Last night I had a dream about George W. Bush. I dreamed that I was at his presidential library–which in reality is called the George W. Bush Presidential Center–and happened to cross paths with him as he was walking around. We had a long conversation and even shared a few glasses of wine. Then he disappeared. When I woke up I was quite intrigued by the dimensions of my fictional conversation with the 43rd President of the United States, and the implications it had for the themes of historical understanding, political bias, redemption and forgiveness. I’ve never actually transcribed one of my dreams into blog format before, but I thought it might be kind of fun and interesting. I’ve made some changes to make the dream itself more coherent, but this is the essence of it.
In reality I have never been to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which is on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, nor have I seen pictures of what it looks like inside. Also, in reality Bush is a recovered alcoholic and does not drink. But in my dream I was walking through a granite-floored corridor of the library, a lobby of some kind, and ran into Bush’s mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush. In a rather gruff manner she said, “Oh, it’s you. Have you seen my son?” I said I hadn’t and she went away. Then a door opened behind an exhibit and George W. Bush himself stepped out, wearing a blue suit. He was carrying a bottle of Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir, 2009 vintage, and two glasses.
“Hi,” he said, somewhat uncomfortably.
I began to introduce myself, but Bush interrupted me. “I know who you are.” I told him I was surprised. He shrugged and said, “I read your blog.” He told me that he was a history buff (in real life Bush is known to read a lot of history) and said his favorite articles were the 42 Historical Objects series. I was very surprised that he read my blog. “Why?” he said. “Because you disagree with me politically?” There was a curt edge to his voice and I got the impression that he didn’t like me very much.
George Bush and I both agree this needs to happen. This may be one of the few things we’d agree on.
“Mr. President, I have to admit,” I said, “I don’t think you and I could be farther apart on most issues.”
“Don’t be too sure. Your article on a mission to Mars was spot-on. I proposed that, you know. In 2004. I wanted to greatly increase spending for space exploration. Congress wouldn’t hear of it, though. I don’t like your ideas on airline re-regulation, but I like the ’42 Historical Objects’ series. And that Australian fellow you reblog a lot–Horvat–he’s very good.” He held up the wine bottle. “Would you like some wine?”
The Jamsheed is a wonderful pinot noir–very light and mellow, yet extremely flavorful. You can taste the richness of the dirt. (Maysara is a biodynamic winery in Oregon that prides itself both on craftsmanship and environmental responsibility). Drinking wine with President Bush was a little awkward because the room we were in had no chairs. It was a gallery with display cases and exhibits about his presidency. He set the bottle on the edge of one of the displays. Bush strode around casually, one hand in his trouser pocket, often making eye contact but sometimes looking down at his glass or the floor. Despite his obvious knowledge of my politics and my disapproval of many things he did as President, he didn’t seem to let it bother him in the least. “So, I’m here,” he said, that curt tone in his voice again. “What do you want to ask me?”
There were so many things I could think of. I started with this one: “Mr. President, your predecessors–Mr. Carter, Mr. Clinton, even your father–as ex-Presidents they’re always out there on the world stage. Carter builds houses, Clinton’s got a foundation. Except for your well-publicized paintings, we barely heard a peep from you. Why?”
“I wrote a book, you know,” Bush said, half-sarcastically, smirking. He still wore the smirk as he spoke a bit more seriously. “You know perfectly well, Mr. Munger, why I’m not out there. People don’t like me. They don’t like what I did or what I stand for. I know that. I acknowledge that. What am I going to do, make things worse for my party by running around out there trying to defend myself? Who would that help? Not me. People are going to think what they want. I can’t change that.”
“Does it hurt you that people don’t like you or think well of your time in office?”
“Sure it does. Sure it does. Doesn’t change anything that happened, though, does it?”
Here was the question I really wanted to ask: “Do you regret anything?”
Bush chuckled into his wine glass. “Do you?” he said pointedly.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have any regrets in your life? What do you regret?”
“Nothing, I guess. But–”
“But what? You didn’t invade Iraq? That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?” Bush chuckled again. “Regret makes life unlivable. You and I are of different faiths, but we worship the same God. Do I regret? No, because regret gets you nowhere. Do I ask forgiveness? Yeah, I do. Every day of my life. But do I regret? Absolutely not.”
Does Mr. Bush regret this incident? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so–but that doesn’t mean he would think it was his proudest moment either.
I thought this was a very interesting statement. It communicated the absolutism that Bush is rumored to observe in his faith, but also sort of a nuance that I thought was fascinating. Should a President regret? Maybe not. Certainly he saw it that way.
“So what would you have done differently?” I asked, trying to frame the same question in a different way.
“‘Mission Accomplished’ was a bad idea,” he admitted. “Saying ‘bring ’em on’ was a bad idea. I publicly acknowledged those.”
As I poured myself another glass of Jamsheed I decided I could be bold. “What about WMD?” I asked.
“What about them?”
I chose my words very carefully, wanting to provoke but not offend. “Do you appreciate why some people–I mean, why they think there was deception involved, on some level?”
“Sure,” Bush shrugged. “Was there deception involved? You bet. Saddam deceived the world. He projected the image that he had these weapons when in fact he didn’t. George Tenet told me he had them. ‘Slam dunk,’ he said. Believe it or not I was skeptical. Not that Saddam had them–I never had any doubt about that–but that we could make the case publicly that he had them, a case that would support war. I told George that. But there were a lot of reasons why we went into Iraq. You know that, Mr. Munger, you taught a class on it. I appreciate that you don’t agree. Fine. That’s America. We don’t agree.”
“So you never doubted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction?”
“No. Not ever. But it turned out I was wrong. Everybody was wrong. But that’s not the only reason we went to Iraq. I’m not going to stand here and re-argue the case for you. You know what I did. That’s all that matters.”
Believe it or not, Bush and I agree that this is happening, and that it’s mankind’s fault. We disagree on what to do about it, though.
I thought we should get off the subject of Iraq. “What do you think about the Republican Party today?” I asked him.
“It’s still my party,” he said. “I don’t like a lot of what they stand for. I wanted immigration reform in 2005. They wouldn’t have it. There was only so much I could do. I lost most of my power. It passed to your people, the Democrats. You got Congress back in 2006. You elected Obama twice. You all didn’t like what I was doing. Message received. I get it. You may not believe this, Mr. Munger, but I wish we could come together as a country. I don’t like the partisanship. It was out of control when I was in office and it’s out of control now. I think you agree with me.”
I nodded. “I do.”
Bush looked at his watch and I had the impression we were running out of time. I asked one more thing. “Climate change,” I said. “You do believe it, don’t you? I mean, you’re not a global warming denier, are you?”
“We must stop climate change,” he said bluntly. “Of course I don’t deny global warming. I never did. I tried to do something about it. Not the Kyoto targets–I didn’t agree with that, but Clinton didn’t either. People forget that. Congress was set to reject the treaty anyway. But climate change is real and humans are causing it. We have to address that.” He looked at his watch a second time. “I’m sorry, I must go. Finish the wine, if you like.”
“Thank you. God be with you, Mr. President.”
Bush walked to the corner of the room. “And with you,” he said. Then he disappeared, sinking into the floor, and I was alone in the empty gallery.