This fall has seen publication of two instant classics of a very particular genre: the memoir written by a privileged white man who has no understanding of, or concern for, the consequences of his actions. Assholes Finish First, the second memoir by online douchelebrity Tucker Max, was published in September. Decision Points, George W. Bush's autobiography, came out last week. (It's interesting to note that the titles of these books are completely interchangeable; in fact, Assholes Finish First by George W. Bush would at least have been a refreshing example of truth in advertising.) When read together—one hundred pages of one, then one hundred pages of the other, alternating back and forth for 900 pages—they form a nearly seamless biography of a single human being, a sociopathic, overentitled bro who takes a sadistic glee in his own monstrous behavioral flaws.
The similarities are stunning: Both men write their autobiographies as a series of battles against ignorant foes who cross them (Bush's foes are the media, Democrats, Republicans, terrorists, foreigners, Kanye West, and basically every other human being in the world at one time or another; Max's foes are women, especially if they are overweight or ugly). Both men operate under the assumption that they are always right. Neither shows any real sorrow for his evil actions. And neither one can write.
Max and Bush both recount their drunken exploits. Max is more explicit—every story involves bodily fluids and demeaning women—but Bush hints at a Max-like past, as in the time he got too drunk at a Bush family Kennebunkport dinner: "As we were eating, I turned to a beautiful friend of Mother and Dad's and asked a boozy question: 'So, what is sex like after fifty?'" It's not Max mocking a woman's colostomy bag as he fucks her—"Come on, the girl had a bag of crap on her hip, like some sort of old Western shitslinger. What do you want from me? Caring? Compassion? Sorry, we're sold out"—but if you read between the lines, you can easily imagine that Bush's spoiled-white-drunk exploits would rival Max's.
Max glows with pride over his "pranks," whereas Bush is more humble about his political tricks. Here, he recounts one of his first public battles, with John McCain over a primary in South Carolina: "McCain ran an ad questioning my character by comparing me to Bill Clinton. That crossed a line. I went on the air to counterpunch. The response, combined with a well-organized grassroots campaign, paid off." What Bush is too humble to note is that his "grassroots campaign" pulled off one of the all-time dirty tricks in presidential- campaign history—a push poll that suggested that McCain had fathered a baby with a black woman out of wedlock, driving the racist-white vote to the ballot boxes in a decisive battle that ultimately led to Bush locking down the Republican nomination. (The "joke" is that the push poll is rooted in some distorted form of the truth: McCain actually is the adoptive father of a Bangladeshi orphan.) That Bush would fall back on the exploitation of racism just because his opponent compared him to another politician is a smear Max would be proud of.
Early passages in both books pivot on the protagonist's use of a bullhorn. Max writes, "Everything you say becomes one level more humorous through a bullhorn. Stupid becomes passable, passable becomes funny, funny becomes hysterical, and hysterical becomes Dave Chappelle doing Rick James." Max uses his bullhorn to yell "Go practice your throw-ins, you cheese-eating surrender monkey!" at some "European-looking dudes." With his amplified voice, he tells a "chunky girl" to get tested for "hoof-and-mouth disease" because she is "frothing at the udder." At the ruins of the World Trade Center shortly after 9/11, Bush finds a bullhorn "thrust into my hands... People shouted, 'We can't hear you.' I shot back, 'I can hear you!' It got a cheer." The bullhorn turned his stupidity into something passable, and he used those cheers to power his administration's ascent into madness. After 9/11, Bush writes, "My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass." (Important note: Bush never did kick the ass of the person who did it. You will not learn that from reading Decision Points. As in real life, he conveniently changes the subject.)
A surprising amount of both books is devoted to mistakes. Max writes:
I get a lot of email from guys, especially younger guys, telling me how amazing and perfect I am, and how they worship me because they see me as a god of drinking and sex. And not just a few emails—tens of thousands of them, all day, every day.
He assures that these tens of thousands of Maxlets "just like every other normal guy, I fuck up. A lot."
Bush doesn't say anything near as clear-cut as that. He dwells in the errors of his presidency—how could he not? It's an administration that was almost entirely composed of mistakes—but he constructs individual shoddy excuses for each lapse in judgment. He deflects blame on the "Mission Accomplished" banner (he "hadn't noticed" the enormous red-white-and-blue banner waving on the deck of the aircraft carrier behind him), and Katrina, and the financial collapse (which he pins on Congress, saying he'd been warning them for years).
He stands by his ill- fated attempts to privatize Social Security, saying he thinks his plans to transform the public retirement fund into something "like 401(k) accounts" would have worked. He doesn't acknowledge that many people's 401(k)s were completely wiped out in the financial crisis of 2008 or make the connection that his reformed Social Security could have disintegrated in the collapse, too. Bush cloaks himself in his outrage that "Kim Jong-il cultivated his appetite for fine cognac, luxury Mercedes, and foreign films" while North Koreans starve to death, and doesn't seem to stop to think about the one in seven Americans who live in poverty today—many of whom were above the poverty line when Bush took office in 2001. (Maybe he is absolved of guilt because he doesn't watch foreign films? The first sign Bush had that he and Tony Blair would be great friends was when the British prime minister chose the comedy Meet the Parents for a screening in the White House movie theater over a menu of other, presumably stuffier, films.)
There are differences between Max and Bush, of course. Max fastidiously reminds people who call him a frat boy that he never joined a fraternity, while Bush's Skull and Bones ties are well documented. Assholes is structured more like a real book (Bush ends Decision Points with a long, half-assed list of things he didn't cover, like a child who frittered away the first half of an essay-writing exam surreptitiously reading a comic book). Max presumably isn't responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. But the big difference between Max and Bush is revealed at the climaxes of their respective books. Max recounts a time he was fucking a woman named Colleen in a bathroom when her drunken roommate staggered in and projectile vomited all over them:
26 year old Tucker Max would have played it right: He'd take a steaming dump on the roommate's bed as retribution for interrupting his coitus... Then he'd pull Colleen out of the bathroom by her hair after she washed herself off, fuck her until she had multiple organ failure, cum on her face, drink all her beer, and then piss it out on the puking roommate passed out in the bathtub. But 30 year old Tucker just gave up. I used her expensive down comforter to wipe the vomit off my legs, then walked home without even saying good-bye.
Even Tucker Max, it seems, is getting tired of Tucker Max. He writes about finding a wife and having children in Assholes. While he doesn't seem to care at all about redemption, Max at least seems hungry for some kind of fundamental change in his soul. Contrast this with a speech Bush gives when he sets foot back in Texas at the end of Decision Points, having nearly destroyed the country in eight short years:
When I walked out of the White House this morning, I left with the same values I brought eight years ago. And when I look in the mirror at home tonight, I will have no regrets about what I see—except maybe the gray hair.
He hasn't changed at all. The experience of leading the free world, ordering the deaths of human beings, and seeing some of his closely held conservative free-market convictions turn to dust in his fingers taught him absolutely nothing. Some define living as changing, and George W. Bush has written nearly 500 pages about how he has not changed at all and is proud of that fact, above all else.
And so: The difference between Tucker Max and George W. Bush is that Tucker Max is a better person.