H. W. Bush may not go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States but he is among the most decent.

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Bush


Written by: Jon Meacham

Narration by:  Paul Michael



Dostoevsky said, “There are things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.”

However, H. W. Bush seems unafraid in his interviews with Jon Meacham.  Meacham’s biography refers often to H. W. Bush’s diary.  H. W.’s diary appears written by a decent man who knows himself and chooses to divulge all he knows.

“Destiny and Power” is about H. W. Bush’s journey to the American Presidency and power in the executive branch of government.  It begins with a brief history of the Bush/Walker families that reaches back to the beginnings of America.   Both sides of H. W. Bush’s ancestors achieve the American dream through hard work, determination, and initiative.  The success of the Bush/Walker families sets the stage for H. W. Bush’s public service; his Yale education, his relationship to the wealthy, his service to his country, and his tenure as President of the United States.


“Destiny and Power” reveals a candid picture of the 41st President of the United States.  It is a story of family love, respect, and duty.  It explores a family lineage blessed with wealth, good education, and expectation.   H. W. Bush is a decent man who acknowledges his limitations in pursuit of good works.


Meacham notes that H. W. Bush seems a go-along to get-along kind of guy; i.e. a non-confrontational person who is well liked by his associates and subordinates.  After Pearl Harbor, H. W. enters the service at the age of 18 to become a pilot.  When completing a bombing run, H. W. and his crew are downed at sea.  As a downed bomber pilot, H. W mourns his fellow crewmen and wonders if there was anything he could have done differently to save their lives.

This life experience marks H. W.   It illustrates H. W.’s sense of responsibility and how he cares for others.  It reminds him of the horrors of war and the hurt felt by those left behind.  It is a mark that guides his decision to begin the first Gulf war and insert American troops in Kuwait.

Meacham reveals how H. W. solicits friendship with everyone he meets.  This facility for friendship is a key to his success in becoming a Texas oil man.  His early success in the oil business appears based on who he knows and how well he cultivates wealthy associates’ interest in risking investment in land-lease oil exploration in Texas.  H. W.’s friendliness leads him to politics.  Meacham notes that friendliness did not immediately vault H. W. to political success but it paves his way to public service.T

  1. H. W. is driven to succeed. In a widening circle of contacts, H. W. is welcomed into the Republican Party and becomes Chairman of the Party for Harris County, Texas. He runs for the Senate and is defeated by Texas Democrat Ralph Yarborough.
  2. Later, in 1966, H. W. is elected to the House of Representatives and becomes acquainted with Richard Nixon.
  3. President Nixon appoints H. W. to the United Nations as Ambassador for the United States.  His social skill suited the United Nations Ambassador position perfectly.
  4. As the Watergate scandal overtakes the Nixon Administration, H. W. supports Nixon up to the point of undeniable truth of Nixon’s cover-up.  As the Republican National Committee Chairman, H. W. asks Nixon to resign.
  5. When Gerald Ford became President, H. W. is asked to be America’s envoy to China.
  6. After serving for one year, Ford asks Bush to take the position of CIA Director.
  7. One year later, Ford is defeated by President Carter and H. W. returns to the private sector with plans to run for President.
  8. Bush’s cultivated Republican Party friendships compel Reagan to ask Bush to be his Vice President.

Meacham notes that running for President is something H. W. has prepared for through the course of his life but 1980 is the era of Ronald Reagan.  Reagan’s public speaking skill clearly surpasses the oratorical skill of H. W. Bush.  However, Bush’s appeal to a more liberal part of the Republican Party makes him an ideal running mate for the highly conservative Reagan.  Reagan is reluctant to make the offer because of H. W.’s “Voodoo Economics” comment during their primary contest but Bush’s affable personality eventually endears Reagan to his running mate.


By the end of Meacham’s biography one sees Bush as a decent man who wishes to do the right thing.  One might conclude that H. W. Bush is unduly influenced by the desire to be liked.  This desire makes H. W. avoid confrontation, a characteristic of which Meacham offers many examples; e. g. Bush’s reluctance to confront the public with his decision to raise taxes; his ambivalence about using the bully pulpit to attack political opponents.  H. W. Bush’s inner compass seems to wobble in the face of his desire for comity.  However, when one puts H. W. in the context of history, Bush’s inner compass seems as true north as any of America’s Presidents.

On the one hand, comity may be what is missing in the extremes of the political climate of the 21st century; on the other hand, “read my lips” has little political efficacy.

On the one hand, comity may be what is missing in the extremes of the political climate of the 21st century; on the other hand, a wobbling inner compass leads to intellectually untested certainty.  One may argue H. W. Bush’s avoidance of confrontation leads to decisions not tested by debate.  All that is left is experience burnished by one person’s judgment.  Avoidance of personal confrontation may lessen perspective but comity is an underrated commodity in today’s political climate.

A surprising note by Meacham is H. W.’s second guessing on Saddam Hussein.  H. W. did not confront Saddam Hussein to demand unconditional surrender after his forced ejection from Kuwait.  In retrospect, a demand for unconditional surrender seems superfluous. Arguably, H. W.’s courageous decision to inject the American military into Kuwait changed the course of history. One inclines to believe H. W. will go down in history as the antithesis of Nazi appeasers in WWII.

The most titillating part of Meacham’s biography of H. W. is a father’s judgment of his son’s Presidency.  One tends to believe H. W. views George W. more as a beloved son than as President of the United States.  George W., like all human beings, makes his own mistakes.


H. W. argues that his son is poorly served by his Vice President and Secretary of Defense.  H. W. suggests Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are the principal reason for the mistake of Iraq.  (One must ask oneself, who hired Cheney and Rumsfeld?  In a translation of Plato’s “Republic”, there is a phrase about leadership that suggests “Birds of a feather flock together”.)

George W. is his own man.  He differs from his father in numerous ways.  One may remember George W. standing on an aircraft carrier and saying “Mission Accomplished!” after the defeat of the Republican Guard in Iraq.  Meacham’s biography suggests that kind of hubris-tic comment would never be made by H. W. Bush.  History will show defeat of the Republican Guard accomplished very little.  Defeat of the Republican Guard is only the beginning of many American mistakes in Iraq.

H. W. Bush may not go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States but he is among the most decent.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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