cover image The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush

The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush

David Frum. Random, $25.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50903-2

Frum, author of Dead Right and the phrase""axis of evil,"" looks back on a year as a speechwriter in the Bush White House in this affable and witty but slightly cagey account. Frum recounts the travails of crafting the President's public pronouncements and the ordeal of the terrorist attacks, and draws funny thumbnail sketches of White House personalities like communications director Karen Hughes, who""disliked verbs"" because they""conveyed action, not feeling."" Mostly, though, he keeps the focus on Bush, vigorously disputing the notion that the President is a dim-witted figurehead for powerful advisors like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and insisting that Bush is a commanding leader who came into his own after 9/11. But he also describes the president as""ill informed"" and""sometimes glib, even dogmatic,"" with""a poor memory for facts and figures""; his strengths are""tenacity,""""courage,"" a""large and clear"" vision and a""Holden Caulfield streak"" of sincerity. Frum was not part of the inner circle, so his evidence for Bush's leadership sometimes consists of the bold statements Bush made in speeches that were crafted by others to explain policies hashed out by his subordinates. His sketchy defense of Bush's policy-making is similarly unconvincing; concerns about the energy industry's influence on the plan to drill in Alaska are dismissed as""goofy,"" and his recap of the Bush tax cut doesn't answer the main criticism that it is skewed toward the rich. Frum is an engaging writer, but this is very much a speechwriter's book--packed with graceful sound bites, but ultimately more spin than substance.