An early draft of Oliver Stone’s Bush, the life story of our 43rd president, has been leaked to ABC and is garnering attention from various news outlets. Not to be outdone, Slate has acquired a copy of the screenplay, dated October 15, 2007, and titled Bush, though IMDB now lists the working title as W. In Stone’s words, the film asks: “How did Bush go from being an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?”
The screenplay, written by Stanley Weiser, plays up the rivalry between W. and his father, suggests at least one conspiracy theory, and dramatizes W.’s near-fatal encounter with a pretzel in 2002. But compared with Stone’s paranoid take on the JFK assassination, the script lacks imagination. For the most part, it trots out well-known Bushisms (“I’m the decider,” “shock and awe,” “is our children learning,” and “axis of evil”) and seems content to re-create equally well-known events from Bush’s presidency (pressuring George Tenet to produce actionable intelligence on Iraq, proclaiming “mission accomplished” on the USS Lincoln).
Spoiler alert: Bush gets the intelligence he needs, but the mission isn’t quite accomplished. If you’re not averse to a few other spoilers, follow Slate’s handy guide straight to the good parts.
Page 3: Stone’s W. doesn’t spend any more time in the library than the real W. did. In an early scene set at Yale’s DKE frat house, the script calls for young W. to pour “cheap vodka into a large garbage can” while a fellow pledge “mixes in orange juice.” Classy. Then W. “takes a snoot-full” (presumably of cocaine, though the script doesn’t specify) and sings the chorus of the Yale Whiffenpoof song: “We’re poor little lambs who have lost our way. Baa! Baa! Baa!”
Pages 48-51: A “slightly snockered” W. nearly kills his friend Don Evans during a joy ride in a Cessna jet. Evans gets worried when the jet begins to wobble and shake; he asks W., “Tell the truth—this is the first time you’ve ever flown a Cessna, isn’t it?” W.’s response: “This is how you learn. By doing. No need to ask a million questions.” Could this scene, which ends with the plane spinning out of control and landing in a desert, be a metaphor for W.’s learn-by-doing approach to war?
Pages 21-22: After being accepted to Harvard Business School, W. downs a pint of Wild Turkey, drives onto the lawn of his parents’ Washington, D.C., home, and challenges his daddy to a boxing match. George Sr. is pretty reasonable: “My advice to you—go to an AA meeting.” George W. is pretty adolescent: “Thank you, Mr. Perfect. Mr. War Hero. Mr. Fucking-God-Almighty.”
Page 60: W.’s DKE habits die hard. The morning after his 40th birthday, an extremely hung-over W. goes on an aborted jog: “Pine trees blurring past. Heart POUNDING in his chest. Woozy, he staggers over to a tree, grasping hold of it. Then leans over, retching.”
Bush in Love
Pages 14-16: Before Laura is in the picture, W. dates Judy, “a blonde, curvaceous Texas cowgirl.” Judy needs a lot of reassurance: “How many times do I have to tell you, you’re my gal. I’m as happy as a rabbit in a carrot patch with you,” insists W. at a Texas bar.
He proposes to her: “Honey, if I had a rock big enough, I’d give it to you right now.” It’s romance, Texas-style: “The country classic ‘White Lightning’ blares from the juke box. He pulls her up to dance. […] As Bush sings along, he gets up on a stool, climbs to the bar, pulls her up, too. People all around CHEER as they drunkenly dance across the top of the bar.” Sadly for Judy, W. promises his father in the very next scene that he’s just having a fling.
Page 35: When W. first meets Laura—at a Texas barbecue—he lays it on thick: “If I win [my bid for a seat in Congress], you’ll be my education advisor. […] I like the way you think. … And look.”
