11.11.08 5:52 AM ET
Bush Memoir Will Be a Hit
Longtime Washington book agent Ronald Goldfarb says the notion Bush won’t get a book deal is nuts. Who wouldn’t want the story of the Titanic from the skipper?
The election of an historically interesting and literate candidate is only days old, and already there is speculation about the soon retiring president's potential memoir. W's memoir? The two words clash against each other. Who'd buy it?
One Knopf editor suggests he should wait, take his time. Perhaps after some years there will be a resurgence of interest in his book. Harry Truman looked better with the passage of time which dilutes the strong feelings of the present. Today people remember more about Bill Clinton's charms than his impeachment for demeaning, un-presidential behavior. A conservative publisher suggests, “the longer he waits, the better." The hindsight of history will make even W's memoir less resistible.
Pondering W's literary future, late night comics’ jokes come to mind. When the now revered Ronald Reagan's house was on fire, one wise guy remarked: “they saved the books but the crayons melted.” How could one as literary challenged as George W. Bush write a whole book? Well, one publisher paid a small fortune for Paris Hilton's "book"—little more than an underwear ad collection. And Dennis Rodman's college professor must have winced reading about Dennis' best seller. With books, it is the buzz and name notoriety that publishers latch onto. "What's his platform?” they frequently ask, not “What’s the quality of what he has to say?”, when approached by literary agents and lawyers.
If Tina Fey can get a huge advance for her book generated by her magical impersonation of Sarah Palin as rumored, certainly the fodder for late night comics will get his day in Publisher's Weekly.
W has that—even 20 to 30 percent of the polling or political public is a big number. He will have a presidential library to sell his book, a web site, fan club (presently in hiding), and a large family. W won't leave it to Oliver Stone or Michael Moore or scholars from "the other America of elite, effete, media-folk to tell his story,” no sireeee. Remember, it is a myth that the media is liberal. Talk radio and cable TV sell books. O'Reilly and Hannity on TV and Rush and Ollie on radio, and their ilk will plug W's book to best sellerdom, as part of the Republican and conservative attempt to come back.
Even if his administration is deemed by a majority of the American—make that world's—public to be a disaster, no one really expects "truth" in a memoir, just a voyeuristic peek, or in this case a slant on history by a participant. The Clintons received millions for their memoirs, but do you think the public got the real inside true story of the Monica Lewinsky story? Really.
I'm no George W. Bush fan; quite the contrary. I worked for president-elect Obama’s campaign, and despise what the Bush administration did in its eight years. Every day of it. But there have only been 43 other presidents in our country's history, and fewer than 43 memoirs of those 43. Of the 43, few were reelected and served 2 four year terms. Of course, W will find a competent collaborator to spin his clumsy language into a book. Of course, W's fans and some curious onlookers in the US and abroad, and of course all libraries and historians, will buy it and read it. He won't get the huge advance that others received (doesn't need it). I hate to guess advances, but if you must, I'd predict seven figures. If Tina Fey can get a huge advance for her book generated by her magical impersonation of Sarah Palin as rumored, certainly the fodder for late night comics will get his day in Publisher's Weekly. And it might be interesting to get the inside view of the Titanic from the skipper.
Keep in mind, in publishing there is a sad history of very good books having a hard time getting published—Anne Frank's diary, Confederacy of Dunces, The Leopard, Ayn Rand. And of notorious people selling their stories: the Watergate convicts all sold memoirs, and fakers and thieves have told their stories from prison cells. There is room for W.
It is unseemly for W to be hawking a book while he's still in the White House. But there is little doubt he'll be selling one when he leaves. Who can resist writing their own history for the record? Agents will be hustling to represent him. There is money to be made, and bragging rights ("I sold the president's book") in some circles. Major publishers have created imprints to publish conservative books. Who doubts that former Republican strategist Mary Matalin, now an editor at Simon and Schuster will want to publish W's book? That's what they brought her there to do. His agent and publisher will find him a crafty writer-collaborator. Most political books (not Obama's) are written by professional collaborators; I represent one who has written four already. The agent, publisher, and collaborator will help W flesh out an interesting book, interesting even to his detractors. W knows what went on in his regime better than Bob Woodward, or anyone else. And there are intriguing subjects to write about. His religious conversion. His choice of Cheney, firing of Rummy, nominating Harriet Meirs to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, reflections on the 2000 election, thoughts about Putin and Blair, his decision to invade Iraq—“Put us in the room; who was there; what was said”—he will be asked. It will be constructed history, to be deconstructed by historians and others, but it is a book we are likely to see.
One can imagine months hence, W plugging his felt pen into his chain saw, or sitting at his ranch with some National Review editor, or providing psycho-history to some charming young budding writer, recalling all his missions accomplished and other moments making monumental historic decisions. History isn't always likable. Who doubts that were they alive, Attila the Hun or Adolph Hitler would be interviewed in The Situation Room or on Fox, and would be pursued by an aggressive book agent or editor, twisting the fairness doctrine or First amendment. It is the way of the world. Alas.
Ronald Goldfarb is a veteran Washington, D.C., attorney, author and literary agent who worked in the Department of Justice as a special assistant to Robert F. Kennedy in the organized crime and racketeering section, and as a speechwriter for Kennedy’s Senate campaign in New York. He has written 11 books and 300 articles in addition to numerous op-eds and reviews (see www.RonaldGoldfarb.com).