President George W. Bush is famous for his malapropisms, but the word that Bill Sammon has selected for the title of his most recent book is a word the President himself never uttered. "Strategery," as Sammon notes, is a word invented by the folks at "Saturday Night Live" and put into the mouth of the comic they had playing the President in a send-up of a 2000 campaign debate.
The President’s campaign managers admitted to each other and, presumably to Sammon, that it was a word their boss might have made up or used if he had thought of it first and proceeded to name a regular gathering of his top advisors in Karl Rove’s White House office the "Strategery" meeting.
Sammon made his name at the Washington Times, the paper for which he ably covered the Bush White House and re-election campaign and was in a position to pick up such inside tidbits, but his book is far more than just a collection of interesting and amusing anecdotes. In many ways, he brings a unique perspective to the story he tells because while he chased after the President with the rest of the White House press corps, as a conservative and perhaps a bit of an outsider he got a good look both at the President and those who cover him.
"Strategery" (published by Regnery — a HUMAN EVENTS sister company) is Sammon’s third book chronicling George W. Bush’s presidency and, like the first two, is worth reading for that perspective alone. Sammon is more than just an astute observer of what went on around him. He’s also a good analyst and an entertaining writer who both gets it and knows how to tell a story. This one begins as demonstrators circling Bush advisor Karl Rove’s home scared his wife and kids while convincing the President’s senior political advisor that, as his first term was ending, there were a lot of people out there who didn’t just dislike Bush and his policies, but actually hated his boss.
Rove would see that same hatred in the eyes of Democratic operatives, volunteers and, more frighteningly, of many of the reporters through which his candidate would have to get his message out to the American people if he hoped to win a second term. It was that same hatred that drove so many of them to decide that, in dealing with George W. Bush, truth and fairness would just have to take a back seat to the need to drive him and his soul mates from power.
"Strategery" is well worth reading as a reminder of the intensity of the political struggles that were at the heart of the 2004 campaign. It was a campaign pitting Bush not just against John Kerry, but against a united left-wing crusade that counted many of those in what we have come to know as the major media as active players rather than unbiased chroniclers of the action in the arena, integral players rather than objective observers.
It’s all there. Sammon details the dogged determination of Dan Rather and his producer Mary Mapes to discredit a President they despised even if it meant using documents their own experts warned them might have been forged and their attempt when it all hit the fan to imply they had been used or "set up," not by Bush-hating leftists, but by Karl Rove and his friends. And he recounts in great detail the struggle the Swift-Boat men who served with Kerry in Vietnam and knew what went on there faced first in getting their story covered and then in fending off attacks from reporters and political operatives who would do anything to discredit them.
More importantly, he reports on the impact those men had on the race and makes it clear to any doubters that these "Swifties" did as much or more than anyone to not only unmask John Kerry, but to reshape a race that wasn’t going all that well for the President.
The Swifties and the President’s appeal to his conservative base eventually turned the tide. Even though it’s hard to believe looking back, it almost didn’t work. The most liberal Democratic nominee in history came within a whisker of unseating a President, in spite of the fact that everything he and his supporters in the media tried backfired. The story is a reminder of just how closely divided the U.S. electorate is and how important campaigns can be to the future direction of the country.
There’s more. From the first debate with Kerry to the flawed exit polls on election day and to much that has happened since. Sammon reports on Bush’s post-election successes (Alito, Roberts, tax cuts and, to a degree, Iraq) as well as his failures (Social Security reform and Harriet Miers) and clearly hopes that Bush’s second term will end well.
Sammon likes George W. Bush, but the man he writes about is both human and fallible. In the end though, as Bush, himself, told Sammon, presidential elections are about leadership. Ronald Reagan once said that "a leader, once convinced that a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it when the going gets rough." By that definition, Sammon’s book is enough to convince one that whatever else he might be, George W. Bush is, indeed, a leader.