George W. Bush, by his own admission, was not a particularly
memorable student. Except, perhaps, at Harvard Business School.
There, he stood out --- not for his achievements, but for his
"At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a
student of mine," Professor Yoshi Tsurumi recalls. "I still vividly
remember him. In my class, he declared that 'people are poor
because they are lazy.' He was opposed to labor unions, social
security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools.
To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and
the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to
'free market competition.' To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal
Although John Podhoretz didn't interview Professor Tsurumi before
he wrote BUSH COUNTRY: How Dubya Became a Great President While
Driving Liberals Insane, that is very much the George Bush he
offers up in his new book. Podhoretz is a columnist for the
Murdoch-owned New York Post and a commentator for
Murdoch-owned Fox TV --- coming from that environment, you pretty
much expect him to revere Bush and dismiss "liberals" as Satanists.
But Podhoretz is the son of two noted writers, and so he devises a
more sophisticated analysis.
It is brilliant fiction.
For Podhoretz, Bush might never have become a great statesman if
his father had been a more effective President. But although George
H., he argues, is a fine man, he was a weak President. Only one
good thing came out of his defeat: His son was liberated. And
George W. became a strong, disciplined leader, bound by principle
to do the right thing, no matter what. He became, in essence, the
spiritual son of Ronald Reagan.
It really doesn't matter if Bush has held these inflexible
anti-government views since his business school days in the 1970s
or came to them in 1992. Our concerns are with the present --- with
life in "Bush Country." Lord knows the phrase sounds inspiring: a
smoke-free version of Marlboro Country, with wide, open spaces, a
big blue sky, and, of course, a lone rider loping slowly this way.
He's George W. Bush, and he's smiling because he inherited a
country with a healthy budget surplus and a minor problem --- a
modest recession --- and fixed it by giving us money back (well,
some of us: 93% of the benefits went to large corporations and
households with annual incomes of $250,000 or more). Which was the
right thing to do. Because it is our money, right?
In his very first press conference as President, Bush announced,
"Our budget is fiscally responsible. If enacted, it will reduce the
deficit by an unprecedented amount over the next four years." His
budgets were enacted --- and now we have such a monstrous deficit
that boomers might not be able to count on their full measure of
Does that matter to Podhoretz? Not really. What counts, for him, is
that "Bush Country" poster-simple view of life: Bush as a
common-sense guy with a few sensible ideas (and you know, you don't
need many if your ideas are sound). He shared those ideas with us,
in words so blunt no one could fail to grasp them. Later, he stood
on a pile of rubble in Lower Manhattan and took a bullhorn to tell
the rest of the world just what the United States was all about.
And then, by God, he went out and turned words into deeds.
As Podhoretz tells it, Bush's list of accomplishments would be
dazzling if he were nearing the end of his second term --- but in
just three short years, he's cut taxes, put his stamp on our
educational system, reformed health care, committed $15 billion for
medicine to fight AIDS in Africa and established himself as "the
best presidential speaker since Franklin Delano Roosevelt."
For such massive achievements, BUSH COUNTRY is a short book ---
just 250 tidy pages --- and so, inevitably, Podhoretz leaves a lot
May I touch on just a few omissions?
Podhoretz describes Bush as totally dedicated to eradicating
terrorism without regard to political gain. So why did we only last
month put a full-court press on capturing Bin Laden? (It can't be
so Bush can parade him through the streets a month or two before
the election, can it?) Why does Bush have a hands-off policy toward
Saudi Arabia, a hotbed of terrorist groups? Why is Bush letting
Lockheed Martin send 80 F-l6 fighters to Dubai, the Middle East hub
for smuggled nuclear cargo? And, oh, that Bush photo op on the
aircraft carrier --- the ship that had to be turned around so the
cameras didn't catch the San Diego skyline in the background. How,
exactly, did that help in the war on terror?
A truthful administration that cares for you and me? If so, you'd
think the White House would be happy when we find cheaper
prescription drugs in Canada. Then why did Secretary of Health
& Human services Tommy Thompson appear on CNBC to say the
government wouldn't allow re-importation from Canada because the
Canadian drug supply was…unsafe? You think he really believes
American drug companies have separate plants in Canada that make
substandard drugs for Canadians? (They don't. The only difference
between American and Canadian drugs is labeling; Canadian labels
must be in English and French.) Or could it just be that this
Administration is very, very grateful for the financial support of
big drug companies?
