July 10, 2003
It's the BuzzFlash Interview with Molly Ivins, Need We Say More
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Yes, BuzzFlash and Molly Ivins had a little chat about things.
For one thing, Molly's got a new book coming out in September, "Bushwhacked," written with her "Shrub" co-author, Lou Dubose. The cover (Bush in full "Friday the 13th" buzzsaw gear) is worth the price of the book. Then of course, there's the subject du jour, the man of the hour, George W. Bush himself. Along the way we discuss the almost inexplicable hypocrisy of Tom DeLay, the Svengali smarts of Mr. Rove, and the "bushwhacked" plight of the average American who doesn't get much attention anymore.
Here's what her publisher, Random House, has to say about "Bushwhacked":
BuzzFlash loves these two excerpts from the book:
Dubya's accomplishments as governor of Texas
Dubya's environmental record
Of course, BuzzFlash will be offering the book as a premium when it comes out in September.
In the meantime, you can get your "Molly Ivins Fix" right here on BuzzFlash.com. Without further ado, here is the BuzzFlash interview with Molly.
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BUZZFLASH: You have a new book, "Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America," coming out in the fall.
MOLLY IVINS: Right.
BUZZFLASH: Are we better off than we were three years ago?
IVINS: No. No. Jim Hightower and I, for years, have talked about how the media pays far too much attention to the Dow Jones average. And that, you know, eighty-some pages in the newspaper on the financial world, and hours on television people carry on about the market. But they don't have much to do with real people's lives. What we need is "the Doug Jones average" – Doug Jones, average American. How's old Doug doing? Is he up? Is he down? And that's sort of what our book addresses.
What my co-author Lou Dubose and I do in every chapter of "Bushwhacked" is take some change in federal policy made in Washington that is usually far below the media radar screen. Nobody pays any attention to most of these policies. And then we take them out -- traipse them out -- and show how they're affecting average folks in their everyday lives. And of course, the beauty of it is that there's no such thing as average folks. I mean, we met some of the most fabulous Americans you can imagine.
BUZZFLASH: So you actually went out into the field and used examples of real American lives.
IVINS: Talked to people. Yeah, it's such a novel concept. It seems to be. You know, it used to be that political reporters made the connection between government and people's lives, and the media would say here's what the government's fixing to do, and here's how it's gonna affect you. But somehow it seems to me that the Washington press corps has gotten so entangled in consultants and polling, and permanent campaigns, and horse races -- and stuff like that -- that they seem to have forgotten that this is about people's lives.
And so we concentrated on that connection, and the mysterious disconnection of awareness on how the policy and the impact were connected. In other words, we were talking to people, many of whom were completely unaware that the problems they have were related to specific decisions in Washington.
BUZZFLASH: Well, why do you think that? What's happened to the disconnect? Is the media not conveying, as you just indicated, the connections? Or are people just not reading papers anymore, and getting their information just from television, which tends to just give you headlines and visual images.
IVINS: I think it's a combination. I think television is leaving us less well informed. And, too, people's lives are terribly busy. You know, in the 19th Century in this country, politics was sort of the major sport, and everybody paid attention to it. But except in times of national crisis, that rarely happens anymore. I think too there's been years of right-wing propaganda to the effect that government can't do anything right, that government screwed up a lot, that government just wastes your money through taxes.
BUZZFLASH: Now you covered George Bush for a long time. And obviously have you've written tons of commentary on him. You're a Texan. Do you consider him a REAL Texan?
IVINS: Oh, yes, he's very much a culturally identified Texan.
BUZZFLASH: In his own mind?
IVINS: Yes. And his father very clearly, you know, was an upper-class Eastern WASP. W's a gentleman.
BUZZFLASH: Now Michael Lind, in his book, says that people shouldn't be confused and consider George W. Bush part of the Southwest image of Texas –- that he's purely the kind of Southern heritage of Texas that has its roots in the Confederacy.
IVINS: Well, I've read Lind's book, and I thought it was a fascinating distinction. He built up the two, that distinction, through the entire book. It was an interesting thesis, but I'm not sure I would apply that particular filter. That seems to me to be simplistic. I think Lind's right to the extent that Bush comes out of the mineral extracting industry, as it were. Out of that oil business.
BUZZFLASH: Natural resources.
