Matthew Latimer, a former Bush 43 speechwriter, just published a memoir of his couple of years serving in the White House, and apparently it’s kicking up a small cloud of criticism from his former colleagues. “Without having read a single word, they’ve been on this mission against me—and it’s disappointing,” Latimer told The Daily Beast‘s Lloyd Grove yesterday. “What they’re basically saying is: ‘Here is the book the Bush administration doesn’t want you to read!’” He doesn’t bother to suppress a giggle.” Latimer went on to tell Grove that such Bush associates as Ed Gillespie, Dana Perino, and Bill McGurn have been trying to keep Latimer off of radio and TV talk shows.
Why, one wonders, would they bother to do that? It’s not as though one more staff memoir would have the power to change anyone’s view of the late, unlamented Bush administration in any vital way. In fact, although Latimer laments Bush’s lack of oratorical skills, the memoir is kind to George W. Bush. The sharp asides and witty wisecracks about Hilary Clinton, Joe Biden, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are vivid reminders of the lively, relaxed, likable George W. Bush who was captured by Alexandra Pelosi during the 2000 campaign in her documentary Journeys with George.
It’s true that Latimer reserves most of his criticism for his fellow staffers, including the aforementioned Gillespie. Latimer bemoans the lack of coherent communications strategy, snipes at his nominal superiors in the speechwriting office, and snottily labels (okay, cleverly) Robert Gates, Josh Bolton and other Washington veterans “cleaners,” like Winston Wolfe, the character Harvey Keitel played in Pulp Fiction. Latimer’s very harshest criticisms are leveled at Karl Rove, the reputed genius behind Bush’s success. “He had promised a golden age of Republican domination, but the truth is that while Karl was running political affairs, the Republican president’s approval rating had plummeted to an improbable low. The truth is that after Karl was promoted to run domestic policy in the second term, not a single major bill proposed by the White House was passed by a Republican Congress. And the truth is that Karl oversaw an army of personnel directors who hired hacks. . . ” Good points all. Still, there’s nothing in Latimer’s book that won’t keep stacks of copies spending the spring of 2010 comfortably adorning the remainder table at Barnes & Noble.
To whatever degree old Bushies are trying to kill this book, I suspect it’s because they just don’t like young Latimer. In The Wall Street Journal yesterday, Bill McGurn attacked the book by saying that Latimer just wasn’t very good at his job. Latimer counters by revealing an email in which McGurn praises the remarks Latimer wrote for the president to deliver on Thanksgiving. Well, the email does contain words of praise, there’s no denying it. But take it from someone who has written more than a few encouraging messages to failing subordinates, this brief note seems to be a pat on the back, not a recommendation for promotion.
But one of the things that’s clear from the book is that if Latimer’s colleagues were surprised by his views, then they weren’t paying much attention (as indeed they may not have been, given Latimer’s lowly status); the generally disgruntled Latimer seems to have made no secret of the fact that he didn’t like or very much respect the people he was working with. He admits when he writes “We [speechwriters] didn’t have a boss like a Kennedy or a Reagan whose oratorical gifts might burn our words into history. . . Mediocrity was the highest level our words would reach. We were the RC Cola of speechwriters, the Hyundais, the socks you get as Christmas presents.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such narcissistic self-pity, and I’ve been the father of teenage girls. In another scene, Latimer recounts a speech that went through prolonged and painful bouts of editing, some by the president himself. Having been on the receiving end of some close editing by people whose tempers were up, I can sympathize with the feelings of wounded pride which Latimer must have been feeling. But as Latimer describes, the process ended with Bush saying “I know this speech wasn’t your fault. . .You just got bad guidance from the NSC. . . .But we finally made it through, didn’t we, Matty?”
And here is what Latimer writes next: “There was a brief silence everyone turned to me. They looked terrified about what I’d say. `I suppose so,’ I replied, as quietly and as coldly as I could possibly get away with in the Oval Office of the White House before the president of the United States. The president smiled uncomfortably.”
All I can say is that that it takes an Achilles-class sulker to write proudly of the day he gave a chilly reception to a conciliatory gesture offered by the president. I don’t know if Bush associates out to get Latimer, but if they are, they should just get out of the way: by demonstrating that he had no concept of the role he was there to play, the kid commits professional suicide in every chapter.