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BUSH TURKEY: REVIEW OF "A CHARGE TO KEEP"

Karen Hughes, George W. Bush's communications director, reportedly wrote this 253 page sucker in less than a month. "There hasn't been any pretense, as there often is with these kinds of books, that the nominal author actually wielded the pen," writes "Slate's" Jacob Weisberg. "But let's be realistic. With George W. Bush, the question isn't whether he writes his own book. It's whether he reads it."

" Though there is probably not much danger that Bush will claim, as Charles Barkley did, to have been misquoted in his autobiography, he might convincingly do so. Hughes is supposedly as close to Bush as any of his advisers, yet the book reads as if it were written by someone who barely knows him....Mom's dog Millie came across as a more complex character--and a better prose stylist. I suppose it's an accomplishment, in a way, to have achieved a tone so utterly insipid...."

Hughes "quotes long, mattress-stuffing extracts from Bush speeches ghostwritten by others. In other places, she describes events by reprinting reports from Texas newspapers. In the biographical sections, which occur at random, she repeats the familiar stories, though in a highly sanitized form....Autobiography can't help revealing something about a person, and even this worthless...book is telling in its way. What it indicates is that Dubya is not only the lightest of intellectual lightweights, but a fundamentally cavalier and unserious person. He has no policy views, only vague aspirations for a better country. He believes that reading is important, but fails to mention anything he has ever read other than the Bible...."

"It's clear that McCain, Gore, and Bradley all put huge amounts of personal effort into their respective books, being the type of people who could not really do otherwise. They are politicians who take themselves seriously. They have respect for people who might take the trouble to read what they write. Bush, by contrast, sees a book as a campaign poster with words. This book tells you a lot about him, even as it tells you nothing at all." 11/25/99 (Thanks, Zack!)


POLITEX: THE RETURN OF BUSHNOCHIO, PART I "I got no strings to hold me up. I..." CRASH !!! Last year around this time we were getting tired of having George W. Bush tell the press that he had yet to make up his mind about running for President when it was pretty obvious that he would. His political activities, both in Texas and throughout the country, gave the lie to that pretense. After he made his informal announcement in a highly polished, highly orchestrated, flag-drenched press conference in March, there has been the drip, drip, drip of evidence suggesting that Bush had seriously begun his quest for the presidency some years ago, perhaps as far back as 1996. So it was no big deal a year ago when we called Dubya "Bushnochio" in a story, implying that his nose keeps getting longer as he tells yet another reporter he has yet to make up his mind. After all, history suggests that politicians do this kind of thing all the time. However, from the get-go Dubya and his handlers have implied that he's above such sleazy behavior, that his word is his bond.

Now, in A Charge to Keep, his autobiography written by Karen Hughes, his communications director and all-around media mother hen, the official story was that Bush made up his mind after a minister at his Methodist church in a posh West Austin neighborhood gave a sermon prior to the inaguration ceremony in January, saying we need "leaders who have the moral courage to do what is right for the right reason." Hughes writes that, "there was no magic moment of decision. After talking with my family during the Christmas holidays, then hearing the rousing sermon to make the most of every moment during my inaugural church service, I gradually felt more comfortable with the prospect of a presidential campaign."

The key word here is "gradually," which implies that Bush may have made up his mind prior to the sermon, but was not comfortable about it. For example, Fox News reported that in the middle of December nine prominant Republicans visited with Bush in Austin and were treated to a full sales pitch by Dubya in which he indicated that money, not vision, was needed for his presidential efforts. They went away feeling he was "hungry to be president." At the meeting Bush told them that his campaign would concentrate on eduation, taxes, minorities, and health care. Another meeting was scheduled for mid-January, a few days after the sermon Hughes writes about. However, as late as the end of Feburary Karl Rove, Bush's political strategist, was in trouble with Dubya for saying Bush was going to run rather than he was thinking about it. When reporters asked for verification Bush snidely said, "You'll have to ask Karl Rove about it." Perhaps the "comfort" of the sermon had yet to kick in over a month after it was given. How politically convenient, then, for Hughes to focus upon a church sermon as the focal point of Bush's decision to run for president when the public facts do not suggest this to be the case.