IVINS: Yes, where you would get the money out of the ground.
BUZZFLASH: As a long-time observer of Texas politics, you wonder in your book that you put out shortly before the 2000 election, "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush," why Bush even wanted to be into government. He had no interest in policy, in reading. He was impatient with meetings.
IVINS: Bush still amazes me about this. You know, he's just not terribly interested in government.
I must say that Louis Dubose and I are almost insufferably smug about how well "Shrub" has held up. And in fact, the predicted value of it I think has been pretty extraordinary. As I say, we're just disgustingly complacent, or self-complacent, about that. In fact, we were tempted to start the new book off by saying that "if you all had read the last one we wrote, we wouldn't have had to write this one."
What we did was just look at Bush's record in "Shrub." And consequently, I think we were less surprised than anybody in America when Bush started governing from lies.
BUZZFLASH: Bush seems to be a branded product under Karl Rove's mentoring. He's the congenial guy, the backslapper, the bestower of nicknames on reporters, the branded "compassionate conservative." And it seems very difficult for Democrats or, let alone the press, to bring up the record as you did in "Shrub," which belies the branded image.
IVINS: I think it's starting to sink in. I mean, you know, Americans are much smarter than politicians give them credit for being. And they're not better off than they were three years ago. They not only lost millions of jobs, but people are losing health insurance and pension benefits, and overtime, and the entire healthcare system is starting to crack and fall apart. I mean, it's just painful to watch. And I think . . . you know, I never wish for bad things to happen. But Iraq looks like a mess.
I'm in the happy position of having predicted a short, easy war followed by the peace from hell. And so far, I'm looking like a genius.
BUZZFLASH: Well, let's look at the war and the use of fear prior to the war. All of a sudden, we don't seem to have terror alerts anymore. Before the war, they were like jolts of electricity coming at a rapid pace. And certainly, in retrospect, from our perspective, seemed to have been used in a manipulative fashion to evoke a constant state of fear in Americans.
IVINS: Well, I don't think any of us is in a position to say that, unless you really have access to intelligence information. We have no way of knowing how well-grounded those alerts were, but you're right –- in retrospect, some of them appear a little silly. On the other hand, we're getting new ones right now. And we're in no position to judge the degree of gravity behind those.
BUZZFLASH: Well, how do we judge then how Bush is doing in the war on terror? You've mentioned that, well, now we have the peace from hell.
IVINS: The primary concern about Iraq, of course, was that it was just taking the eye off the ball, and was irrelevant to breaking up Al-Qaida. And I think that may indeed turn out to be one of the unfortunate side effects of Gulf War II. There is a bunch of material out now on the things that still need to be done. I mean, sort of almost self-evident things in terms of Homeland Security, a phrase I still wince at. Nuclear power plants, for example, are very high on everybody's list.
BUZZFLASH: Do you believe Bush's decisions –- or the decisions of his administration -- on how to conduct the war on terror have been political?
IVINS: I cannot believe in conspiracy theories. [laugh] On this, I'm gonna agree with Mrs. Clinton. There is a vast right-wing conspiracy in this country, but it's not hidden. It's right out there in plain sight. [laugh]
BUZZFLASH: Jim Moore, in his book "Bush's Brain," argues that, yes, obviously there is a real terrorist threat to this country. But the war was fashioned with a political objective in mind.
IVINS: Yes, the origins of the war seem ever more obscure. I mean, the more you try to get to exactly why we were driven into this thing, the more confusing it becomes. But again, I think, you know -– look, Bush was hit with September 11th. That changed everything. That reverses policies, and got him into things he never thought he'd be doing, like nation-building. He actually turned around and became a multi-lateralist for a period of about five months, until we had won in Afghanistan. And then he went back to the previous unilateralist approach that's really irking me alive.
I think it's much too easy to say it's all political calculations. It seems to me that what you have is a group of people who are reinforcing one another's prejudices and not accepting information from outside their inner loop. And they would be the obvious suspects, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et cetera, et cetera. And of all of them, I suspect that Cheney has the most influence. Of course, I say that simply because Bush's pattern has been to adopt an older male mentor as he enters each new field. He had an older mentor in baseball, and he had an older mentor in Texas politics.
