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W stands for window dressing.

Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species by Laura Flanders Verso. 342 pages. $22.00.

Looking for a fun summer read? Consider Laura Flanders's latest book, Bushwomen. Flanders takes a close look at the women in George W. Bush's inner circle. Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Ann Veneman, Elaine Chao, Christine Todd Whitman, and Gale Norton fall under Flanders's scrutiny, as do Lynne Cheney and Laura Bush. Flanders outs these women as "an extremist Administration's female front." And Flanders proves that these representatives of the "cynical species" have been instrumental in rolling back protections that help women.

She defines a Bushwoman as a female who is invaluable to the President yet underscrutinized by the press. She makes a solid case. Bush packed his Administration with darlings of the ultra-right but simultaneously pushed these women front and center.

Condoleezza Rice is a prime example. The press has made much of her growing up during the civil rights movement era, her Birmingham roots, and her friendship with one of the four girls murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. "With Condoleezza Rice's story, the Republicans hit the rhetorical jackpot," writes Flanders.

Rice is skilled at mining her own story for nuggets that resonate with GOP audiences. She bragged during the 2000 Republican National Convention that her father was the first Republican that she knew. But Flanders points out that John Rice was not "the sort of Republican that party faithful might imagine on hearing his daughter's words." He was friends with Ralph Abernathy, raised funds for Martin Luther King Jr., and "took up a shotgun and patrolled the neighborhood with local men" after nearby bomb attacks in Birmingham. He also was the first Head Start administrator in Birmingham. Rice did not mention those details in her speech.

No matter. "Personal biography is gold in the political economy," writes Flanders, and "any carefully selected detail can be deployed for broad political effect."

Flanders chronicles Rice's spell at Stanford, her stint at the Hoover Institution, her time at the Pentagon in 1986, under a fellowship from the Council of Foreign Relations, and her term on Chevron's board of directors. Her service at Chevron, a company accused of human rights abuses in Africa, demonstrates the chasm between Rice's civil rights talk and her actions.

During the 1990s, Chevron had extensive oil holdings in Nigeria, a country under military dictatorship. While Rice was a director, shareholders of Chevron submitted resolutions addressing concerns about human rights and the company's dealings with the corrupt Nigerian government. The policy committee that reviews these resolutions turned down every one of them. Rice sat on that committee.

Still, Rice made a shameless connection between civil rights and Bush's foreign policy. In an August 2003 address to the National Association of Black Journalists, Rice said, "We should not let our voice waver in speaking out on the side of people who are seeking freedom." Denying people freedom, she said, "was wrong in 1963 Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad."

"Forty years after she left Birmingham, the traces of her childhood influences are more than matched by the mark of military men and oil magnates and two Republican Presidents," concludes Flanders.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is another member of Bush's cabinet who "provides a shield that makes the party's anti-civil rights, anti-feminist agenda acceptable," writes Flanders. "On Chao's watch, the Bush Administration tried to close ten regional offices of the Women's Bureau, which gives women information about harassment, discrimination, family leave and child care, and the rights they have in the workplace," notes Flanders. Chao has also overseen the overturning of ergonomics rules and an attempt to deny overtime benefits to millions of workers.

Many Bushwomen have conflicts of interest. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman is a case in point. One of the first things she did as Ag Secretary was to rescind a Clinton Administration decision to ban commercial logging and road-building on nearly sixty million acres of governmental land. Prior to her appointment, Veneman worked for the Sierra Nevada Access to Multi-Use Stewardship Coalition, which "existed specifically to oppose Clinton's 'roadless initiative,' " Flanders writes.

Veneman has played an important but generally unpublicized role in U.S. trade history. During the Reagan Administration, she was on the team that negotiated NAFTA, the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, and the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), which eventually led to the creation of the World Trade Organization.

When she wasn't actively creating trade policy for the U.S. government, she was a lobbyist for the very corporations that would benefit from it. She didn't work for the government when Congress passed NAFTA, but she was certainly in Washington, employed by the powerful lobbying firm Patton, Boggs, and Blow. One of her clients was Dole Foods. "Who better to work on [Dole's] behalf during the debates over NAFTA and GATT than the woman who helped write the texts?" asks Flanders.

