Fitting for a presidential memoir, George W. Bush's "Decision Points" is a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the 84-year-old institution that offers top sellers and critical favorites at discount prices.
Surprising for a memoir by a president whose "base" was more to the right than for any chief executive since Ronald Reagan, "Decision Points" is only an alternate at the Conservative Book Club, a 50,000-member organization founded in 1964 and adhering to the motto of "Conservatives Serving Conservatives."
Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Kantor wouldn't offer a specific reason why Bush was not a main selection, a status granted to former top Bush aide Karl Rove's "Courage and Consequence." She did note, "It is true that conservatives have mixed feelings" about Bush and cited the No Child Left Behind Act and the growth of government during his administration.
Bush's book, released Tuesday, sold at least 222,000 copies through its first day of sale, according to the Crown Publishing Group, and topped the best-seller list of Amazon.com even before release. But his standing in the conservative book club reflects an ongoing hesitation among some of his supposed core followers.
Asked for comment, Crown spokesman David Drake responded: "As the president might say, I'm not going to wade back into the swamp."
Conservatives will see a lot of Bush during his promotional tour. He is giving interviews to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and other favorites of the right, and will make a few appearances on the Fox News Channel. But he is not universally praised. Glenn Beck, for example, has called Bush a "progressive" Republican and suggested he helped pull Republicans away from conservative principles.
"What do you think hurt the Republican Party?" Beck said on his radio show last year, referring to the 2008 election. "Do you think it was conservative values? Or do you think it was the progressive side of George W. Bush?"
Marji Ross, president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, a sister company of the conservative book club, said that Bush will eventually rise among the right because of foreign policy and his stands on national security. But she acknowledged that, for now, conservatives fault him for not fighting hard enough to reduce the government.
"That was certainly a weakness of his presidency," Ross says.
"By the time he left office, there were certainly people on the right who were not happy with everything he did," says Adrian Zackheim, who heads the conservative imprint Sentinel at Penguin Group (USA) that next year will publish the memoir of Bush's secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. "But one thing Bush's memoir can do is give everyone a big picture of what he did as president and remind conservatives of the many policies that they supported."
The Conservative Book Club's current selections are far more focused on criticizing Obama than celebrating Bush, with popular works including Dinesh D'Souza's "The Roots of Obama's Rage," Laura Ingraham's "The Obama Diaries" and David Limbaugh's "Crimes Against Liberty." Among Regnery releases, Ross cited Mark Thiessen's "Courting Disaster," a defense of Bush's terrorism policies, but said she wasn't seeing books that offered a broad review of his administration.
"We get proposals for books about conservative governing, but they're much more abstract, about how they want the government to be. They're not about returning to the Bush years or even to a Reagan set of principles," Ross says.
In "Decision Points," Bush strongly backs his fiscal priorities. He refers to major tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 and his efforts to set up overhaul social security, a longtime conservative goal. He includes charts showing reductions in spending and debt as a percentage of the overall domestic economy. He objected to "wasteful earmarks" proposed by Congress, but writes that he lacked a line-item veto — another conservative priority — to prevent them.
But he also writes proudly of No Child Left Behind and his ability to work with a liberal champion, Sen. Edward Kennedy. Bush's book has respectful words for President Obama, finding him well-prepared and thoughtful at a financial crisis summit in 2008 that had been requested by Obama's rival for the presidency, Sen. John McCain. While Limbaugh and others have openly rooted for Obama to fail, Bush told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that aired this week, "I want our president to succeed. I love our country."
Ross said she expected, and hoped for, tougher words in the upcoming memoir of Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney.
"For one thing, Cheney has been more vocal since he left office in defending some of the things he stood for and taking on the Obama administration," Ross says. "I think people expect the president to be more circumspect about criticizing his successor. So in that sense his book may be a little more tame, whereas I think people expect Dick Cheney to come out firing and be a little more aggressive. And that's frankly a little more fun."