And it seems to me that Cheney is the guy who he listens to. But I do –- I think all of them form a tight, self-reinforcing circle. And they're committing the ultimate political folly, which is not listening to people who don't agree with them. I think they equate dissension with disloyalty. And with the Bushes, both father and son, loyalty has always been considered THE primary virtue.
BUZZFLASH: Switching gears a bit, is the caricature of Bush as sort of an airhead an accurate one?
IVINS: No. I think I've said this several thousand times in my life. George W. Bush is not stupid, and he's not mean. You know, it is possible to really independently disagree with a politician's policies without personally hating him. You know, grownups can do that. [laugh] It's feasible, believe me.
You don't have to turn into, you know, the liberal equivalent of the Clinton hater in order to think that this guy's just completely screwing up the country. No, he's not stupid. He is very limited, however.
It's not stupidity as much as ignorance, and his inability and unwillingness to learn. He's not very curious. And it's not a first-rate mind. I mean, you get him to a certain point in a discussion, and if you ever hear him talk about "my instinct" or "my gut tells me," then you know we're in trouble. Then you know we have left the realm of facts and logic and where we're going is something else altogether.
IVINS: In "Shrub," we recount a long discussion Bush had with a reporter about the death penalty, the day that Karla Faye Tucker was executed. And they really had a serious talk about it. And at the very end of it, Bush said, "I know there is no evidence that shows that the death penalty is a deterrent. But I just feel in my gut that it must be true." Okay, now this is a guy who thinks that that is as good as, or more important, than evidence, than fact.
BUZZFLASH: His gut.
IVINS: Yes. And he has that response to several things. Sometimes it's a generous response. Sometimes it's an idiotic one. But it's -– as I say, it's not a first-rate mind. He's not stupid. And the fact that he tangles up the language -– well, so did his father. It's some kind of vocal dyslexia.
I think occasionally you find sort of dyslexic thinking in Bush.
BUZZFLASH: What do you mean by that?
IVINS: Well, the story he used to tell over and over when he was campaigning, about when he proposed to Laura out in Midland. In this story he recounts that Laura really doesn't like politics -– that she said that she would marry him only if he would promise her that she would never have to make a political speech. And then the audience would laugh. The poor woman has made thousands of them. And then Bush would beam and say, "I sure am glad she broke that promise." I mean, you're sitting there and saying to yourself, "wait a minute!"
BUZZFLASH: He's the one who made the promise. [laugh] Now, in "Bushwhacked," you are focusing on just ordinary Americans and how government policy has impacted them. In Texas, I mean, he touted this fantastic record. In "Shrub," you give him some credit for some things. But in general, the state fell apart after he left.
IVINS: I mean, you know, if you want to know what George Bush is doing to America, I say just come to Texas. This state is a mess. He left a disaster behind him. Two huge tax cuts, and then we got hit with a $9 billion deficit. And we've just been through hell this entire legislative session. The Republicans have taken over. They refuse to raise taxes, so can you imagine trying to take $9 billion dollars out of programs for poor people, which I assure you, in this state, are somewhere between inadequate and pathetic to begin with.
BUZZFLASH: And he left behind Governor Perry, who is a Rove protégé.
IVINS: Every statewide elected official in Texas is a Rove protégé.
BUZZFLASH: And Rove was involved in Perry winning against Jim Hightower years back in a race for Texas Agricultural Commissioner. In "Bush's Brain," the authors accuse Rove of some highly sleazy and legally questionable campaign activity against Hightower. And that was the beginning of Perry's kind of ascent to the governorship, if I recall. Because he beat Hightower and forced him out of office.
IVINS: That's right.
BUZZFLASH: Now Perry, also, of course, is saying that he's received no instructions from the White House to call the special session to steal congressional districts for the Republicans, even though this is a Tom DeLay burglary operation, by all accounts, to rob Democrats of seats and give them to Republicans.
IVINS: The new redistricting in Texas is a Delay-Rove deal. I'm sorry. I'm not an insider in Washington. I'm not privy to secret meetings or memos or anything else. I'll just tell you, I've known them a long time. It's a Rove-DeLay deal.
They ran the same play in Colorado.
BUZZFLASH: Now tell us a little about Tom DeLay. I mean, it's hard to understand what makes this guy tick.
