April 2005

Michael Schaub

propaganda

Ten Minutes from Normal

If the title doesn't make you want to vomit blood, I question your patriotism and intelligence. If you've kept up closely with American politics, and the Bush administration in particular, you know Hughes as the former television journalist with perhaps the fakest smile in the history of the world. She was an adviser and counselor to George W. Bush in his first term, before resigning in 2002 to spend more time with her family in Texas. Her desire for quality time having been sated, apparently, she's now his "undersecretary of state for public diplomacy," responsible for repairing America's image abroad. There are very few people less appropriate for this job, which suggests that Hughes was probably on a short list with the BTK killer and that Boy Scout leader with all the child porn on his computer. And they must have been busy.

At first glance, the most irritating thing about Hughes' new memoir, Ten Minutes from Normal, is its title. You just know there's a cutesy story behind it, and Hughes doesn't disappoint. On a train campaign tour of America, Hughes hears the conductor announce, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're ten minutes from Normal; ten minutes from Normal." (That would be Normal, Illinois.) Karen is thrilled. "'If I ever write a book, that's the title,'" I told my colleagues in the staff car. 'Ten minutes from normal is exactly how I feel about this whole bizarre experience.'"

I want to find this conductor and injure him. God, maybe if it had been some other city --"Ten minutes from Eau Claire! Fifteen minutes from Sheboygan!" -- Hughes wouldn't have been inspired to write this godawful book. Maybe she'd still be in Texas, still trying to think of a semi-clever book title, unwilling to accept the State Department appointment.

(And you know that's going to end badly. You just know it. Have you ever watched your local TV news broadcast? Imagine the guy doing the investigative reports about rats in the kitchen of some fried-chicken joint trying to convince the Arab street not to hate us. Or if you're not American, just imagine a vapid asshole in a stupid suit trying to convince you not to hate America. What could be a less appropriate nomination? Maybe choosing a torture apologist as attorney general. But he hasn't written a book yet. Still, I digress.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most entertaining part of Ten Minutes from Normal is the index, which is unintentionally (I'm guessing) more amusing and interesting than the actual text itself. Which isn't saying much, exactly, since the copyright page is also more amusing and interesting than the book. But you can get a pretty good idea of what Hughes is about by just flipping through the index. And it spares you from having to read some of the clumsiest, most pedestrian prose ever committed to paper. The index, though, is magical. Check it out:

SAT scores, 140

Prepare yourself for another conservative lecture on the dumbening of America, as evidenced by the declining standardized test scores of U.S. high school students. Right? Not exactly. The entry refers to an encounter with a Houston Chronicle editorial writer who claims his SAT scores were higher than most Texas residents:

"What was your SAT score?" I countered; he answered with a number. "Well, mine was higher," I replied. "Does that mean I win "I'm right and you're wrong?"

I don't remember exactly how the conversation ended...

The Chronicle writer does indeed sound like an asshole, if this story is actually true. (I'm guessing: No.) But it's pretty interesting how Hughes waits to hear his SAT scores before declaring that hers was higher. (And note: If you are over the age of 21, and still remember your SAT scores, you are a dick. If you are over the age of 21, and still brag about your SAT scores, you are a total dick.) The only academic indicator I can remember is the C-minus I got in Statistics, which would have been a solid F if the professor hadn't graded on the biggest curve ever.

Saturday Night Live, 165

There is actually no reference to Saturday Night Live on this page, though late-night host David Letterman is mentioned. After the final debate between Bush and Al Gore (who you might remember as the man who actually won the 2000 election), Hughes pens a top ten list, featuring the "reasons Governor Bush won the debates." Which includes:

No. 8: Major league performance. Big time....
No. 7: Al Gore finally stopped sighing about his record....
No. 2: He's finally learned the difference between East Timorians and West Texians....

And those are the funny ones. You know the painfully unfunny secretary at your office who writes these kind of lame jokes for the company newsletter? ("Bob in accounting sure likes his wine!") Karen Hughes makes that secretary look like Lenny fucking Bruce.

Burkas, 275

A member of Hughes' staff brings her a burka from Afghanistan. "The beautiful silk material belied the horrible nature of the garment; when I put it on, the burka was hot, suffocating and it made me feel invisible, which was apparently part of the point," she writes. If you're a woman who lived under the Taliban's oppressive regime, know this: Karen Hughes feels your pain. If only everyone in America could wear a burka for 30 seconds or whatever, then they would know why we had to invade Iraq, where the Taliban was... uh...

Huh. Maybe I don't get the point after all.

September 11, attacks of, emotional effect on author, 248-249, 255, 257

She was sad.

Bible, study group, author's, 318, 331

I'm not going to pick on Karen Hughes for studying the Bible. I wish all Christian conservatives would study the Bible, maybe starting with Matthew 6:1-6 and 7:1. She doesn't talk about those verses, but does mention that she "used a flashlight and a cardboard box to show the two-year-olds in my Sunday school class how God created the world."

It's that easy? Really?

Fuck.

I guess evolution really is a crazy theory, when you think about it. Much more believable that God used a Maglite and a box he picked up outside a liquor store. It's all starting to make sense.

Bush, George W., author's first impressions of, 81

"I vividly remember my first impression: fast," Hughes writes. "George Bush talked fast, moved fast, decided fast." In other words, he was fucking coked to the gills as late as 1990. Yet there's no entry for "Bush, George W., nose, similarity to vaccuum." You just have to kind of read between the lines.

Bush, George W., hunting and, 93-95

During his 1994 race for Texas governor against Ann Richards, George W. Bush shot an endangered killdeer, thinking it was a dove. This was hilarious for pretty much everyone except other killdeers. At the same time, Richards went hunting, about which Hughes sniffs: "Some of our supporters thought (Richards') election-time interest in hunting was primarily a public relations stunt." So in case you're keeping track: When a native Texan (Richards) goes hunting, it's a PR stunt. When a Connecticut carpetbagger (Bush) goes hunting, it's an example of his love of nature and good-ol'-boy credibility. Let me know if this makes any sense to you.

It's disappointing, if unsurprising, that there are no real surprises or revelations in Ten Minutes from Normal. No "Bush, George W., and hookers" or "Fleischer, Ari, and pedophilia" or "Ashcroft, John, and attractive 16-year-old girls" or "Bush, Laura, and attractive 16-year-old boys." You just know Karen Hughes has an interesting story to tell, but she's too much of a company woman to tell it. I recommend the index, though. It's the best thing a Bush appointee ever wrote.

Ten Minutes from Normal by Karen Hughes
Penguin
ISBN: 0143034979
346 Pages

Fucked, author's realization that this country probably is, 1