What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? The words should be familiar to Doug Wead, who secretly taped private conversations with George W. Bush for two years and has now released some of them. Wead is an ordained Assemblies of God minister, the kind of man with whom many people would feel comfortable sharing intimate, personal details, confident that he would not share them with others, least of all for fame or fortune. But Wead took a future president’s trust and sold it for the chance to get on The New York Times bestseller list with his new book, The Raising of a President.
In a city where ambition often trumps decency, Wead may go down as one of Washington’s most ruthless confidantes. It’s hard to fathom the sheer depth of his betrayal. For two years, 1998-2000, Wead had regular, sometimes lengthy phone conversations with then Gov. George W. Bush about everything from the proper approach to winning votes among evangelical Christians to whether a man who wanted to be a true leader — not just president of the United States — should admit publicly to having smoked pot in his youth.
As his putative friend poured out his heart, Wead listened, gave advice, and taped nearly all his conversations — hours upon hours of them. Now, Wead claims, he did so only for posterity’s sake, or because he thought he might be called on to write a flattering biography of Bush at some point in the future, or — in his most disingenuous excuse — because he wanted to make sure that he properly remembered all the things he had promised Bush he would do to advance his candidacy.
But did he ever once say to Bush, “Do you mind if I tape our conversation? You know, you may go down in history as one of our great presidents, a figure like Winston Churchill, and wouldn’t it be great if future generations could hear your most private thoughts in your own voice?” Or maybe, “Sorry, I don’t have a pen handy, and I sure would hate to forget to follow up on what we’ve discussed. But there’s this nifty little button I could push just to make a record of our conversation to remind me later.”
No, Wead taped away furtively, making sure to do so only in states that allow for one person to record another’s phone conversation without their permission. And apparently, Bush was not his only target. When asked by the Washington Post whether he had tapes of conversations with other people, his answer seemed testy, “I don’t want to go there at all. I am hoping I can legally get rid of some of these.”
Wead’s indiscretion reveals nothing terribly new about George W. Bush. Yes, Bush may have tried marijuana — as literally millions of other members of his generation did — but he didn’t want to answer questions about it for good reason. As Bush told Wead, “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried,” proving, once again, that hypocrisy has its place as the tribute vice pays to virtue.
In the snippets of unguarded conversation that have been revealed so far, Bush comes off, according to The New York Times, as “very religious, very conservative — and tolerant,” pretty much the same man in private as he portrays himself publicly, as the Times noted. Wead, on the other hand, comes off as a mean-spirited sneak. Asked by the Times if his actions might be viewed as “an act of treachery by a trusted friend,” Wead issued a clear warning to the president’s men: “It depends on what else is on the tapes,” Wead told the Times. “Ninety percent of the tapes have not been heard. He can see that my motive was not to try to hurt him.” In other words, mess with me over the release of these tapes, and I’ll release the really embarrassing stuff.
Wead’s perfidy will no doubt sell lots of books, but he’ll never be trusted again by anyone. One senses this is a man who values power and influence, but he’s squandered — for a mess of pottage — any chance at attaining either.