IVINS: It's truly an astonishing case, isn't it? I'm not sure what we have. I don't even think it's compartmentalization. What you have, I think obviously, is a man who believes that he is a dedicated Christian, who is, I think, observably corrupt. That he has for years, collected huge amounts of campaign cash and it influences not only his vote, but the agenda of the House, and the way he works bills. I am absolutely fascinated at how he services large Republican campaign contributors. Now, how do you square that with a Christian commitment? And so you've got to think, okay: A) he could be a huge hypocrite. That's a possibility. B) he could be one of those people who rigidly manages to compartmentalize his life, so there's no overlap. I really don't know him well at all. He was a very minor figure when he was in the Texas legislature.
I think what you're looking at is someone who is so convinced of the moral superiority of his end that he doesn't care about the means at all.
BUZZFLASH: The Washington Post had a story about him a while back in which it stated that he doesn't talk to his mother. He's alienated from his brother. DeLay's daughter, a D.C. lobbyist, joined him on a trip to Las Vegas with campaign contributors. And she was in a hot tub with men pouring champagne over her. And it hardly seems like the lifestyle of a Puritanical, virtuous Christian. If this isn't "moral relativism," what is?
IVINS: I think Tom . . . there is an extent to which, and it's an unfortunate trait -– and it's a trait of Bush's too. And I don't know what it means, but that's life. As we say in our crude Texas fashion, he thinks that his shit don't stink. And that's very characteristic of Bush, who very often reverses course, and then lies. I really have a hard time believing that Tom Delay is a conscious hypocrite. I think that an assumption of righteousness is sometimes the unfortunate side effect of intense religious experience.
BUZZFLASH: Recently, we saw the so-called "Killer Ds" vamoose out of Texas to keep the Republican Congressional redistricting plan from being voted on in the last hours of the regular Texas legislature. And the "Killer Ds" became -- certainly to BuzzFlash readers and to many Democrats who have been concerned that the Congressional Democratic leadership has been far too passive -- great heroes.
IVINS: We think they're great heroes.
BUZZFLASH: Now this happened before in Texas, Democratic legislators rising up in revolt. Weren't they called the "Killer Bees" the first time?
IVINS: That's correct. It was twelve or fifteen years ago. I can't quite remember. It was 15 Senate Democrats pulled the same stunt and hid out in a garage apartment to break a quorum on a bill they opposed. And so now we had the "Killer D." But it's been done before. Republicans did it in California. And busting a quorum is not unheard of.
BUZZFLASH: Is there something the Democrats nationally can learn from taking assertive action like the "Killer Ds" did.
IVINS: I think that there comes a point where they're ramming something down your throat that's just flat wrong and unfair; you just can't take it anymore. And, it wasn't just a Congressional plan. This was a long experience for the Democrats. And it's fine to just say, oh, well, they're whining because they're not used to being out of power. But in fact, the House in Texas is badly run in terms of process. It was completely unfair. And several fled in rebellion. And I think it was effective. I think it was important. I think it just gave everybody inspiration, thank God. It is time the Democrats got mad. I realize that mad is not supposed to be in the national political vocabulary now. But the caliber of the people who are being put on the federal bench is just appalling.
I think it's time to use every parliamentary trick in the book.
BUZZFLASH: On another note, what's your quick take on the Rove-Bush relationship?
IVINS: I don't think anyone's ever been able to figure out where one begins and the other ends. I mean, you know, it's -- I suppose what they've been saying is that there's certainly an element of Svengali.
BUZZFLASH: Is Rove a genius? He certainly seems to be a three-dimensional strategist.
IVINS: He's very, very, very good. Very, very, very smart. And I never underestimate him. But he's made a few mistakes lately.
He screwed up that California race for governor out there. He drove the best candidate out of the race.
BUZZFLASH: Now our final question is this: given your long, distinguished career as a journalist based in Texas, and an irreplaceable source of insight into Texas, hard-boiled, sharp-elbow, eye-gouging politics, could you ever see yourself in any other setting? Would you be bored writing about politics in Wisconsin or Illinois?
IVINS: I'm one of those Texans who's left the state and come back several times. I finally just had to give up and say, yup, this is home.
BUZZFLASH: Is it just too boring elsewhere?
IVINS: You can't get material this good outside Texas.
BUZZFLASH: [laugh] Okay, Molly, thank you very much.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW