Book Review: Bushwhacked

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Bushwhacked

Author: Molly Ivins with Lou DuBose

Date: 2005

Publisher: Random House

Length: 305 pages of text, 40 pages of references and index

Quote: “There are countless subjects on which George W. Bush might have pleaded ignorance in 1990, but a failing oil business was not one of them.”

As a Texas columnist, Molly Ivins attracted national attention by writing like everybody’s favorite aunt: outspoken but not mean, a consistent Democrat but willing to commend or criticize people on both sides. She liked Ann Richards—there were obvious temperamental affinities. She ripped Bill Clinton for messing with Texas, and she ripped W Bush for letting him.

When W Bush campaigned for President, Ivins teamed up with Lou DuBose to write the warning biography Shrub. Though unchallenged on important facts, and unsympathetic to W’s campaign, Shrub failed to convince readers who were tired of Clinton tackiness that W was anything worse than rich, Republican, and blond. How pleasant it would have been if his administration were now remembered for nothing worse than that! Shrub didn’t warn us of the real danger of a W Bush administration. I have to admit that, although I had foreseen that W might become a “Walking Target,” I didn’t anticipate the terrorist attacks of 2001 either. Few if any people expected the people who hated W Bush to be quite as nasty as they were. I expected the assassination of W, the medical unfitness of Cheney, and another appointed president.

Anyway, when W was reelected, the two disappointed Democrats wrote this chronicle of the other problems with the Bush administration. Oddly enough their faultfinding ignores what most of us liked least about W’s terms: the war. They managed to find 305 pages of domestic disagreement with W Bush.

Partisan? Ivins was always partisan; even her Clinton-bashing book was titled You Got to Dance with Them That Brung Ya. Readers who want to get a complete set of the facts of any historical period need to read what’s written from all sides.

For instance, another example of Ivins’ and DuBose’s wit, which the publishers liked enough to put on the back jacket, was “Republicans win elections in the ‘red states’ in the center of the country, where cattle and chickens are produced and slaughtered…Republicans use the USDA to pay off their contributors in the red states. The result of that crude electoral calculus is laissez-faire food-safety policy whenever a Republican is in the White House. (If you must eat while the Republicans control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the judiciary, you might want to consider becoming a vegetarian about now.)”

I find this analysis of facts that are true, so far as they go, so clever that I could almost momentarily forget how big food-producing corporations buy Democrats, too. (See Jim Hightower, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates.) One of the minor scandals of Bill Clinton’s years as governor of Arkansas was the cronyism that allowed Don Tyson to go on selling chicken, although the birds were cruelly treated and disease-ridden, their litter was dumped into inadequately filtered drinking water, and Tyson was once prosecuted for trucking out chickens that had had bricks of cocaine jammed up their back ends…while the chickens were still alive. (Don Tyson’s heirs identify as Christians, but complaints of fowl abuse continue to plague this company.) In Bushwhacked Ivins and DuBose can complain only that W Bush, due to cronyism, allowed Lonnie Pilgrim to go on selling meat from disease-ridden turkeys. For those who were aware of the sordid facts behind Tyson chicken, the Pilgrim’s Pride story brings the score to 1-3, advantage still with the Republican administration.

Actually, in the long and ugly history of corporations selling food you wouldn’t want your dog to eat if you knew the facts, both political parties have racked up lists of failures to enforce the rules much longer than this…but we still needed this book, because none of the Republicans who so gleefully exposed Bill Clinton’s failures had any interest in discussing the dangers of eating Pilgrim’s Pride turkey. The more you read about corporate food producers, the better vegan food will look to you.

Bushwhacked is recommended to anyone interested in the history of the turn of the century. If not always complete or balanced, it’s eminently quotable. Ivins and DuBose really tried to make the boring Enron and Halliburton stories a good read, and probably came closer to doing so than any other writer ever did or ever will. They documented examples of pre-recession poverty, the shortcomings of the school system, and similar domestic problems for which Democrats tend to think there ought to be a simple solution involving federal funding.

I doubt that Bushwhacked contributed a great deal to the election of President Obama, but for those who want the history beyond the headline news of the first five years of this century, Bushwhacked is an informative source and an entertaining read.

Molly Ivins unfortunately no longer has any use for the dollar she’d get if any of her books, mentioned here or not, were still Fair Trade Books. However, if you send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address at the lower left-hand corner of the screen, you could squeeze at least one of Jim Hightower’s books, which are still Fair Trade Books, into the package along with Bushwhacked.

 Book review cat…again? Why not the chicken?

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