Marching in Place

Even in close retrospect, less than six months after the man left office, the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush emerges clearly as four years of directionless drift, an ill-considered afterthought to the Reagan era. During his watch Bush stood by, baffled, as the Soviet Union fell apart, the American economy went into free fall, and citizens called, in vain, for leadership from the White House. Long before 1992 it was painfully evident that George Bush wanted to be president rather than act as president.

That truth was clear all along to anyone who paid attention, as Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame fully document in their searing, incisive study, MARCHING IN PLACE: THE STATUS QUO PRESIDENCY OF GEORGE BUSH. Here is the first popular study of the Bush Administration, written even before the man was voted out of office, and it details in vivid and often painful fashion the wavering, the deception and the total lack of what Bush himself once scornfully dismissed as “that vision thing.”

Duffy and Goodgame, White House correspondents for TIME, have done their homework, and they present their case in crisp, unsparing fashion, revealing the Bush White House as a place that did so little because it intended to do even less. As Duffy and Goodgame clearly show, Bush, in contemporary political jargon, “just didn’t get it.”

He didn’t get a lot of things, including the fall of the Soviet Union, but the biggest thing he missed was that the American economy was in a mess and people wanted something done. They demanded leadership. But, as the authors point out, “Both by temperament and design, Bush avoided leadership when the country most needed it.”

That abdication of presidential responsibility is the theme of MARCHING IN PLACE, and if the reader wants to understand the 1992 election, this book is the place to begin. Hopefully the new president, said to be a voracious reader, has already underlinded the appropriate passages in his own copy of MARCHING IN PLACE. This is an excellent book, but the United States can’t afford to have Duffy and Goodgame write a sequel about the Clinton Administration.