The Most Powerful Figure in the World
Page 1: Ever wonder how W. and company came up with the phrase “axis of evil”? Maybe it went something like this:
Chief Speech Writer: “Axis of hatred?” I don’t know. Something about it … just misses.Rove: Well, then what about “Axis of the unbearably odious?”Bush: Don’t get cute, Turdblossom. This is serious.Chief Speechwriter: What about … “Axis of Evil?”Bush: “Axis of Evil.” I like the ring of that. That’s it.
Page 45: W. treats his advisers like DKE pledges. He calls Wolfowitz “Wolfmeister” and at one point tells him to “think about trimmin’ those ear hairs.”
Page 25: When press secretary Ari Fleischer reports that Helen Thomas is asking around “about secret plans for military actions in Iraq” and wondering “what makes Saddam any different from other dictators,” W. flips out: “Did you tell her I don’t like motherfuckers who gas their own people?! Did you tell her I don’t like assholes who try to kill my father?! […] Did you tell her I’m going to kick his SORRY MOTHERFUCKING ASS ALL OVER THE MIDEAST?!”
Page 47: Midway through the U.N. resolution process, W. is itching to invade Iraq: “I think it’s time we stopped standing around with our dicks in our hands, and raised the stakes on ol’ ‘Husseny.’ “
Pages 74-75: When British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he’s concerned about “sectarian violence in the aftermath” of an Iraq invasion, W. tries to reassure him: “They’ll be grateful for freedom, the last thing they’ll want’s ‘nother war. Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, you know, in the end they’ll stick together, they’re all Muslims, anyway, (chuckling) and they gotta pray five times a day.”
Page 3: Cheney suggests that Iraq may just be the beginning. “Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran,” says the VP. Pleased with this witticism, W. clinks his bottle of nonalcoholic beer against the VP’s coffee mug.
Page 20: Now for that near-death experience. While watching the 2002 Miami Dolphins-Baltimore Ravens playoff game at the White House, W. gets a pretzel stuck in his throat. He “pounds his chest with his fist” then “faints, falling to the floor, hitting his head.” Only then does the pretzel dislodge. W. “takes a long, deep breath, feeling lucky to have survived.”
Page 65: Stone’s script perpetuates the myth that the Rev. Billy Graham converted W. at Kennebunkport in 1985. W. and Graham are walking along a “rocky shoreline” as waves crash “against a rocky promontory” when W. confides, “There’s a darkness that follows me … And no matter how many times I go to church and pray; no matter how hard I try to reach out to the Lord, that darkness still has me hooked.” He also complains: “People say I was born with a silver spoon, but they don’t know … the burden that carries.”
Page 71: W. isn’t too happy when his father wins the presidency: “I’ll never get out of Poppy’s shadow,” he tells Laura. “They’ll all keep sayin’ what’s the boy ever done … I mean who ever remembers the son of a President?” Laura’s rejoinder is heavy with dramatic irony: “You forgot John Quincy Adams.”
W. Tells Daddy To Go Negative
Page 68: In the fall of 1988, the National Security Political Action Committee began running the infamous Willie Horton attack ad, which helped Bush Sr. defeat Michael Dukakis. Per the Stone script, NSPAC coordinated with the Bush campaign before airing the ad—a clear violation of campaign finance laws. The script also suggests that Karl Rove worked on the ‘88 race (which he didn’t) and that W. convinced his father to approve negative campaign tactics.
Bush Jr.: Karl [Rove] and Lee [Atwater] predict that by the time the election is over, this guy Horton, will be a household name.Bush Sr.: Well, uh, just remind Lee that we can’t run this directly through the campaign. Find another pipeline.Bush Jr.: Don’t worry. It’s being funded through an independent group—The National Security Political Action Committee. Ya know, Roger Ailes’ people.Bush Sr.: Good work, son. You’re earning your spurs.
A Cameo for Slate’s John Dickerson!
Page 120: Back in 2004, when Slate’sJohn Dickerson was still with Time magazine, he asked W. to answer a simple question: “After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” In the script, a Time reporter named John Dickerson asks this very question and, just as in real life, W. fumbles his response: “I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it.”