We look forward to reading the entire passage dealing with the sermon in Hughes' book tomorrow when it's available at our local bookstore, but based upon what has been reported thus far, we tentatively agree with Timothy Noah that George W. Bush's use of religion for political gain "is something a little worse than exploitative. It's immoral." 11/16/99


BOOK REPORT

The Karen Hughes "autobiography" of Bush has been called "bland" by Reuters, as we learn that the Governor " spends quality time with his dog, reads through the Bible every other year, feels he is part of a divine plan and has almost mystical feelings about baseball." American University history professor Allan Lichtman opines, "I wouldn't accept this type of material from a freshman." Ms. Hughes graduated from SMU with a major in English. 11/16/99



POLITEX: HOW DOES BUSH STACK UP ON CHARACTER EDUCATION? George W. Bush gave his third education speech in Gorham, New Hampshire, this week, concentrating on school safety. He placed an emphasis upon increasing the penalty for juvenile gun offenses, bringing abstinence education up to the attention level of birth-control education, allowing volunteer religious expression in the classroom, and providing more money for character education, three times the current amount, in fact.

As is the case with a number of Bush campaign themes, "character education," like "compassionate conservatism" is nothing new. Also like a number of his campaign themes, its roots can be traced back to his father's administration, in this case back to William Bennet, who was Secretary of Education under Dubya's father and is presently an education adviser on the campaign team. In the 80's Bennet led conservative groups in calling for a moral education, one that stresses "those values all Americans share." During the 90's, with its adherents calling themselves the more neutral "character education" movement, federal funding through the Improving America's Schools Act has been obtained for character education in 28 states, and 14 states have passed legislation calling for the teaching of character education in public schools. The movement in Texas has been strongest in Houston, given a big start by Jack Bowen, chairman of the board of Transco Energy Co. and a Bush campaign contributor, who offered to raise $2 million to get the district-wide mandated program off the ground.

The Houston character program, which eventually became the state program under Bush, focuses upon such "components of citizenship" as honesty and self-discipline, one for each of nine months in the school year. However, when the Houston character education plan was considered for adoption by the nearby Spring Branch school board in 1994, teachers were also asked to teach and model curiosity, organization, and a sense of humor as "life skills," which some teachers found to be personality traits, not universal values. Would someone without a sense of humor be reprimanded? And what about "self-discipline"? On the night the school board met and approved the plan, a parent suggested that "sexual abstinence before marriage" is "a moral and religious judgement," clearly not a universal value. In general, parents and teachers who were against the plan felt that the board was creating a value system for all of the teachers and students without the input of the diverse needs and beliefs of the teachers and parents within the district. School Board President Mark Ramsey replied, "If you start to abandon the virtues, the values that we have enumerated here, then you are leading your nation or your community or your country into total chaos."

In 1996 Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Moses sent out copies of "The Building Good Citizens for Texas-Resource Guide" to all of the schools in the state, "highly encouraging" all teachers to use it in the classroom. Created by the "Institute on American Values," a cover letter from Linus Wright, Chairman of the Institute, thanked the Houston school district for sharing "their materials and expertise." The 8 1/2 by 11, single-spaced booklet of 58 pages begins with a 1996 cover letter by Bush, himself, indicating that he hopes the classroom teacher would use the guides "to mold good citizens for Texas." In the first sentence of the short, three-paragraph letter, he forgets to capitalize the word "English." ("Our public schools in Texas must teach our children excellence in a core corriculum of basic subjects: english, math, science, and social science.") Since Governor Bush has pointed to his school reform efforts in Texas as a guide to what he would like to do on the national level, let's look at some selective examples that come to mind to determine how the governor, himself, would score on "character," as described in the "Resource Guide." Of course, you may want to consider other examples that occur to you, but these should get you started. There are 9 categories listed, with definitions. You can give each category a score of from 1 to ll if you're playing this game at home. The highest score is 99. (No one's perfect.)

