The Multinational Monitor

May/June 2004 - VOLUME 25 - NUMBERS 5 & 6


B O O K     N O T E S

 

Books on Bush
Deception, Dynasty, Devastation

Regime Change Begins at Home:
Freeing America From Corporate Rule
Charles Derber
San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004
$19.95; 289 pages

Charles Derber, author of Corporation Nation and People Before Profit, aims to do more in Regime Change Begins at Home than appropriate a humorous slogan popular at antiwar demonstrations.

Derber takes seriously the idea of ruling regime, and it is the organizing principle of his book. By regime, he means more than the current administration. He means the institutionalized system of power -- the governing political paradigm, the present system of rule.

Derber argues that there have been five U.S. regimes since the Civil War: the First Corporate Regime of the Gilded Age, lasting until the start of the twentieth century; the Progressive Regime, led by Teddy Roosevelt and lasting until 1921; the Second Corporate Regime of the Roaring Twenties; the New Deal Regime, designed by Franklin Roosevelt and lasting until 1980; and the Third Corporate Regime, beginning with the Reagan presidency.

The Third Corporate Regime now exhibits an array of sins, Derber writes, many of which are eroding the foundation of the ruling system. These include: Hooverism Redux (the erosion of manufacturing and other good-paying jobs); Reverse Robin Hood (deepening the wealth gap); and Global Imperialism. The Bush II administration has worsened all of these sins, and Derber devotes a significant chunk of Regime Change Begins at Home to analyzing the Extreme Regime of Bush II.

Electoral politics get interesting, Derber contends, at regime-change, or at least regime-tipping, moments. 2004 is such a time, he argues. A Bush victory could tip politics into a right-wing extremism so severe that it would constitute a new regime. A Democratic victory might tip politics in the direction of a progressive regime.

But there is no guarantee that a Democratic win will have a progressive-tipping impact, Derber writes. It is "very possible that a Democratic victory would simply preserve the current corporate regime, keeping it from tipping further right but not creating progressive regime change. Ö Remember, Bush Lite still happens!"

He sees reason for hope nonetheless. "A Democratic administration might, though, create a more favorable environment for the social movements that can transform the country."

Because he aims to help change the current regime, Derber wants his book to motivate and energize. He writes directly, in very easy-to-digest prose and with extensive discussion of what regular people can do to help usher in a new regime. The key entreaty is for people to join social movements -- and to enlist their friends -- because it is social movements that ultimately will drive regime change, including by defining the character of politics and political parties. Progressive social movements can help define the character of the 2004 election, he concludes, by demanding not just Anybody But Bush, but No Bush Lite.

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy
and the End of the Republic
By Chalmers Johnson
New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004
$25.00; 389 pages

The Sorrows of Empire makes the compelling and deeply disturbing argument that since September 11, U.S. foreign policymakers have begun to conceptualize of the United States as an empire, and that this reconceptualization of the U.S. role in the world imperils the nation and the planet.

Johnson's argument is not that the United States is the dominant military power in the world, or that it is projects military power to advance narrow economic interests -- he considers these noncontroversial claims. Rather, his contention is that the United States is increasingly functioning as an empire in the spirit of the Roman Empire, that a major motivation for the current imperial project is "an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate other peoples largely because we have the power to do so."

More material interests spur the urge to empire, as well. Johnson says U.S. military expansionism is intended to secure oil supplies, ally with Israeli rightists, and manipulate domestic politics to distract the public from government policies to favor the rich.

A critical manifestation of empire, Johnson argues, is the growing network of U.S. bases, including especially bases that have no conceivable defense purpose. The bases drain national resources and antagonize local populations, thus doubly undermining genuine U.S. interests. The Sorrows of Empire reveals just how extensive and elaborate is the U.S. military base network.

Empire brings with it four sorrows, soon to be visited on the United States, Johnson writes. The state of perpetual war will increase terrorism. Second, democracy will be eroded, as the executive branch evolves into a Pentagonized presidency. Third, truthfulness will give way to a system of propaganda. The final sorrow is financial bankruptcy: "Permanent military domination of the world is an expensive business."

By no means does Johnson romanticize the Clintonian period proceeding the Bush era. But the current epoch is far more dangerous, he contends. "While the globalization of the 1990s was premised on cheating the poor and defenseless and on destroying the only physical environment we will ever have, its replacement by American militarism and imperialism is likely to usher in something much worse for developed, developing and underdeveloped nations alike."

