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The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America
Eric Alterman & Mark Green
New York: Viking, 2004.
$24.95, 256 pages, ISBN 0670032735.

Sergio A. Ruano
Long Beach, California

In these extreme politically charged times, it is difficult to navigate the volume of books out there in the arena of words that proclaim to be the standard bearers of virtue against the evils of the right or left, depending on your political persuasion. Alterman and Green attempt to communicate to the world and especially to the American public just how President Bush has continually (mis)led America. They are not the first and I doubt they will be the last voices heard on perhaps the most controversial president in modern American history.

That in a nutshell, is why we are writing this book: to ensure that Americans do not go to the polls in 2004 without being fully armed with the facts regarding the radical transformation of our political life that began on the fateful day that the United States Supreme Court intervened to prevent a full and fair count of the votes in Florida. [p. 6]

Alterman and Green’s intended audience seems to be the general voting public, but as a result of the divisive issues in this election year, only the "choir" will appreciate the book, regardless of the facts the authors have laid out.

Alterman and Green go about presenting a court case, so to speak, to the American people, issue by issue, such as: environment, economy, taxes, healthcare, national security, Iraq, and other topics which are likely to be rallied under in this election year. The authors present what Bush says then document his action, which invariably contradicts his initial statement—regular old bait and switch. For example, Alterman and Green quote Bush:

All will benefit, not just the rich. “The Bush tax cuts benefit all Americans but reserve the greatest percentage for the lowest income families” (GWB, 1999). [p. 43]

Alterman and Green then take a closer look at the action taken by the Bush Administration and contrast it with the president’s public statements, thus providing evidence to their argument that Bush’s actions flagrantly contradict his statements. For example, in reference to the above quote, they state:

The President also kept heralding the statistic that the “average” family would get back $1083 from his proposed 2003 cuts. This combination of populist rhetoric and actual data would be more appealing, however, if it were true. But based on data from the Tax Policy Center, 80 percent of Americans will get three-fourths less than W.’s claim of an “average” tax cut of $1083. Filers in the middle quintile of the income spectrum—the “median” household—would receive only $227, and that before increased local and state taxes due to federal cutbacks are subtracted. And the 42 percent of taxpayers who are neither married nor have children would get a “little bitty” $50 on average, according to Citizens for Tax Justice. By including in his “average” the $20,762 each of the top 1 percent of all tax filers would receive and the $89,509 returned to those 0.2 percent earning a million or more annually, Bush’s figure perfectly fit Mark Twain’s definition of a “stretcher”—literally true but misleading. In a congressional hearing, OMB director Mitch Daniels himself admitted under questioning that “averages can be misleading,” which did not stop his on-message boss from repeating and repeating the $1083 figure. [p. 43]

Which, at least according to this reader, makes the $1083 figure utterly meaningless, regardless of whether you are a Bush "fan" or not.

This style of presentation runs throughout the book, accompanied by sarcastic or smart remarks. In case after case Alterman and Green present examples, where Bush (mis)leads not only America but also the world by saying one thing and then doing another. The old adage, “action speaks louder than words” comes to mind.

Despite all the valid points made in the book, it is difficult not to perceive Alterman and Green’s disdain for George W. Bush in the constant stinging sarcasm, which depending on the reader's perspective can either irritate or amuse, or as in this reader's opinion add icing on the cake. The French intellectual Roland Barthes said, “What I claim is to live to the full the contradiction of my time, which may well make sarcasm the condition of truth.”

Alterman and Green certainly paint an unflattering picture of Bush. They present him as a president not too engaged in matters of state and prepared to delegate policy development to political advisors who are liaisons for the “base.” Such views are confirmed by the recent revelations of Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill, as well as those of other investigators.

The president told Fox News interviewer Brit Hume in September 2003 that rather than read a complete newspaper story, he merely “glance[s] at the headlines just to [get a] kind of a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories.” When Hume asked how long he’d been doing this as president, Bush replied, “Practice since day one”—and Hume emitted a surprised, “Really?”. Bush does so, he says, because “the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” In other words, he lives inside an information bubble, fed only by faithful aides, telling him what he wants to hear, when he wants to hear it. [p. 338]

President Bush’s disengagement from policy development is the catalyst for his delegation of the said development to his advisors such a Karl Rove and others, who may be more interested in the political advantages they will gain than in whether they will actually succeed or not.

The answer we believe, is that he begins any policy consideration with three fundamental questions: What does the religious right want? What does big business want? What do the neocons want? Convinced by political advisor Karl Rove that the way to a second term is to “activate the base”—that is, not alienate it, as his father did when he raised taxes after promising, “Read my lips, no new taxes”—Bush first and foremost wants to satisfy his core conservative constituencies. And if facts clash with the established orthodoxy, he’ll stick with his base, not the facts. [p. 4]

There can be no question that big business is ecstatic about the rolling back of federal regulations, or weakening the enforcement capability of regulatory agencies by slashing their budgets. Big business is also taking advantage of cheaper labor as a result of sending jobs to other countries while more and more Americans are getting laid off.

“In short,” wrote Jon E. Hilsenrath on page one of the Wall Street Journal in May 2003, “the U.S. is experiencing the most protracted job market downturn since the Great Depression.” [p. 57]

The neocons got what they had wanted for years—the invasion of Iraq, where weapons of mass destruction still have not been found, contrary to all the statements by the Bush administration before the war.

As for the religious right, it thought it was a great idea to put limits on stem cell research because of their “life starts at conception” belief:

Most religious conservatives were pleasantly surprised by the announcement that federal funding of stem cell research would be so limited and restricted. While this research enjoys widespread support from the general public, it passionately concerns many far-right conservatives. Ben Mitchell, a biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Press News comparing stem cell research to Nazi murders in the concentration camps. [p. 149]

Alterman and Green definitely give George W. Bush quite a severe "thrashing" on all fronts. Some readers will say deservedly, while others will just chalk it up to another leftwing smear campaign. Again, it will depend on what side of the political fence the readers are on. It is clear that the authors are not very keen on George W. Bush, and the most neutral reader would be hard-pressed to perceive much objectivity in the writing. Alterman and Green's intense use of derision to drive their point home could be seen as disserving the well-researched presentation of facts in the book. However, given the high stakes of this divisive election year, keeping one’s passion from permeating into the current political arguments is easier said than done. The book is certainly coming from the left side of the political spectrum, but that does not mean the facts it puts forth are inaccurate.


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