1. "Honesty : trustworthiness, fairness, and straightforwardness of conduct." Forbes didn't think Bush was being straightforward when he said he couldn't make the recent New Hampshire debate because his wife was getting an award at SMU and he had made a previous commitment to be with her. Forbes opined that Bush would have made the forum if it had been called a "fund-raiser." Further, it looked like Bush had given an "excuse," not a "reason" for not attending the forum, according to a recent editorial in the "Toledo Blade."(__)

2." Responsibility: moral, legal, and mental accountability." Although Bush was required to report his sale of Harken Energy Corporation stock when it was sold on June 22, 1990, the SEC received word of the trade eight months late. Bush said the notice had been lost, according to "U.S. News," and the SEC dropped the case.(__)

3. "Compassion: empathy and respect for others in school, life, and career settings." At a Washington, D.C. Alfalfa Club roast in Feb. 1998, the "Washington Post" reported that Bush commented upon his future presidential platform: "I propose that every city have a telephone number 119 --for dyslexics who have an emergency."(__)

4. "Perseverance: persistence while encountering negative influences, forms of opposition, or discouragement." As we previously reported, Duby can't handle follow-up questions very well. A "Providence Journal" reporter wrote that Bush "rejected the idea of U.S. troops going to East Timor, but said he'd back a United Nations force. With U.S. troops in it? 'No, not with American troops.' Why not? 'Because I don't think that's appropriate use of American troops.' When I tried to follow up," [the reporter continues], Bush "said, 'The answer is: No American troops.'" [The reporter said] Bush had an "edge" to him. Bush gets angry when he encounters such "forms of opposition."(__)

5. "Loyalty: need to establish personal and career relationships and select causes based on positive ethical principles for which [students] can remain true." This is a real Catch-22 for Dubya. For example, his state's rights policy has allowed him to stay out of such battles as a Confederate flag over the capitol in South Carolina and the teaching of creationism in Kansas, while he was able to condemn a federal judge's halting of school vouchers in Cleveland, Ohio. However, when he was in New York, Bush neglected to consider his local government principle when he proposed that funds to the Brooklyn Museum of art be cut off for its controversial exhibition. This week a district judge ruled that it would be unconstitutional to do so.(__)

6. "Justice: fair and equitable behavior which is consistent with the laws and principles that govern a democratic society." While Bush vetoed a bill at the end of the Texas spring session that called for indigent defendents to be assigned a lawyer within 20 days of their arrest, Texas leads the nation in executions. Although the governor says there's no doubt in his mind that those who are executed are guilty, "in recent years the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld death sentences in at least three cases in which the defense lawyers slept during trial. The trial judge in one case reasoned that while the Constitution requires that a defendant be represented by a lawyer, it 'doesn't say the lawyer has to be awake,' " writes "Stephen Bright, the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights."(__)

7. "Self-Reliance: knowledge of skills, abilities, and impression on others." This is where the strutting arrogance part of Dubya comes in. Some think it's cute, some think it's Texan, some think it's immature, but "Talk" reporter Tucker Carlson thinks it could translate into a bumper sticker: "George W. Bush: So Secure He Doesn't Care What You Think of Him."(__)

8. Self-Disciplined: the strength of mental and moral courage to accomplish tasks, manage time, and relate effectively with others." We're told that Bush is so self-discplined that he can repeat the same stump speech over and over, day after day, and stay on task. The governor has said, "the speech can go 15 minutes or it can go 45 minutes," depending upon how much time he has, how the audience behaves, and what topics are appropriate for the locale. Howeve, he is most comfortable with something he has worked on day after day and knows by heart. When he gives a new speech, such as his third education speech, he carefully reads off the teleprompter and leaves the Q & A to surrogates; William Bennett, for his latest education speech.(__)

9. "Integrity: adherence to a code of conduct necessary for successful performance in the workplace and in [one's] personal life." This is the most subjective category in the "Resource Guide." Bush tells us that he wants to bring a code of conduct to the White House that will bring back integrity to the oval office. However, that's the future and those are words. Looking at his past, the basis for his code of conduct is unclear in both the workplace (questions about his business dealings and questions about his use of office) and his personal life (a history of drunkeness into his 40's and a question about cocaine use prior to age 26).(__)

While our Bush grade total of 38 suggests we wouldn't want the governor to model the "Guide's" character elements in our classroom, perhaps the idea of teaching character in the classroom is too subjective to begin with, too dependent upon the biases and prejudices of the evaluator, not to mention the local school board, too...undemocratic. 11/3/99



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