Education reform? Hey, Bush de-funded Reading Is Fundamental. And
here's a telling report from the New York Times: "Democratic
legislators in Oklahoma were so unhappy with President Bush's No
Child Left Behind school improvement law that they drafted a
resolution calling on Congress to overhaul it. But at the last
minute one of the state's most conservative Republicans, State
Representative Bill Graves, stepped up with his own suggestion:
Tell Congress to repeal it entirely. The resolution passed, and Mr.
Graves got a standing ovation."
$15 billion for AIDS in Africa? Yeah, Bush promised the money, he
just forgot to make sure his secretary mailed the check. Ask Bono
if he believes this Administration ever will. (Warning: Photo ops
with the President are a high-risk proposition. He smiles, pledges
to help, and, later, administers a knife in the back. Don't believe
it? Ask the Boys and Girls Clubs. Bush visited these clubs six
times while campaigning --- and then, in his budget, cut funding
for the Clubs.)
"Supporting" stem-cell research. Bringing "freedom" to Iraq. You
don't have to be a liberal to uncover the Orwellian rhetoric,
double-dealing and outright deception in each of these --- and many
other --- Administration "triumphs." But let's face it: You're not
gonna care about the damage done to medical research until your kid
gets sick or what happens in Iraq if your kid comes home safe.
"Creating jobs" --- that's another matter. Because money is
something you think about every day. So let's go there.
Around this time every year, the Economic Report of the President
predicts nonfarm payroll employment --- the statistic that most
economists say is the best indicator of job growth. In 2002, the
Administration predicted 138.3 million jobs; it over-estimated by
about 6 million jobs. In 2003, the Administration predicted 135.2
million jobs; that was high by about 5 million jobs. This year, the
Administration forecasts 132.7 million jobs; it's already 900,000
jobs short. No wonder the President was so pleased to hear from a
business owner in California that, thanks to the tax cuts, he was
thinking --- thinking --- of hiring two new people that he
all but bear-hugged the guy.
John Podhoretz doesn't have to worry about his job; there's full
employment for right-leaning pundits who are willing to say a
half-empty glass is overflowing. But for those of us not on the
inside of big corporations or blessed with trust funds, it might be
a really nice gesture if, inside each copy of BUSH COUNTRY,
Podhoretz shared a sample of whatever it is he's smoking.
Podhoretz is reliably conservative but is not an apologist. He was
a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan but is also a consultant
for NBC's liberal-leaning program The West Wing. Podhoretz
co-founded The Weekly Standard but has also written for
Time. His first book, HELL OF A RIDE, was an unflinching,
critical look at the presidency of "41" --- George Herbert Walker
Bush. Podhoretz brings a critical eye to the presidency of "Dubya"
as well, but saves the sharpest arrows in his quiver for the
President's shrillest critics and leaves them looking like
His simple --- not simplistic --- format utilized in BUSH COUNTRY
is to take each of the myths concerning Bush the Younger, currently
and recklessly being tossed around, and deconstruct them one piece
at a time. He categorizes each of these elements as "Crazy Liberal
Idea #1 --- Bush is a Moron"; "Crazy Liberal Idea #2 --- Bush is a
Puppet;" "Crazy Liberal Idea #8 --- Bush is a Liar", having the
same effect upon the President's more radical, unreconstructed
critics as bleach, fresh air and sunlight have upon
Podhoretz effectively and conclusively demonstrates that Bush,
prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was already
demonstrating the steely determination and resolve that forged a
foreign and domestic policy that has served the primary interests
of this nation, keeping it free, strong and safe. Podhoretz points
out that Bush contemporaneously has continued the humanitarian work
that has been the hallmark of this nation practically from its
inception, creating an unprecedented, bold program to treat,
control and eradicate the plague of AIDS in Africa. While Podhoretz
is quick to point out the mistakes of the Bush Administration, he
eschews --- and decimates --- the shrill critics who appear to have
hijacked the national dialogue.
Podhoretz does not pull punches, and while he demonstrates a
tolerance for other viewpoints that has been absent in a number of
liberal tomes published recently, he follows a policy of zero
tolerance for nonsense. He draws a line in the sand, separating
legitimate criticism on issues of policy upon which reasonable
minds might vigorously but respectfully differ, from the shrill,
nattering nabobs of negativism who seem unable to move on even as
they insist that others do so.
As the Democratic Party appears on the verge of nominating yet
another Perfumed Prince as their national standard bearer, a copy
of BUSH COUNTRY should be on the desk of every Republican standard
bearer as an answer, a refutation and a defense against the
unreasoned attacks upon the Bush Administration. Highly
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011