If you thought exiting your last job was painful, because you had to stand around eating sheet cake and acting excited about your impending "freelance projects," imagine being an outgoing president. Not only do you have to give up your career, move out of your house and bid farewell to your jumbo jet all on the same day, you're expected to embark on one of the most onerous tasks known to humans: writing a book.
We're not talking just any book but a "highly anticipated" autobiography stuffed with vital stats and juicy bits about what this or that world leader said over biscotti at the G-8 summit, how proud you are of your housing legislation, and how you've become a better, wiser, more self-actualized person for having served as leader of the free world.
President Bush, ever the artful dodger, may be spared this fate. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, his approval ratings are lower than any president's since the inception of approval ratings. And while some presidents who left office smelling less than Rose Garden fresh managed to publish their books within a few years -- Nixon and Truman, for example, though they revealed little -- the 43rd president probably would be better off spending the next few years catching up on A&E's "Biography" (his favorite show, reportedly) rather than trying to string together the 30,000 sentences necessary to write his own.
"If I were advising President Bush, given how the public feels about him right now, I think patience would probably be something that I would encourage," Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity for Alfred A. Knopf (which published Bill Clinton's bestseller, "My Life"), told the Associated Press recently.
Besides, as anyone knows who's watched Oprah or mistaken the front of a chain bookstore for a scented-candle boutique, it's women who buy and read the majority of books. No surprise, then, that the Bush who's really in demand with publishers is the first lady. Granted, it's doubtful that Laura Bush would deliver the book most Americans want from her, which may as well be titled: "How I Stopped Worrying About Abortion Rights, the Geneva Convention and Basic Grammar and Remained in Love With My Husband." But even if she sticks to subjects like White House upholstery, the former school librarian has been so taciturn during her tenure that it's likely readers will be intrigued by even the most innocuous details.
Still, Laura's impending book deal is hardly the hottest gossip in publishing circles. A few weeks ago, the New York Post reported that Sarah Palin is searching for a literary agent, and rumors are flying that she could sign a deal for $7 million. If that happens, Palin would no doubt set a record for vice presidential also-rans, effectively earning $1 million for every week she was on the campaign trail.
Politicians' books, of course, take many forms and serve many purposes. Post-presidential ones purport to provide some kind of closure. Others, like Barack Obama's 2006 "The Audacity of Hope" and John McCain's 1999 "Faith of My Fathers," are positioned to pave the way to the presidency. Palin's, in all likelihood, would fall into the latter category, although it would be billed as a tell-all.
Fair enough. But Palin may once again find herself a victim of good fortune that quickly converts to bad publicity. As if the $150,000 RNC-funded wardrobe didn't leave enough of a sour taste in people's mouths, a multimillion-dollar book advance could easily send the nation into a permanent state of Palin-related acid reflux. It's worth noting that "Faith of My Fathers," which chronicled McCain's years as a prisoner of war as well as a 20-year political career, procured an advance of $500,000. How much is that for every week at the Hanoi Hilton? Let's not go there.
It's possible that Laura's advance will exceed the numbers swirling around Palin's project. That too might raise some hackles, but Bush haters should note this: If there's anything more punishing than writing a book, it's being married to someone who's writing a book. One way or another, George will be doing time.
George W. may write one, but Laura's is the one publishers really want.
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