Feeling Bushwhacked

Two very famous Texans worked hard to bring us a picture of life in the US right now. Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose in Bushwhacked: Life in George Bush's America [New York, Random House, 2003, $24.95] elaborate on what they explained in "Shrub," their previous book on Bush and his performance as governor of Texas.

Their criticisms center on the sorry state of the economy. But let's start with their interesting comment about us populists. "Populists," they write, as opposed to liberals "do not get particularly excited about culture wars." We don't agonize about the socio-economic implications of drinking beer rather than wine, for instance. No, our concern is more about "who's getting screwed, and about who's doing the screwing," and that's in the economic sense, of course.

The succinct main point is that "A government of big corporations, by big corporations, and for big corporations has thousands of ramifications for the people, few of them good." They say it is deeply ironic that the prosperous politicians we have in office now actually hate government. Their faith instead is in that widespread symbol of the true American religion, the "free market," which they claim can solve all society's problems.

Of course, it hasn't. As I'm starting this very paragraph, there is a report on National Public Radio in the background saying that right now 34 million people in the US are living in poverty, and the rate is edging up. These two writers are especially good at putting such simple but important statistics before us. They say that 70% of household incomes are less than $50,000 a year. Fifty thousand would sound good, I'm sure, to those 34 million. An annual income of about $18,000 is the federal poverty line for households of four. Over that, and you're not officially poor!

We are not surprised that Ivins and Dubose say the silly label, "compassionate conservative," is a bitter joke. Education is just one example. They give a painful analysis about expensive school tests put out by McGraw-Hill, an unfortunate result of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. And on another poverty issue, they write about the $300 million in federal money supposed to be used for supplemental heating bills last winter that was not released.

Meanwhile, the slippery theme of the influence of oil companies runs through the book. They call Bush quite simply a creation of Enron and write that Kenneth Lay has been close to the Bush family for a generation.

Now, as for religion, or what passes for it: The authors say, "Today's Republican Party wins elections only if Christian conservatives are accommodated." We hear lots of talk of "evildoers." Evil exists. Most religions are against it. But wouldn't it be refreshing if we could find a group of thoughtful and truly ethical people to run the country instead of a bunch of zealots who do exactly what Jesus said not to do, pray in the marketplace so everyone can see?

What is the answer? First, adopt a strong program of public campaign financing. They remind us that Maine and Arizona have already done it. Second, work to improve the economy by ending corporate welfare, ending tax cuts for the rich, and investing in programs like education that help ordinary people. As Jim Hightower puts it, instead of worrying so much about the Dow Jones, worry more about the Doug Jones average. That's the one in big trouble.

Contact Alvena Bieri, 2023 W. 11th Ave, Stillwater OK 74074 or email

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