Books: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Fair and Balanced?

Texas phenom Molly Ivins teams up with Lou Dubose to give it to Dubya — in the least liberal way possible.


In their bracing new screed, Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America, Molly Ivins and her co-author, Lou Dubose, come right out and declare that their examination of Dubya’s performance as both Texas governor and U.S. president is populist in tone, rather than liberal. The difference? Ivins, Texas’ best-known newspaper columnist, and Dubose, former editor of the Texas Observer, are exclusively interested in “who’s getting screwed, and who’s doing the screwing” based on the record.

One might also wonder who’s responsible for the exquisite smart-ass tone and the dizzying reportage in this authorial relationship. The language is pure Molly — a brand of crude, passionate wit she ought to copyright — but the heavy-lifting of names, dates, legal opinions, speeches, government agency screw-ups, and offstage personal and political alliances surely affords Dubose more than just copy editing status. Unlike their brief and less incendiary collaboration Shrub, this new work must’ve been a hellacious fact-checking adventure for the publishers. From reduced standards for meat-packers’ product and chemical plant emissions to faith-based charity scandals to the almost ghostwritten authorship by political advisor Karl Rove of a new reactionary script for American life, this is a far-ranging but focused political rant.

Stated simply, the thesis of Bushwhacked is that our current president is a dead-serious evangelical Christian fired by the notion that both corporations and religious conservatives have the duty to shape domestic and foreign policy to their benefit — which, in the long run (or short run, depending on when you think the Apocalypse will occur), benefits all good Christian, capitalist-minded people. And they’re the only ones that matter. Wealthy believers get the benefits of both unregulated profit, political influence, and a blissful afterlife; the unemployed and the working poor will just have to pine for those postmortem (and ante mortem) rewards.

The way this proposition affects military and diplomatic strategy is especially unsettling. Bushwhacked fearlessly critiques both the administration’s eschatologists (those Christians actively setting the stage for Jesus’ Middle East return) and its “Likudniks” like Paul Wolfowitz, a Jewish hawk who has zero interest in ameliorating harsh Palestinian conditions. The head-scratching alliance between born-again Christians and Jews who support Israel no matter how self-defeating its policies is a marriage of convenience that ought to offend the Jewish partners. After all, when The Man returns to Israel, they’re the ones who’ll fry in hell unless they renounce Judaism. Or so believes the compassionately conservative Dubya.

Ivins and Dubose occasionally lose their bearings over this or that favorite outrage that becomes an obsession. Take the book’s preoccupation with abortion. Ivins rails incessantly against right-wing federal judges, evangelical activists, and the prez for making the pro-life stand a political mandate. In the process, she inadvertently reveals that abortion is every bit as much a litmus test for her. It might’ve been more prudent just to dedicate an entire chapter of Bushwhacked to Shrub’s abysmal record on contraception, AIDS prevention, and women’s reproductive choices here and abroad, rather than wedging pro-choice paragraphs throughout the book. The breadth and depth of their presidential analysis is impressive — but it’s undercut when they allow themselves to come across as single-issue demagogues.

I’m curious about how Bushwhacked will fare in a market flooded with left-wing castigations of Bush and his ilk. Al Franken’s much-hyped Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is sometimes gut-pain funny, but he gets most of his satirical mileage out of spotlighting right-wing hypocrisy, with some statistics scattered throughout to give his text an academic kick. That trick can be pulled at almost any point along the ideological spectrum. But even with a staff of Harvard students to help him research his book, Franken looks like, well, a tv sketch writer compared to Ivins and Dubose. They clarify federal regulatory nuances, corporate law and its loopholes, and the hundreds of millions of dollars spirited through those holes by the bizness buddies of state and federal officials. They methodically track how Bush’s alienation of world allies began well before any jingoistic post-9/11 decisions. In fact, though I hope I’m wrong, their book may not earn the attention or the sales of Franken’s precisely because it is more scrupulous and far less breezy a read. (The chapter on Dubya’s insider trading with Harken Energy has almost the same density that made the Clintons’ Whitewater land deal sail over so many heads.)

Nevertheless, Bushwhacked is probably the most informed and substantive entry in the recent pantheon of liberal poli-lit, benefiting as it does from the authors’ long familiarity with Bush’s Texas oil dealings, his gubernatorial record, and his pivotal relationship with the never-to-be-underestimated Karl Rove. Ivins and Dubose needn’t resort to ad hominem dovishness or “blood-for-oil” conspiracy paranoia. Using complex facts cogently explained, they’ve sounded a shrill alarm for anyone who believes this administration is merely obnoxious and arrogant. You may already be concerned about the recent erosion of civil liberties. Or the religious right’s encroachment on law and public policy. Or the pillaging of employees’ futures by corporate czars. Not to mention the unpredictable worldwide tremors from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a destabilized Iraq. In Bushwhacked, Ivins and Dubose won’t just confirm your concerns. As Miss Molly would say, they’ll likely scare the bejesus out of you.

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