The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America
Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Eric Alterman and Mark Green's latest contribution to the Bush-bashing book bonanza may not have the narrative sweep of Kevin Phillip's American Dynasty or the spiteful glee of Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, but it makes up in effluence what it lacks in élan. Adhering to a more-is-more philosophy of rhetorical persuasion, The Book on Bush catalogs just about every plague--real and imagined--that has visited our solar system since the 2000 elections, and pins each squarely on the narrow shoulders of the resident evildoer in chief.
Alterman and Green's central thesis--evident in their cutesy subtitle, How George W. (Mis)leads America--is that the president is a moron master of deception ("dumb like a fox") who preaches a populist message, only to turn around and blindly enforce the radical right-wing agenda of evil corporations, religious nut jobs, and trigger-happy neocons. In their words, the former Yale football cheerleader consistently "fakes left and drives right." There's probably a lot of truth in that, but the claim would be more credible if the writing wasn't so baldly tendentious. The snarky tone might appeal to readers of The Nation (where Alterman is a media columnist), but it will alienate those who don't drink from the conspiracy-theory Kool-Aid.
Alterman and Green do make many strong points about Bush's erratic leadership: his flip-flops on free trade; environmental policies that are destructive to both ecology and international goodwill; and, most disturbing, the administration's apparently insouciant attitude toward Islamic terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001. But in their zeal to demonize the president as maliciously misleading, the authors practice their own brand of deception, planting unsupported allegations, for example, that Bush was involved in a racist whispering campaign against John McCain, or that part of his rationale for invading Iraq was "to demoralize the Palestinians and force them to accept their lot in life as an occupied people." The Book on Bush is littered with such disingenuous claims, and they weaken the integrity of an otherwise rigorously researched index of accusations.
Ironically, what emerges from Alterman and Green's account is less a damning portrait of the president than of the people who put him in charge. That Dubya believes his presidency is guided by the invisible hand of Jesus Christ, as well as Adam Smith's, is discomfiting, to be sure, but also fitting in a democracy where 82 percent of the public believes in life after death and 79 percent of us are convinced of the bodily existence of angels. George W. Bush may not be the brightest bulb to ever light up the Oval Office, but he's not half as dim as the 75 million Americans who couldn't even be bothered to vote in 2000, and whose abstention was a de facto plug for him. Perhaps the real problem isn't that Bush is a pawn of special interests, but that he's a painfully accurate reflection of we the people: cynical, superstitious, and slow-witted. The president of the United States still serves at our pleasure. Rather than dress him up in the clothes of a king, his critics should take some advice from the only bona fide monarch we have anymore, the King of Pop, and start with the man in the mirror.