Perlstein, in an excellent piece noting that Bob Woodward “is utterly useless in explaining how Washington works. But he is almost uniquely useful as an object lesson in displaying how Washington works—especially its elite punditry division,” has some particularly damning evidence:
He’s something different now: a barometer of Washington conventional wisdom, who more appears to say what he chooses to say based upon his continually evolving sense of who is up and who is down among precisely that same Georgetown cocktail set.
Think that claim is harsh? Here’s an almost scientific case study to prove it. Consider Woodward’s three-volume series of books about George W. Bush’s foreign policy. I reviewed the series in 2006. The first, published in 2002, called Bush At War, was composed back in those heady days when his president’s approval ratings were up above seventy percent. “The George W. Bush who strides across the pages of Bush at War,” I wrote, “was a superhero…. And while the picture of the commander in chief in Plan of Attack (2004)”—modestly subtitled “The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq”—”was rounder, the White House found if flattering enough to put it on the recommended reading list as they prepared for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.”
Call it the middle volume in a Goldilocks series: not too fulsome, not too mean, just something a little bit in between—just right: after all, his presidential approval ratings were hovering all that year right around fifty percent.
Then came 2006, the collapse of the Iraq adventure, and a President down below forty percent in the ratings, roundly derided in all the right circles as a miserable failure. The book Woodward published that year—subtitle: “Bush at War, Part III”—was called State of Denial, and depicted a dangerous idiot. So I did some A/B/C comparisons: Woodward in 2002, 2004, and 2006, characterizing the same subject in completely different ways, correlated in every instance with his declining muscle in Washington.
If it took you until 2006 that Bush and his foreign policy team were a disaster, it’s really time to take that buyout and find another line of work.