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For Christmas, I usually ask for books. And I get some unexpected pleasures. Unexpected this year was Jacob Weisberg’s The Bush Tragedy, which I started reading Christmas night and found captivating.

I hadn’t read it before, because I had expected predictable Bush-bashing. But Weisberg – who makes the perceptive observation that journalistic insight often comes not from uncovering a great secret, but from simply paying attention to what is in plain sight – interprets George Bush’s failings through the lens of his relationship with his father and other strong men from both sides of his family.

The more I watch politicians, the more I believe that their relationship with their fathers is key.

Take both Bushes. W. has alternately tried to compete with and distinguish himself from “41,” who had to live up to his father’s rectitude and record.

Barack Obama wrote a book about searching for his father. So did a would-be President, John McCain.

Bill Clinton never had a father figure, and his life shows it. Reagan’s father was a drunk. Nixon’s dark personality was rooted in parental drama. Ford was adopted; Carter’s was a pillar of the community.

Then there was Joe Kennedy.

Most men spend their lives trying to live up to their fathers – or live them down.

Obama, unlike W., has spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of his father and their relationship, or lack of one. And he wrote it down long before he got into politics. His self-examination may account for his remarkable self-assurance.

After sixteen years of Bush-Clinton psychodrama, we have a President who has made the effort to know himself.

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