 1964, when he entered Yale as a freshman, and the summer of 1986, when his life decisively turned around and he gave up drinking alcohol, were years when millions of young American men indulged in drinking and womanizing." (p. 39) Hmmm...I guess that explains it! What a peculiar way of contextualizing those years... Well I suppose, given W.'s later tendency to bad-mouth the youth culture of the 1960s, perhaps it does kind of make sense that his spiritual biographer should also deflect criticism of W.'s own life by, in essence, blaming the society he lived in (I can't say "grew up in" because he was, after all, already an adult...)

On the whole, I'd say this book is a waste of time to read...slow moving, boring, and full of mild, incurious adulation. The ease with which the author lightly brings up and then casts aside all of the more serious critiques of W.'s choices and actions (strange ommissions in his National Guard record, for example) insures that there will be nothing really insightful or earth-shattering for most readers. (No investigative reporting here!) I did learn at least one thing: the importance of W.'s defeat in a Congressional election of 1978, in which he was skewered by an opponent who invoked Christian conservative themes (p. 60). Apparently, the lesson was not lost on Bush, and he never made the mistake again of letting an opponent out-Christian him. Given the importance of this experience, I guess ultimately it is hard to draw any line between W.'s "spiritual journey" and his political journey.

So I don't really recommend this book...but I do have an alternative suggestion: Immanuel Wallerstein's The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World. Framed in the language of the author's academically-famed "world-systems" approach to history, this book lays out the present situation of the U.S. in world affairs rather nicely. It provides a fresh perspective on current topics such as globalization, terrorism, and racism. It also does a good job of initiating a conversation about how activist-intellectuals can be involved in shaping the world for the better over the next few decades. And the book is quite readable, far from the dense, erudite volumes on the Modern World-System, which made the author famous back in the 1970s.

1 comment:

thirdpartydreamer said...

Perhaps the sequel to this book will point out that in the early 21st century, lots of leaders bilked the poor and twisted the truth, so George W.'s failings were-- again-- no more than a product of his time.

Give me a break. Twenty-two years is an awfully long lapse in judgment.