Books: Friday, September 29, 2004
Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush, by Jim Hightower
234 pps.
From on Hightower

Texan media critic tackles Bush Inc.


Check this out: America’s $5.15 an hour minimum wage — which equals a whopping $11,000 a year for full-time work — has not been raised since 1997. Yet Congress, in five out of the last six years, has managed to find money to raise the salaries of one needy group: themselves.

Questioned about the discrepancy, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay answered, “I challenge anyone to live on my salary.”

Yeah, Tom. Must be brutal squeaking by on $167,000 per year.

And how about this: After last December’s first case of mad cow disease hit our shores, Bush Agricultural Secretary Ann Veneman quickly convened a panel of international experts to get to the bottom of things. Far from receiving a comforting message, Veneman was deluged with scary information. Contrary to the administration and meat industries’ “all is well” mantra, the panel found that while mad cow disease is common in United States herds, it is rarely detected because the USDA tests a mere 40,000 of the 30 million cattle slaughtered annually. Budget cutbacks and deregulations, you see. Being such compassionate champions of We the People, the Bush Administration took swift action. They labeled the report negative in tone and left mad cow matters to beef industry self-regulation.

Pissed off yet? You probably will be after reading about this and more in Jim Hightower’s new book, Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush.

Ah yes, another Bush-bashing tome guaranteed to tickle liberals while getting conservatives’ panties in a wad. But unlike many of his contemporaries in Dubya-dumping, native Texan Hightower — a former politician turned commentator, radio host, and author — argues persuasively that Bush Inc. is not only wrongheaded but dangerously nuts to boot.

Like Michael Moore’s now infamous Fahrenheit 911, Hightower’s book aims simply to give the heave-ho to Bush and his corporate-America cronies before they run the country into the ground. Yet unlike Moore, Hightower takes on bureaucrats and politicians of every stripe, lending his work the kind of credibility that Moore’s film lacks.

The book is not without its faults. In delivering anecdotes, Hightower selectively highlights the facts that support his case while conveniently glossing over the rest. He also, in the introduction, promises counter-arguments from Bush supporters — but seems to have forgotten to include them. The most disturbing drawback, however, is Hightower’s failure to cite his sources. I guess he figures that his journalistic reputation precedes him.

These grains of salt aside, Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush remains essential reading simply because it raises a lot of the issues and concerns that the mass media have mostly ignored.

The frankly frightening accounts of the way peaceful protesters are often treated by both Republicans and Democrats will likely leave any sane reader, regardless of party affiliation, in a foaming-at-the-mouth, stomach-churning rage. As will the gargantuan salary bonuses given to communications industry execs (big Bush backers), Bush’s wacky schemes and dubious appointments, and tales of dangerous criminals being allowed to purchase prescription drugs from Canada to re-sell in the states at bargain-basement prices.

All of these stories of doom and gloom are thankfully tempered by Hightower’s emphasis on what makes this country great — you. Included in Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush are tales of little guys fending off corporate robbers, successful farms operating in the most unlikely places, and First-Amendment soldiers defying the onerous USA PATRIOT Act.

You — being the one in charge — are of course free to agree with or dismiss Hightower’s logic, accusations, and suggestions. Maybe it really is better to shovel billions of dollars into Halliburton coffers while letting American soldiers pay for their own flak vests and flashlights? Either way, Hightower throws the questions into the public arena. l

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