Saturday, January 3, 2009

(Not Thoughts on Fiscal Policy): Puzzling the meaning of W reading on the ranch

Friends and colleagues. These are not thoughts about fiscal policy. No, this is a short and puzzled musing. Like others of my bent, I have felt anger at the many bad decisions of President Bush and the enormous cost and wasted opportunities of his administration. I have been equally appalled knowing that throughout his Presidency, he spent an inordinate amount of time away from the White House, engaged in the clearing brush or mountain biking. But now I discover that the President has troubled me further with highly conflicted feelings. This discovery was triggered by the recent Wall Street Journal column of Karl Rove that described his competition with the President as to who could read more books in a year.* I should note that unlike John Aloysius Farrell (in his recent blog), I am not bothered that most of the books he read were ones that seemed to justify his self-image as a lonely and embattled President facing up to hard decisions.

No, my difficulties are different. I am a lover of books. My tastes are diverse, ranging from economics to history to natural sciences to fiction. My friends are always asking me what I have read recently. One of the hardest things about having a serious job (I was a senior official at the International Monetary Fund) and a full family life was that I never seemed to have the time to read even a quarter of the books I bought or wanted to read. After I retired from the Fund, I thought I would have more time to dive into my library and read all my wonderful books. Instead, life as a consultant and as a professor still finds me, reading policy briefs, reports, and journal articles relevant to my profession. And now I discover that our President, to whom we have entrusted the responsibility of addressing the most serious challenges facing our country (and world), has found the time to read something like 95 books a year!

So what bothers me? I guess it is my inability to clarify my various emotions concerning this discovery? Should I resent that the President, with all else on his plate, managed to read more than I? Should I be angry at his irresponsibility for devoting so much time to reading as well as other avocations, that he short-changed us in terms of his focus on the job for which he was elected? Or should I feel relief that he was reading, since this time off the job spared us from further bad decisions? But then I reflect that perhaps how he spent his time would not have mattered much: Jane’s Mayer’s recent book suggested that most of his decisions were largely predetermined anyway, being formulated by the Vice President and his staff. I guess all I am left with is the feeling that we are all be better off knowing that any future competitions between Karl Rove and George W. Bush will no longer be our concern.

Also see John A. Farrell’s blog on the competition in US News and World Report,

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