July 2004

Bryan Miller

nonfiction

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose

You should listen to Molly Ivins.

Documentarian and sometimes author Michael Moore has recently garnered a particularly impressive spate of attention in the wake of his film Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore’s film, though powerful, often revolves around theoretical connections and ethereal ideas. This is not to say that Moore is wrong, but too often he lacks a smoking gun, and despite the incredible success of the movie he never quite manages to close the noose around Bush’s neck -- although he does provide plenty of rope.

Molly Ivins is a different sort of commentator entirely. The Nation writer and Texas resident is a populist just like Moore, but her approach is altogether different. She’s not interested in grandstanding or stunts, doesn’t deal in ideology that occasionally borders on paranoid conspiracy theories, and won’t deal in the occasional bit of propaganda. Ivins deals in facts, plain but not always simple. That does make her less accessible to those who lack a fondness for policy debate and solid journalism, but it also makes her infinitely more credible.

The self-identified populist notes, “Populists, as opposed to liberals, do not get particularly excited about culture wars. We do not believe the important differences in this country are about smokers versus nonsmokers or wine versus beer drinkers. This fight is not about yoga and vegetarianism. It is not about lifestyles. Keep your eye on the shell with the pea under it. It is about who’s getting screwed, and about who’s doing the screwing. And anybody who tells you different is lying for money.”

Ivins’s latest book is her second with coauthor Lou Dubose and her second on perhaps her least-favorite Texan: current president George W. Bush. Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America is the follow-up to perhaps the single best book written about the Texas governor-turned-president, Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. (The other is probably J. Hatfield’s excellent biography Fortunate Son, marred by scandal and suppressed by the Bush family, but surprisingly balanced and incredibly revealing.)

Shrub, Ivins and Dubose’s other collaborative effort, was a pre-election release that attempted to swing voters away from Bush by demonstrating the disastrous effects of his rule in Texas. While the rest of the country clamored about drunk-driving charges and silly verbal inconsistencies, Ivins and Dubose released a lean book packed with a fantastic political history that would -- and ultimately did -- become political future. They lambasted Bush’s shady business dealings, dismantling of environmental standards and campaign-finance reform, gutting of regulatory agencies, and economic policies that took Texas from a massive surplus to a massive deficit.

“We were tempted to begin this book by observing, ‘If y’all had’ve read the first book, we wouldn’t have to write this one.’ Cooler heads prevailed,” write Ivins and Dubose in the introduction. They’re exactly right. The predictions they made in Shrub by examining his stint in Texas politics came true in almost every way. In fact, they were understatements, but since Texas lacked a massive terrorist attack and the presence of John Ashcroft, it’s hard to fault them for missing one or two details.

Ivins and Dubose open with a brief summary of a much-discussed issue from Shrub, Bush’s failed oil ventures. They provide the Cliffs Notes to the ties between Arbusto Energy, James Baker, Philip Uzielli, and ultimately Harken, the Enron-esque business deal that saw Bush bail out with a bundle of cash just before the company went belly up.

“What Bush took out of Harken was also twice as much as Bill and Hillary Clinton lost in a crummy Arkansas real estate deal that cost the American taxpayers seventy million dollars to investigate,” the authors point out. This opening gambit sets up a pattern of dodgy dealings and pillaging that will carry over into Bush’s dealings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, and almost every other segment of the government established to protect the rights of U.S. citizens.

Ivins and Dubose keep a sharp focus. They don’t diverge from domestic-policy issues to take potshots at Saudi Arabia or Iraq, even when the connections are seemingly evident. To help make their case, each chapter is centered around an American citizen adversely affected by the Bush policies. In the wrong hands this could devolve into sentimental tripe, but Ivins and Dubose use the device to humanize issues without sacrificing facts and good sense for hand-wringing and overemoting.

Add Ivins’s trademark wit to the bucketful of damning information she and Dubose gather on Bush, and the book is exponentially sharpened. “Perhaps [Bush] realized his $337 billion dividend tax break for big investors would be a hard sell while the families of two million unemployed Americans couldn’t even find a faith-based soup kitchen,” she writes. Touche.

Bushwhacked is smarter than most dry books on policy and funnier than most joke-filled, inconsequential attacks on the president and his cronies. It’s essential reading from one of America’s savviest political minds. Miss out and you might find yourself stuck with -- and deserving -- another dismal four-years.

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
Vintage
ISBN: 0375713115
368 Pages