Political books are not my forte, especially in these trying times. Books are coming out from the right and from the left, either excoriating or excessively praising George W. Bush, and there just isn't any middle ground. After reading Misunderestimated by Bill Sammon, I think I will go back to my shell. I think that might be why I prefer history to current events. While history can certainly be politicized, the line usually isn't this distinct.
It's not that Misunderestimated is a bad book. In fact, it's actually quite interesting. I did learn a few new things, got a new spin on certain old things, and read the last 150 pages in one sitting. But all the time I was reading it, I kept on thinking "I wonder what a Leftist writer would say about this?" I found myself disengaging from it, wondering where some of the analysis was. There is little analysis, however. Instead, it portrays Bush in as good a light as possible. There is one mild criticism of the way post-war Iraq has been handled, but otherwise it's all positive. Instead, Sammon goes on the attack - against the press, mostly.
Misunderestimated begins with a riveting sequence in Portland, Oregon, where Bush's motorcade was assaulted by masses of protesters. Sammon takes us inside the motorcade and inside the security arrangements, showing us how the protesters were actually able to lay a hand on the limousine as it tried desperately to get behind the barricades and to where Bush was trying to go. Sammon puts the reader on the scene, and I found it pulse-pounding despite knowing that it ultimately had to turn out all right. Sammon uses this chapter to show us how ugly political discourse has become in our society, with Bush being the lightning rod.
In the second chapter, Sammon gives us a history of Saddam Hussein. A lot of it I had already known, but some of it I didn't. It would have been nice to have some documentation in this and other historical chapters, telling us where the information came from. It would make some of the details more credible, though it is obvious that Hussein was a horrible dictator even without sources. It's not that I found myself doubting this chapter, but documentation would have given it a lot more power.
Sammon then goes on to detail the horrifying funeral of Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, which turned into a political rally and could very well have cost the Democrats the election of 2002. After this, he details those elections, then goes on to other areas leading up to the war in Iraq, such as Dan Rather's "interview" with Saddam Hussein, obtaining the first U.N. Resolution (1441), and the infamous State of the Union address. He also covers the "Mission Accomplished" incident and Bush's trip to Iraq for Thanksgiving. Basically, all of the major events up until the book was finished are in here, seen from a behind the scenes camera. Sammon was given a lot of access to Bush and other Bush Administration figures, such as Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Karl Rove, and others. Thus, he gets their side of the story out.
Sammon saves most of his venom for the press. He's not afraid to name names, either, as he points out one column or article after another that he feels is completely wrong. He's also very critical of the White House Press Corps, which he shows to be fixated on issues to be critical of the President, even to the point of constantly hammering ideas that have already been either answered or disproved. He's especially hard on Dan Rather, devoting an entire chapter to his interview with Saddam Hussein, almost transcribing it and putting in his comments about each part of it. It's a really effective chapter, and I found my opinion of Rather going down further and further as I read it (it was already fairly low after hearing about it the first time, but I hadn't actually read the interview before). He shows a media fixated on Vietnam comparisons and trying desperately to trap Bush and the others into making statements that will put them in a bad light. In one instance, a reporter tries three times to get Bush to give her an end date for the war, just over a week into it. Then they all seemed upset when he wouldn't give them one, saying only "However long it takes to win."
Surprisingly, it's the quieter chapters that are the most interesting. Sammon devotes a chapter to January 2, 2003, and a hike on Bush's Texas ranch that he took the White House Press Corps on. He shows them the beauty of the ranch, and it's a nice personal moment, just he and the reporters. Throughout the entire walk, they don't ask him any questions, saving them for the end. It's a quiet day and shows a more personal side to the President. Also neat was the chapter on Bush's Thanksgiving Day trip to Baghdad. It was interesting to see all of the planning behind it, and how they pulled one over on the entire press corps. The intricate detail, the extensive planning and the hair-raising closeness of having it all fall apart was the highlight of the book for me.
Sammon writes effectively and the book holds your attention. Even if you don't agree with Bush and with Sammon, you'll find a lot to like (or at least, enjoy reading). One fault of the book, however, is the almost personal tone taken by Sammon. He chastises George Galloway for writing himself so much into his pre-war article on Saddam Hussein, but he does a bit of it himself here. He talks about the playful way he stood up and blocked the White House cameras during one press conference and the banter that he and Bush shared. He also calls Rice "Condi" a few times, which I found really inappropriate for a book like this.
However, Misunderestimated is what it is. If you feel the same way as Sammon, you'll have a lot to agree with. If you disagree with him, this book won't open your eyes. You'll see it all as a cynical attempt to paint Bush in a good light in order to facilitate his re-election. It's too bad that we're apparently going to have to wait for history books to actually analyze the entire Bush administration. Then again, it may be impossible to look at all of this impartially. If you like political books, this is one of the good ones, no matter what your affiliation. Just don't expect it to change your outlook.