American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune
and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
By Kevin Phillips
New York: Viking Press, 2004
$25.95; 397 pages

 

Wayward Republican Kevin Phillips really doesn't like George W. Bush, or the Bushes in general.

And he is seriously worried about the introduction of dynastic politics in the United States.

"In any theory of democratic belief," Phillips writes, "ėrestoration' and ėpresidential legitimacy' are not terms that go well together. If anything, restoration, with its dependence on family and inheritance, necessarily promotes attitudes that, in a political system like that of the United States, undercut popular sovereignty. Democratic legitimacy is necessarily drawn into connection when succession via dynasty is accepted."

American Dynasty begins by examining the origins of the Bush political dynasty, to Prescott Bush -- George I's father and Connecticut senator -- and even more to the Walker family, a major force on Wall Street in the early part of the twentieth century. As the family history unfolds, Phillips arrives at the contested election results of 2000. He provides a devastating capsule summary of one of the lowest moments in U.S. political history, showing how the networks of power in which George W. Bush had been enmeshed his entire life operated to put Bush II in the White House.

In power, the three defining features of the Bush II administration, contends American Dynasty, have been crony capitalism, constructed around the energy industry; militarism; and a major political and policy-making role for the religious right.

The first two features have long been associated with the Bush family. The aristocracy in which the president was raised rely heavily on personal relationships for political and economic deal-making -- and for deals between politicians and corporate executives (often interchangeable categories). Phillips analyzes how the record of favors bestowed on Bush-preferred companies like Enron and Halliburton echo earlier patterns, noting that "both George H. Walker and Prescott Bush grew up when the line between business activity and political office holding was only loosely drawn."

The old-boy networks in which the Bush and Walker elders trafficked were interwoven with the emerging military-industrial complex and nascent intelligence agencies. George Bush I carried the tradition forward, heading the CIA before winding up as Reagan's VP and as President himself. And of course Bush I fought the first Gulf War, paving the way for the Bush II invasion of Iraq.

The prominent role of the religious right in the Bush II administration, however, marks a break from family tradition, Phillips notes. The religious right was deeply distrustful of Bush I, who they viewed as an Eastern elite. But right-wing evangelicals view the current President as one of them. Phillips explores the political importance of the religious right in Bush's electoral coalition, his phraseology designed to appeal to and activate religious supporters, and how Bush's religiosity influences his policy preferences.

The nexus of dynastic politics, cronyism, militarism and evangelicism poses a serious threat to the fortunes of the United States. American Dynasty is a book that leaves you worried -- not so much about particular policies, as about the fate of U.S. democratic structures.

The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America
By Eric Alterman and Mark Green
New York: Viking, 2004
$24.95; 419 pages

 

The Book on Bush is aptly named. This may be the most comprehensive review of the administration's harmful policies, in areas ranging from the environment to tax policy, from healthcare to the Iraq war. No single volume can cover the entirety of an administration's actions, but The Book on Bush covers a lot of ground.

The operating thesis of the book is that the Bush administration has shattered long-time understandings in virtually every policy arena, so that shared expectations and established practices are shunted aside. The administration is in that sense truly radical. The direction of the radical drift, Alterman and Green contend, is determined by three factors: what the religious right wants, what big business wants, and what the neoconservative ideologues want.

But the book does not spend much time theorizing the problem. It walks readers through Bush administration policies, the consequences of these policies, and the disconnect between what the administration says it is doing (or the impact of what it is doing) and reality.

"The problem, ultimately, "Alterman and Green conclude, "is a president who is both messianic and radical."

"ėMy faith frees me,' Bush has claimed in his (ghostwritten) autobiography," the authors write. "ėFrees me to make the decisions that others might not like. Frees me to try to do the right thing, even though it may not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next.' These may be admirable qualities in a parson or a preacher, but for a president of the United States who combined ideological extremism with intellectual laziness, and tops them off with serial dishonesty, they type of ėfaith' is a recipe for disaster."

Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and
the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate
By Robert Bryce
New York: Public Affairs, 2004
$26.00; 327 pages

Robert Bryce's breezy Cronies locates President George W. Bush and his father as the avatars of a phenomenon now defining U.S. politics: Texas dominance.

"If the twentieth century was the American century," Bryce writes, "then there's little doubt that the last half of the American century belonged to Texas. Two of the last three presidents -- and three of the last eight -- have been Texans. Two of those three were oilmen. And all three fought major ground wars. Like it or not, Texas rules."

