Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Roger Gathman, Fri., July 16, 2004
Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush: More Political Subversion From Jim Hightowerby Jim Hightower
Viking, 288 pp., $21.95
When George Bush and the Supremes absconded with the American presidency in 2000, they inadvertently gave birth to a whole new genre: Bushbashery. Bushbashery now has its filmmakers, its pundits, its biographers, and its radio personalities.
Jim Hightower's second book in the field is an election-year special. There are insets for special quotes and facts ("In 2003, Bush offered the Turkish government more money in a bribe to get them to send troops to Iraq than he provided for American schools to help them implement his No Child Left Behind Act"); funny gimmicks (a crossword puzzle with clues like this, for 6 down: "Word Bushites chanted to make carbon dioxide magically disappear as a pollutant"); and five chapters devoted to running over Bush's policies with the zeal that that cheated-on dentist's wife in Houston last year showed in running over her husband with a Lexus. Hightower fastens mostly to Bush's domestic policies, which he represents as a tissue of corruption, pandering to oligarchs, eco-cidal compulsions, and poisonously averse to the Bill of Rights to boot. The book has a handy feel, so that if you are interested in, say, Bush's kowtowing (with the emphasis on mad kow) to the agri-business lobbyists, you can easily find what you want here.
The downside is that this format gives the book a hasty cut-and-paste feel. The passages are obviously little changed from Hightower's radio broadcast and columns, which dates some of the figures Hightower flashes around. For instance, while Bush's economic policies may have badly distorted the business cycle, by now there is more of a job pickup than Hightower's book would have you believe. Hightower lightens his account by shining a light on some obscure but worthy progressive figures and causes, like Russell Wattenberg, founder of a "book store" in Baltimore that gives books away for free. He also sprinkles the book with a set of good ideas, such as a 10-year $300-billion crash program to provide energy independence for America. One caveat: A book that criticizes Bush for his big budget deficits while at the same time making numerous suggestions of the above-mentioned type should provide some page outlining all of the suggestions, showing the price tag of them, and showing how we are going to pay for them.
There's a certain sadness to Bushbashery. Nixon-hating produced genuine art (Neil Young, Philip Dick, Robert Coover) because Nixon was a villain of a Shakespearean complexity. Bush is a villain worthy of a bad Scooby Doo cartoon. One hopes that the unworthy target of so much energy will be gently shuffled off the stage come Nov. 6, so we can then say, as H.L. Mencken once said about a Republican National Convention: a stupid business. But not without its charms for connoisseurs of the obscene.
Jim Hightower will be at BookPeople on Thursday, Aug. 5, 7pm.