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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

Molly Ivins Digs Up Bush's Texas Roots

"Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Random House

by Marie Lovern, PAC Intern

Molly Ivins opens her latest book with a note of caution: "This book contains no news about the sex life of George W. Bush, nor about the drugs he ingested, nor about whatever dark psychological demons drive him to seek the presidency of the United States." Rather, Ivins, with the help of Lou Dubose, sticks to the tried and true method of judging a politician by looking at the record. "Shrub" is witty and humorous in a way that only a book written by a Texan about a Texan could be. Ivins succeeds in revealing Dubya, as she endearingly refers to him, as his true self-a sell-out to big business, with little compassion in his conservatism.

The media has trumpeted Bush's highly successful fundraising efforts. What most voters don't know, however, is who his big donors are. Ivins reveals that Bush took in close to a million dollars from political action committees and individuals interested in tort "reform"(e.g. insulating big business from lawsuits by people their products have harmed). It's no wonder that Bush declared tort reform a "legislative emergency" in 1995.

"Shrub" reveals that one of the big donors to Bush's gubernatorial campaign was Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim of Pilgrim's Pride Chicken, a repeat offender for polluting Texas' air and water. Pilgrim gave $125,000 to Bush's campaign. Upon reaching office, Bush quickly eased environmental enforcement standards, ended unannounced inspections and paid little attention to air and water quality. Campaign finance may not be a very sexy topic, but Ivins intriguingly illustrates how quickly and effectively the issues of Bush's big contributors become his own.

Ivins quotes from an interview Dubya gave to "Talk" magazine in which Bush states that "Sitting down and reading a 500-page book on public policy or philosophy or something," is one of his least favorite things. Ivins links Bush's cavalier attitude to case after case of bad government. Early in 1999, Bush declared that only children in families below 150 percent of the federal poverty level would qualify for low-cost health insurance through the federal program CHIP. Other governors, even conservative ones, set eligibility starting at 200 percent, but not the compassionate conservative himself. Setting eligibility at 200 percent would have cost the state about $189 million. Never mind that Texas is second only to California in the number of uninsured children.

Furthermore, while Bush was keeping children from receiving health insurance, he also gave a $45 million tax break to help the owners of "itty-bitty" oil and gas wells. As it turns out, most of the so-called itty-bitty wells were owned by Exxon.

Ivins and Dubose also describe Bush's attempt to privatize welfare by turning the distribution-and-certification system over to Lockheed Martin, a corporation not known for its interest in serving the poor. Fortunately the Clinton administration refused to allow Texas to turn a state agency over to a defense contractor that could increase its profits by decreasing welfare enrollment.

From a man who boasts about his fluency in Spanish and his ability to reach out to Latino/a voters, Ivins finds Bush's policy toward the people of the Rio Grande Valley most appalling and hypocritical. The Valley is an area located on the border of Mexico that would rank first in poverty if it were a state. Its hundreds of subdivisions lack finished streets, sewers and drinkable water. Despite budget surpluses exceeding $10 billion in 1997 and 1999, no evidence exists that Bush ever considered a coordinated plan for the Valley. Bush has never gone out of his way to meet with the people of the Valley or the groups that lobby for them. Ivins quotes one border reporter as saying, "Everyone thought Bush owed the border something for the Hispanic turnout in the last election, but all we got was a few crumbs." No deep pocket contributors in the Valley, apparently.

"Shrub" makes clear just how scary it is to imagine Bush doing for the United States what he's done for the state of Texas. Ivins and Dubose's book is a political must-read for everyone who plans to vote in November.

"Shrub" is available online at www.now.org/catalog.

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