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What is remarkable is that this is Maureen Dowd's first book. She is a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author for her distinguished commentary on the Clinton impeachment. She approached and wrote Bushworldnearly as stylistically as James Joyce approached and unveiled Ulysses. Every chapter opens with a clever title; every chapter uses a different format, a literary style that necessarily and wittingly reflects its content. She classically defines the Shakespearean characters who tromp around on our current political stage as if these characters were somehow by her own creative hand lifted right off the Elizabethan stage and plopped smartly down into the pages of her book. In rapidly crafted snippets and metaphors, she captures the essentials of past literary works and characters. She draws upon a spectrum of movies and television shows from the past and present to paint a picture of the times in which we live. Comparing politicians, world leaders, and international events to characters and plots in The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, Father Knows Best, and Ozzie and Harriet, Dowd cleverly defines the myths of our times.
Dowd draws upon the witty satire of Voltaire, the absurdities of Orwellian logic to underline a point, the tragic events inspired by Aeschylean plots, and the deep psychological effects of the Greeks' Oedipal complex to reveal the deeply troubled personality (a "Roman Candle" as she puts it) of the President of the United States, who is a young cocky Sheriff, trying to outdo his father, who was also the territory's right arm of the law. But this young Sheriff wants to bring peace to Dodge by picking a gunfight at high noon on Main Street. Fully aware and brandishing his Wild West machismo, the cocky young Sheriff is manipulated by a group of dirty, politically scheming businessmen and respected members of the town council who pay his salary and conspire about whom it is that the upstart Sheriff will face-off and shoot in the name of justice and where the duel will take place.
Threaded throughout the book is the never-changing, classic theme of the son vs. the father. George W. Bush, whom she refers to as 43, is out to show up his father, George H. W. Bush, referred to as 41. In a chapter entitled "Junior gets a Spanking," the author reiterates the theme that has been played out repeatedly in previous chapters, but in a different form: mainly that Bush the elder, 41, must be tired of being his son's public punching bag. Whether it is critiquing his father's tax increases or having to finish in Iraq what his father left prematurely undone or flexing his political machismo, George II swaggers with a belligerent "Get out of Dodge" attitude to repudiate and oppose George I's near laid back politics of prep-school friendships, which son George II sees as moderate Republicanism and dangerously weak for the state of the world today.
In Dowd's own words, George W. Bush is like a teenager, who, while acting out a rebellion, wrecks his father's car to get back at him, to outdo him, to make his mark. I'm going to do better than Daddy. But, instead of crashing the family car into a light pole or a great oak tree, 43 has crashed his car into the political stability of the planet and, in so doing, has destroyed nearly 50 years of international détente.
In most father-son conflicts, the son chooses a surrogate father, who usually opposes the father's values. Luke Skywalker turns to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda for guidance in place of his own father, Darth Vader. The young, rambunctious Prince Hal turns to his friend and surrogate father, Falstaff, whose colorful disregard for truth and discipline repudiate everything Hal's father, King Henry IV, stands for. It is no different in Washington, DC, than it is on Tatooine or in England. During Bush the Elder's presidency, Dick Cheney served as Defense Secretary and commanded the Pentagon during the Persian Gulf War. Having been in politics since 1969, where he served as a special assistant to Donald Rumsfeld, H.W. Bush thought that Dick Cheney would be a perfect vice-presidential candidate for his son, the young, inexperienced, brash, soon-to-be Bush 43. Like a mentor in a royal court, Dick Cheney could tutor George the Younger in foreign policy, securing a moderate conservative approach on Capitol Hill, and insure that George the Elder's legacy for an international coalition would live on, especially in the Middle East, where Bush 41 had developed strong ties with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
But, according to Maureen Dowd, Bush 43's surrogate father, Dick Cheney, had his own plans. Once the election was won in Florida and George W. was in the White House, Bush 41 watched as his formerly moderate and dependable advisor took behind-the-scenes control in the White House. In retrospect, Dick Cheney saw the end of the Gulf War as a great mistake and vowed to fix it, so he suggested Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle to clean up Iraq and prove, in the wake of 9/11, that the United States will be wimpy to no nation. Like Ronald Reagan, #40, who succeeded in bringing down the Berlin Wall and whom George the Younger admired greatly, George 43 would go into Iraq with his cowboy boots on and bring justice to the Middle East. The irony is that Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War without firing one shot.
In diary form, Bushworld covers every major event and character during the last 10 years: from Kennebunkport to the Crawford ranch; from Riyadh to Washington, DC; from observations about Al Gore as the Tin Man to John Ashcroft draping curtains over nude statues; from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was being persuaded by White House advisors into presenting the United Nations with hours of even more unsubstantiated intelligence "facts" verifying the presence of WMD in Iraq, to the insecurities and lack of confidence projected by Tom Ridge, the Czar of Homeland Security (Dowd calls him "the Head of Homeland Insecurity"), even linking the fundamentalist ideologies of a President, who stops stem-cell research while waging a pre-emptive war upon Iraq. Calling Bush 43 the "The Xanax Cowboy," the author says that he made it clear that Saddam Hussein was going to pay for 9/11, whether he has any connections to Al Qaeda or not.
According to Dowd, we are living in a Bush World, a world that is a living circus, incomprehensible, full of illogic, greed, and gall, and absurdly humorous.
In the midst of all the treachery and psycho-political connections, even the Bushworld dedication reveals Maureen Dowd's ironic and healthy humor. The author is so smart, so "tuned into" the dealings and misdealings of Capitol Hill politics, so versed in the literary classics past and present, so attentive to the roots of Old Europe and the changes of the new Euro World, so adept at recognizing the inner psychological pulls and tugs of world leaders and understanding how their dysfunctions manipulate and cast a dark shadow of terror and greed upon a constantly changing, paranoid world. Knowing all of this, Maureen Dowd can still take a small step backwards and say in the dedication of her book: "For my mom, who thinks all the Bushes are swell." You gotta laugh.
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