The housing bubble started to pop. Homes were foreclosed. Hank Paulson had sketched out a dire economic scenario.
The writers were told to craft a speech announcing a “bold” plan. The plan basically consisted of Hank spending $700 billion any way he wanted.
They pitched a toll-free number for Americans to call to get help with their loans, but the President got the prefix wrong repeatedly and Americans whose lives were falling apart wound up calling a wrong number.
The economic team consisted of an old friend of Bush’s who was best known at the White House for putting whoopee cushions on people’s chairs.
The President ran out of things to say and didn’t know what else to do. So he got his writers busy on how to say the same thing again, but a bit differently. McCain urged the President to hold off on speaking at all and host an emergency summit instead. The president’s political adviser, Barry Jackson, called McCain a “stupid prick.”
The plan languished on the Hill. The writers changed the speech to be more focused on economic principles. The President didn’t like it and wanted to cancel the speech. Since he couldn’t do that, he wanted to alter it and talk more about the plan. Problem was, the way he wanted to talk about the plan were not true to the plan. It became clear he didn’t understand the bailout even three hours before the speech. “Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.
So he took a nap.
He calmly delivered the speech a few hours later, his proposal was rejected in the House shortly thereafter, McCain's ridiculous summit transpires, and a compromise was reached a week later.
Jimmy Carter, the guy who brought us gas lines and high unemployment back in the 70’s, attacked Bush for his economic policy.
Paulson started spending wildly, changing his spending priorities three times and Bush’s popularity and credibility took a downward spiral.
Administration officials asked the writers for an FDR line—like “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Bush’s suggestion was, “Anxiety can feed anxiety.” He gave the speech and the economy dipped further. Even Republicans wanted the President to go away.
More demands for catchphrases. Catchphrases will save us.
McCain and Obama’s campaign took over the spotlight. Bush thinks Obama is unprepared for dealing with a dangerous world and thinks Joe Biden is a bullshit artist. Bush is flummoxed that McCain couldn’t get 500 people to show up to an event in his hometown of Phoenix (“Is this a cruel hoax?” he wonders).
Bush wonders aloud if Sarah Palin is the Governor of Guam. Then asserts, “This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level." Toward the end of October the writers started working on drafts of the president’s speech for the morning after the election. Two versions. One if the victor was Obama and another if the victor was McCain. But only the Obama one ever went for vetting.
His new book is called "Speech-Less."