Utter Incompetents

Ego and Ideology in the Age of Bush

By Thomas Oliphant
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312360177, 304pp.)

Publication Date: November 13, 2007

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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The problem wasn’t just Iraq.

It didn’t even start with Iraq.

It was bigger than Iraq.


In fact, it was everything George W. Bush touched, from the very early flop on energy policy to the walking fiasco named Alberto Gonzales. Even adding the tragicomedy of Hurricane Katrina doesn’t come close to describing the governmental catastrophe of the Bush administration. The collapse of the Bush presidency is a broadly acknowledged fact. Everyone who’s anyone, from politicians to comedians, has taken shots at this ever-growing target. By any fair assessment, much of the past seven years has been disastrous. The challenge is to understand why.

Few analysts have stepped aside, abandoning easy hits and quick gibes, and analyzed the totality of the Bush Administration.  Now, bestselling author Thomas Oliphant does just that.  With his keen, experienced eye, he asks the simplest of questions: “How could some of the smartest, most experienced and politically savvy people in Washington screw up so badly?”

After all, this was the team led by a man with an MBA.  They came to Washington with the mission to run the government in an orderly, businesslike manner.  Instead, chaos has ensued.  How did this happen?

From domestic policy to international goofs, from soaring energy prices to the health care crisis---Thomas Oliphant tackles it all, closely inspecting the initial projections and promises of Bush and his key senior officials, and the ways in which they lost control of these well-publicized and overconfident plans.  By comparing their rhetoric to their dismal record, Oliphant provides a historic analysis of the Bush administration---showing how a system so seemingly competent and mechanized could fail so miserably, and with such frequency.

In the wake of the Republican loss of Congress  and unmet promises for future change, and as the presidential campaign to choose Bush’s successor heats up, Oliphant provides a rigorous examination of what went wrong and what this means for the next administration. Utter Incompetents is at its heart a searching look at the George W. Bush administration, its policies, and the legacy that it will leave behind on January 20, 2009.

It is also the substantive backdrop for the next president.



About the Author

Thomas Oliphant has been a correspondent for The Boston Globe since 1968 and its Washington columnist since 1989. He is a native of Brooklyn, a product of La Jolla High School in California, and a 1967 graduate of Harvard. He was one of three editors on special assignment who managed the Globe’s coverage of Boston's traumatic school desegregation, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. He has also won the writing award given by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He has appeared on ABC’s Nightline, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Face the Nation, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS News’ This Morning. He has been named one of the country’s top ten political writers and one of Washington’s fifty most influential journalists by The Washingtonian magazine. Mr. Oliphant lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, CBS correspondent Susan Spencer.

Praise For Utter Incompetents

“Tom Oliphant is one of the true chroniclers of America. He uses his wit and wisdom to offer critical, insightful, and loving observations of our politics, culture, and society. He is the Will Rogers of our time.”---Madeleine Albright

“Done right, political discourse is a feast. And Tom Oliphant brings more to the table than anyone I know. First, the meat. He knows this stuff. Then, there’s the delicious insight, which tenderizes the meat and makes you want to devour it till you’re sucking the marrow from the bone. Then there’s his voracious appetite, which makes you feel less guilty for sucking the marrow because he’s doing it, too. Now, imagine I had extended the metaphor to include all parts of a feast---the hearty bread, the creamy potatoes, etc.---all served with Tom’s hilarious wit and innate decency. Bon appétit!” ---Al Franken, author of The Truth (with jokes)

“Tom Oliphant is a reporter’s reporter and a writer’s writer---compelling and thorough, eloquent and fair. Throw in a rare wit and wryness, and you have a journalistic original who offers both powerful insight and sweeping narrative. We’re lucky that in this book, he’s chosen to focus on the Bush administration---even if Bush isn’t. Cheney won’t like this story, the real story. Readers will love it.”---Robert M. Shrum, author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner

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