If Bryce exaggerates Texas's importance just a bit -- he concedes a few states, like California, New York and Florida "and maybe of a few of those dinky eastern states," are important -- forgive him: he's a Texan, too (though not born and bred).

What Bryce does is map out the networks of Texas' economic and political clout. Texas' economic power is rooted almost entirely in the oil under its land, and the giant oil multinationals which that oil gave rise to. The state's disproportionate power flows from the oil wealth.

Cronies is not just about the Bushes. Bryce runs through the history of Texas oil and development. He emphasizes the importance of a 1931 incident when Governor Ross Sterling sent the National Guard into East Texas to assert the authority of the Texas Railroad Commission to control sales of oil. The incident foreshadowed the twists and turns to come in the industry, with the regular use of force to control output and maintain cartel authority. Bryce also reviews how Lyndon Johnson teamed with a local oil services firm -- Brown & Root, now part of Halliburton -- to gain his U.S. senate seat. This controversial history would be echoed in 2000, when Enron and the oil energy gave George W. a huge assist in his presidential grab.

There's no doubt that Texas political power is now at a peak, with George W. Bush installed as President, former Halliburton head Dick Cheney running the government as Vice President, Karl Rove the most powerful White House official and Republican Tom DeLay the most powerful member of the House of Representatives.

Bryce devotes roughly the last half of Cronies to the last 20 years -- 12 of which have seen a Bush as the president or VP. He comments that after the second Iraq war, "In Iraq, the U.S. government, the military, corporate America and the oil business became one."

His worrisome conclusion is that that statement is increasingly applicable to all U.S. politics -- a situation that threatens to worsen, as long as Texans maintains a grip on power.

Banana Republicans: How the Right-Wing
is Turning America Into a One-Party State
By Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber
New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Penguin, 2004
$11.95; 251 pages

Remember the Clinton haircut scandal -- how early in his term Clinton tied up traffic at the Los Angeles airport and wasted taxpayer money on an expensive hair cut with the Hollywood stylist Christophe?

That so many remember such a trivial incident more than a decade after it occurred is a tribute to the effectiveness of right-wing attack strategies and media manipulation. So is the fact that it was reported in the first place -- since in reality Clinton didn't delay air traffic (but for a two-minute delay of a single landing plane) and paid for the haircut with his own money.

These things don't happen by accident. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber contend in Banana Republicans that Scissorgate was the product of a sophisticated, multi-faceted right-wing attack machine.

It is pretty hard at this point to deny that such a machine exists; Rampton and Stauber do a nice job of reviewing its components and the independent components function as a whole. They focus on the role of conservative think tanks; the media -- both the right-wing media and the mainstream media often deftly manipulated by conservative and corporate advocates; the power of corporate lobbies and the revolving door between government and business; electoral disenfranchisement, especially of African-Americans; and conservatives' readiness to label opponents "traitors" or "terrorists."

Democrats have been complicit in the growth of right-wing power, the authors claim. While Republicans view politics as a knock-down-drag-out fight, Democrats typically want to play referee. "Guess which side is going to get beat up," the authors write.

The Madness of King George: The Ingenious Insanity of Our Most “Misunderestimated” President
By Michael Smith and Matt Wuerker
Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2004
$14.95; 180 pages

 

The Madness of King George features the hit-or-miss sarcastic commentary of Michael Smith and the biting cartooning of Matt Wuerker, whose work appears in Multinational Monitor, including throughout this issue.

Smith satirizes President Bush's cabinet and record. He cuts deepest perhaps with a section on "our shining example," called "seizing the moral highground." Noting that the United States supported Saddam Hussein at the time he used poison gas against Kurds and Iranians, Smith notes incidents when the U.S. government has committed atrocities -- not against foreign nations, but against U.S. citizens and soldiers:

  • "Truman nuked his own people!" (The Nagasaki bomb probably wiped out an Allied prisoner-of-war camp a mile north of the city.)
  • "Four American presidents irradiated their own people!" (Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy exposed soldiers and civilians in Nevada and Utah to radioactive fallout; Bush I used depleted uranium in the first Gulf War.)
  • "The U.S. gassed and chemicalized its own people!" (Agent Orange and other herbicides used against the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War also poisoned U.S. soldiers.)

Smith also scores points by quoting Bush himself. Remember these?

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" (December 18, 2000).

I'm the commander, see Ö I do not need to explain why I say things That's the interesting thing about being President Ö [I] don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation" (reported in Bob Woodward's Bush at War).