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Gender, Politics, and W’s Dynastic Presidency

Chris Anderson Apr 20, 2004

Bushwomen : Tales of a Cynical Species
By Laura Flanders
The Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
By Kevin Phillips

Review by Chris Anderson

The rise and decline of the Bush presidency can be traced out across the pages of The New York Times bestseller list. In the months after September 11, 2001, the top selling titles in the Times were a literal shopping list of conservative hagiography, from The Right Man, by David Frum to Bush Country by John Podhoretz.

And now? There has obviously been a change in the weather over our nation’s capital. These days, we’re just as likely to spot Big Lies, by Joe Conason or Worse Than Watergate, by John W. Dean. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, by Kevin Phillips, and Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, by Laura Flanders are two of the most commented upon new “Bush books.” Taken together, both American Dynasty and Bushwomen begin to shape a portrait of one of the most radically conservative and, importantly, anti-woman presidencies in recent American memory.

Kevin Phillips, the former boy wonder of the Republican Party and author of The Emerging Republican Majority has moved steadily towards an odd type of leftist populism since at least the mid- 1970’s. In calling the Bush family a “dynasty,” Philips does not shy away from the radically monarchical implications of his thesis. He frankly acknowledges that many of the similarities between George H.W. and George W. – scrambled syntax, keen social intelligence, an uncomfortability with abstraction – may be familial in origin. The same is true for the second War in Iraq, which Phillips sees as a war launched out of Bush’s “personal commitment to resuming his father’s unfinished combat with…Saddam Hussein.”

Phillips’ position is a risky yet rewarding one. While most mainstream journalism about the second Bush presidency tends to emphasize both the social and military discontinuities between the first and second Bush presidency, Phillips sees continuities between Bush the elder and Bush the younger that go beyond Iraq. Specifically, he argues that four generations of Bushes have displayed an unwavering commitment to the national energy sector, the CIA, defense industries, and the Wall Street investor-elite.

In the end, American Dynasty seeks to recount the disturbing story of the Bush men over the course of several generations. But what about the Bush women? In the patriarchal world of the Bush family, a world dominated by noblesse oblige, old money, and masculine values, where do first ladies Laura Bush and Barbara Bush – not to mention Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes – fit in? Laura Flanders, a talk show radio host and FAIR commentator, digs into the unexplored topic with gusto, and Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species is the impressive result. It would be unfair to give Flanders too much credit simply for writing a book on Bush that hasn’t already been written a thousand times – but the topic of Bushwomen succeeds in throwing new light on an old subject, so Flanders deserves credit for her originality.

According to Flanders, each of the Bushwomen she chronicles— Condi Rice, Karen Hughes, Ann Veneman, Elaine Chao, Christine Todd Whitman, and Gale Norton – actively work against the feminist agenda that allowed them to achieve political power in the first place. Flanders looks at the role of the Bushwomen as representative of the larger hypocrisy of the “compassionate conservatism” initially promised by Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign. Writes Flanders: “Butchswagger has brought us to this point: the early premises of feminism just might lead us out. It’s not credible, domestic violence sufferers say, to claim that you love someone when you hurt them… Justice is indivisible; you can’t tout a handful of ‘Winning Women’ when the vast majority are losing out.”

By looking at Bushwomen and American Dynasty in tandem, we can glimpse an even more radical possibility than the one broached by Flanders. The anti-woman attitudes and policies expressed by W aren’t just the product of the demented dimwit currently occupying the Oval Office; indeed, they lie at the very root of the so-called “American Century.” Oil, national security, Wall Street, the CIA—are there any more typically male domains than the ones chronicled by Phillips in his tale of the “House of Bush?” Even the cover image of American Dynasty – flashing teeth, gleaming white skin, jowly grins – represents the perfect portrait of all-American WASP-hood. By selling out their feminist contemporaries, the Bushwomen have done more than just betray a pro-woman agenda. They have yoked themselves to the macho military industrial machine represented so clearly by the family currently stalking America’s halls of power.