The full-grown shrub is not a pretty sight

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose Random House, 2003 Hardcover, 347 pp., $24.95



First Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose looked at George W. Bush’s disastrous impact on Texas when he served as governor there in their bestseller, “Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush.” Now they’re back to describe what happens when George the Younger has an entire nation at his disposal (sometimes literally) in “Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America.”

With much justification the authors can today declare, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you when he was in Texas.” They traveled all over the U.S. to observe the results of the extremist right-wing policies of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. Ivins and Dubose found that “the government no longer works for most of the people of the country.” And they also explain how “people are not only getting screwed – losing their life savings, their pensions, their health insurance, their jobs, and unemployment comp – they’re also getting sick and even dying because the people’s interest now takes second place to that of big-money contributors.”

The authors attack the Bush administration because it is being driven by an extreme rightist ideology combined with the power and influence of large corporate interests. They observe that “All this abstract, ideological, the free-market is God, Ayn Rand piffle is doing cruel things to real people. This book is about them.”

Ivins and Dubose look at a wide variety of situations in contemporary American life. For example, ergonomics, which is “the shop floor science that aims to make heavy and repetitive production-line work less destructive to workers bodies.” For many years, private, anti-labor attorney Eugene Scalia has waged a campaign against ergonomics, claiming what’s wrong with workers is in their heads. Eugene’s father, Antonin, cast one of five Supreme Court votes that gave away the presidency to George W. Bush.

Now, Eugene is in a position where he can really wage war against ergonomics. He is the labor solicitor in the Labor Department who is in charge of the attorneys who enforce labor laws. Scalia’s appointment to this position has dashed the hopes of Mississippi delta catfish workers for adequate workplace protections. The authors interviewed the Mississippi workers who each must skin fifty to sixty thousand catfish every week at the cost of substantial physical harm to themselves.

The authors looked at other areas of American life, as well. For example:

Chemical pollution – They visited a chemical dumpsite in New Jersey that has been responsible for substantial health hazards to residents, the deaths of many cattle, and also changed the color of local rabbits’ skin and fur to green. Of course, federal funds to clean up such sites are no longer available – they were killed off by Newt Gingrich’s Congress back in the 1990s.

Unemployment – The Bush administration has fought a hard, vicious struggle against extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. Late in 2003, the administration succeeded in choking off the funds. Ivins and Dubose interview victims of long-term unemployment.

Religious-Right extremism – The writers examine the role and strong influence of right-wing religious extremists in the Bush administration. They also look at the extremism of Bush’s judicial nominees, one of whom actually ruled against a death-row inmate whose attorney had slept during the trial.

Food Safety – In terms of recent headlines concerning food safety, the chapter entitled “Ready to Eat” is very relevant. Ivins and Dubose charge that the Republican Party “is the party of unregulated meat and poultry.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) undersecretary for food safety, former Texas A&M professor, Elsa Murano, does not believe in testing food products. She also helped to kill off the Clinton administration regulations that dealt with the deadly bacterial form of food poisoning, listeria. The authors accuse the Republicans of paying off their wealthy contributors from the cattle- and chicken-processing states with the lax enforcement of USDA regulations.

Ivins and Dubose are alarmed: “The programs that are helping people are being dismantled by ideological zealots. The programs that help corporations at the expense of taxpayers are being left in place.”

What is to be done? Unfortunately, Ivins and Dubose suggest modest liberal reforms that do not fundamentally alter the power relationship between the wealthy and working people. They suggest public financing of campaigns; free media airtime for candidates-the public owns the airwaves; rescinding Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy; ending corporate welfare; outlawing off-shore tax havens; enacting a program of energy conservation; establishing a national health insurance program; large-scale voter registration; and several reforms for corporations.

Their conclusion is scary and offers serious food for thought. Ivins and Dubose believe a “creepy” situation exists here in the U.S. and “the creepiest thing about it is that no one is talking about it. Mussolini said ‘Fascism should be more properly called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power.’ That’s pretty much what we’re looking at here, and the results are not good for the people of this country, no matter what it is called.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.