Friday, October 5, 2007

Bush a 'Windshield Cowboy,' Mexico's Fox says

Former president's book dishes on world leaders

The Arizona Republic reports:

George W. Bush is a "windshield cowboy" who doesn't like horses. Fidel Castro has a strange habit of pulling on his ear after every bite of food. In Nigeria, its former president was likely to grab your buttocks in greeting.

Known for his tactlessness while in office, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has written a gossipy, English-language autobiography that has right-wing U.S. commentators buzzing and Mexicans rolling their eyes.

Revolution of Hope, which hit bookstores Thursday, is a departure for Mexico's former presidents, most of whom were party bureaucrats with a history of keeping their heads down and their mouths shut.

Fox's book shoots from the hip. He calls Bush "quite simply the cockiest guy I have ever met in my life," needles him on his "grade-school level" Spanish and says the U.S. president seemed afraid to ride a horse during a visit to Fox's ranch.

On more serious subjects, Fox says Bush tried to railroad him into supporting the Iraq invasion. He complains at length about U.S. immigration policy and says the United States is abandoning its free-trade roots.

"You don't write a book to please everybody, you write a book to tell the truth," Fox said during an interview with The Arizona Republic last week at his ranch near León, Mexico. "I wanted to go behind the scenes and convey the feeling that presidents are human beings, after all."

Other Mexican presidents have written memoirs, including two leaders from the 1980s and 1990s, Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Miguel de la Madrid. But such books were usually pretty dry, said Maria Gabriela Vázquez, a library-studies expert at Mexico's National School of Library and Archives Management.

That could be because all of Mexico's presidents from 1929 to 2000 were handpicked by their predecessor from the ranks of the all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party. In that system, discretion and loyalty were the main job requirements.

"It's not often that someone as clumsy as Fox expounds in word and print," Vázquez said.

But Fox says the furor over his snarkier musings - the book also says Bush struts like he's "carrying a watermelon under each arm" - ignores the book's bigger themes of free trade, migration and extending prosperity across the Western Hemisphere.

Fox recounted how his grandfather, an American from Cincinnati, came to Mexico to seek his fortune in the 1890s.

Joseph Fox worked his way up from night watchman at a carriage factory to prosperous plantation owner. He never learned Spanish.

"Here's my grandfather, coming from Cincinnati without a penny in his pocket, seeking his American Dream," Fox said. "That says something about the universality of immigration."

The book, co-written with Fox adviser Rob Allyn, deals at length with Fox's childhood, including the year he spent at a high school in Wisconsin. It traces his career as he rose to become the head of Coca-Cola Mexico, then quit to help rescue the family's farming businesses. And it follows his political rise from reluctant activist to governor of Guanajuato state, then the first opposition president in 71 years.

That's where Fox shows his gossipy side, cheerfully riffing about the rich and powerful he met as president.

Castro likes to drink buffalo milk, he writes. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has "Energizer Bunny hyperactivity." Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo once "proceeded to grasp me firmly by the buttocks" in a traditional greeting.

And here's Fox on seeing former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's birthmark in person: "It's a little like your first view of the Golden Gate bridge. . . . You think, 'Wow, it really looks like that.' "

Fox also confesses his "gift of the gaffe," which often got him into trouble as president. The book offers a belated apology for a 2005 comment about American Blacks that infuriated the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and other activists.

Fox devotes an entire chapter to how Bush lobbied him for Mexico's vote as the U.N. Security Council mulled a measure authorizing the invasion of Iraq. Fox says Bush was stubborn and high-handed as he tried to get developing countries behind the invasion.

"He wanted my support, I refused to commit it, and we hung up the phone," Fox says of a March 12, 2003, conversation with Bush. Eventually, the United States withdrew the Security Council motion rather than see it voted down.

Faced with a Congress controlled by rival parties, Fox failed to achieve many of his promised reforms. The book glosses over those failures, as well as the uneasy relationship between Fox and his successor, President Felipe Calderón.

In his own autobiography, The Disobedient Son, Calderón accuses Fox of forcing him to resign as secretary of energy in 2004 after Calderón revealed he wanted to run for president.

"He knew the rules," Fox told The Republic. "The rules were not to campaign for president when he had a government post."

Fox says he will continue to speak his mind. He is building a $20 million presidential library and think tank and says he plans to write a book about religion, a taboo subject in Mexican politics.

"I won't stop writing and saying what I feel," Fox said. "If you stop moving, if you restrain yourself, you die."