“I really hadn’t planned on writing a book,” Fred Barnes admitted to a group of 75 men and women attending a book signing luncheon last week in Potomac.
Apparently, his first assignment was to produce a book on the political culture of Washington. That was never finished. “Then, they [the publishers] offered a large enough advance on this one, that I could pay back the previous advance on the one I didn’t finish,” he said.
The executive editor of “The Weekly Standard” and co-host of “The Beltway Boys” on Fox News, Barnes was guest of the Potomac Republican Women’s Club at the Potomac home of Janet Gosnell. For 50 minutes, speaking extemporaneously, he kept the gathering focused on the ins and outs of getting a book finished.
“Rebel In Chief,” in which the subtitle is, “Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush,” was first completed without a personal interview with the president. “That was something the publishers really wanted and they are very difficult to get. I originally finished the book last June following many unsuccessful attempts of going through the communications office. But then, I finally talked to a White House aide, who did an end run around the communications office, and got me an interview,” he said.
IT WAS A LUCKY break for the author last July when he received a call at his office relating that the President was ahead of schedule and to come immediately to the White House. It was 20 minutes earlier than his appointed time for the interview. “As it turned out I had an hour with him,” Barnes said.
During the course of their conversation Barnes was impressed that Bush tried to introduce new information. “He really tried. He didn’t just bring up excerpts from old speeches.”
Toward the end of the interview Barnes said Bush spoke of George Washington. Having recently read three recent books on Washington, the president mused that it was more than 200 years ago that Washington was president and his presidency is still being assessed.
“What will they say about my presidency,?” he mused. “It was clear, that about two months into his second term he was thinking about this,” Barnes conjectured.
“My book came out in January. I have no idea if he has read it or not,” the author said.
On the lighter side, Barnes remarked that Bush really doesn’t socialize with the Washington establishment. “I asked him about this. ‘I have too much work I take home,’” was the response. Barnes surmised, “I really don’t think that’s the reason. He really just doesn’t want to.”
Barnes followed up his suspicion by relating an occasion at the British embassy honoring Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “I talked to an aide who was there [indicating it was unusual for the president to be out and about] and the aide replied, ‘One tux, one term’,” Barnes recalled.
Regarding the 2008 presidential campaign,
BARNES OFFERED an insight as to whom would be running. “Republicans and Democrats nominate candidates differently. The Republicans usually take the next in line. That would obviously be [Sen. John] McCain. The Democrats are more open to candidates from way back. Right now, [Sen.] Hillary Clinton is the front runner, but she is not that likable. She also is not as liberal as some people think she is. Now, in the case of [Bill] Clinton, it helped enormously that he was so likable. Five out of six times the more likable candidate wins,” he said.
“If the election were held today, the Republicans would lose all. But remember, things can change dramatically in a matter of months. The campaign will be between the candidates, not the issues at the time,” he concluded.