Speechwriter Matt Latimer's new book trains its gaze on the lunacy of the late-era Bush White House. And there was plenty of material.
Latimer, who first wrote speeches and congressional testimony for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was one of Bush's top speechwriters at the end of his administration. He has written a tell-all that has some former administration officials furious at his disloyalty and others chuckling at the foibles he's made public.
Disclosure: Latimer's bookis officially embargoed until Tuesday. I read it in manuscript form months ago and blurbed it on the back of the book, saying good things about it. But the following nuggets don't come from the manuscript -- they're from a copy I purchased from a stack at Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Washington, D.C.
Some of the best moments relating to the financial crisis -- one of the many real world consequences of the shenanigans Latimer describes -- have been excerpted in GQ already. But the book is still rich with pearls for political junkies and anybody else wondering what the Bush administration looked like from the inside.
Some of the best stuff:
• Donald Rumsfeld had to be talked out of editing his own entry on Wikipedia, which he referred to as "Wika-wakka." He was a Drudge Report reader and used to watch YouTube clips that made fun of his press conference performances.
• Bush, when told that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig had been the latest GOPer to be caught in a sex scandal involving boys or men: "What is up with all these Republicans?"
• Several years after Colin Powell left as Secretary of State, he was to appear with administration officials at an event. "In the next draft can you change 'Secretary Powell' to 'General Powell'? He prefers to go by 'General' instead of 'Secretary'," read a note from his people to Latimer, who thought it looked like the general was trying to distance himself from the White House. "I'm happy to report that the president didn't accommodate him. 'Secretary Powell' stayed in," Latimer writes.
• While Karl Rove was appearing on Fox News and writing op-eds as an independent political analyst, he was privately smearing Democrats. "Karl spread rumors through the White House that one of Obama's potential vice presidential running mates -- and a United States senator -- had beaten his first wife. 'Karl says it's true,' the president assured a small group of staffers. Then knowing Karl, he quickly added, 'Karl hopes it's true,'" reports Latimer.
• For a commencement address at Furman University in spring 2008, Ed Gillespie wanted to insert a few lines condemning gay marriage. Bush called the speech too "condemnatory" and said, "I'm not going to tell some gay kid in the audience that he can't get married." (Of course, Bush ran his 2004 campaign telling that kid just that.)
• Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "adamantly opposed" any reference to jailed Egyptian dissident Ayman Nour when Bush traveled to Egypt to promote freedom. She won.
• Bush, it turns out, is like millions of Americans: "I haven't watched the nightly news one night since I've been president," he said.
• Laura Bush, says Latimer, "was secretly a Democrat for all intents and purposes, though it really wasn't much of a secret."
• Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins is fond of sending angry, middle-of-the-night e-mails to staffers because she's frustrated that her colleague and rival Olympia Snowe gets more and better press. As a result, reports Latimer, she rips through press secretaries like 30-packs at a beer-pong tournament. (A Collins press secretary didn't respond to a request for comment.)
• Interviewing for the job, Latimer was told by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten that Bush's White House was "the most ethical administration in history." He added: "Looks like even Scooter Libby might get off."
• Latimer was asked to help with a speech for Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who General Tommy Franks famously called "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Feith had rejected a draft from another writer. "His own writer had failed miserably at drafting some upcoming testimony to Congress. Feith was so incensed by the speech's first line that he read it aloud to me. 'Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify today.' 'Thank you?' Feith snapped, as if he couldn't believe it. 'For inviting me'?'"
• Bush on Jimmy Carter: "If I'm ever eighty-two years old and acting like that have someone put me away."
Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America