Flanders says that Bushwomen tend to get a pass from the mainstream media, and that Christine Todd Whitman illustrates this. When Whitman stepped down from her post as head of the EPA in May 2003, The New York Times fretted that the Bush Administration would not have "a single reliable defender" of the environment. Flanders argues the paper should have been worried when Whitman was appointed. She examines the former governor of New Jersey's environmental record and contends that Whitman was no moderate when it came to environmental policy.

Flanders interviews Bill Wolfe, who worked at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection from 1985 to 1995. (Whitman became governor in 1993.) "There is a perception out there that she's a moderate," Wolfe says, according to Flanders. "But I categorically deny that that's the case. I wouldn't even call her mainstream." Wolfe resigned in 1995 after the Academy of Natural Sciences found links between coal-fired power plants in the state and mercury in fish. Flanders writes that the Department of Environmental Protection delayed the release of the report and commissioned a new study. "Wolfe disclosed some internal memos on the matter to the press, and Whitman's lawyers came down on him hard, accusing him of criminal theft of government property," writes Flanders.

Flanders asserts that Whitman gets the moderate tag due to her stance on abortion. But when it comes to economics and the environment, Flanders places Whitman firmly in the Bush camp. While Whitman was governor, fines for polluters went down 70 percent, enforcement of existing laws decreased, and regulatory policies on businesses were eased, including the scaling back of the state's mandatory "right to know" laws.

"George Bush knows what he wants to accomplish. He knows my record as governor," Whitman told The Washington Post upon her appointment to EPA. Under Whitman, the EPA gutted the Clean Air Act, allowed higher rates of arsenic in drinking water, and let the White House heavily edit the agency's 2003 Draft Report of the Environment. And after 9/11, Whitman directed her staff to clear all statements to the media with the White House.

In April 2004, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about the Administration's environmental policy. The reporter painted Whitman in a nice light. He wrote that "Whitman and other top officials tried to resist the policy changes coming out of the Energy Department." The article cited a May 2001 memo Whitman wrote to Cheney: "We will pay a terrible political price if we undercut or walk away from enforcement cases; it will be hard to refute the charge that we are deciding not to enforce the Clean Air Act."

But Whitman had worked with Cheney before. One imagines she would have been familiar with his ideas. In 1972, she and Cheney were both in the Office of Economic Opportunity. Donald Rumsfeld was the director at the time.

Flanders argues that Whitman is a master at saying one thing and doing another. "On Earth Day 1996, [Whitman] took schoolchildren on a celebratory canoe trip down the Rancocas Creek on the very same day new regulations came into effect allowing the dumping of more pollutants into the state's waterways," writes Flanders.

Whitman was undermined and disrespected by the White House. But Flanders contends that Whitman resigned not because she disagreed with Bush on policy but because of "the bruising she was receiving from her own staff."

Several Bushwomen got training and support from rightwing think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute. When these women took their posts in government, they dragged the think tanks' ideas with them.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was a fellow at the Hoover Institution in 1983. It was there where she studied the then-novel idea of "emissions credits." Emissions credits are now part of the Clean Air Act. Before going to the Hoover Institution, Norton was an attorney at the Mountain States Legal Foundation. (James Watt was the executive director at the time.) "She took up what is called the 'takings' issue, and helped to craft an argument that the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution requires the government to pay polluters not to violate environmental laws, and 'compensate' timber companies for the old-growth trees they are not allowed to log," writes Flanders.

Don't let the length of Bushwomen scare you off. Flanders provides more than fifty pages of footnotes. Plus, it's a fun read. Flanders manages to avoid the heavy-handedness that mars so much of the left press these days, though she occasionally overreaches. For example, her explanation of Whitman's commitment to the GOP borders on pop psychology and is ultimately distracting.

One of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign slogans was "W Stands for Woman," but he still had a problem attracting female voters. Bush garnered 11 percent fewer votes from women than did Gore. Since the Supreme Court installed him, Bush has not had a woman-friendly Administration, despite the presence of Rice and Karen Hughes and Norton.

In April, Reuters reported that the Administration went so far as to strip information on a range of women's issues--including scientific data and Labor Department statistics--from government websites. Key government offices dedicated to addressing the needs of women have been disbanded, including the White House's Office of Women's Initiatives and Outreach, according to the National Council for Research on Women.

Today, the GOP is continuing to use the Bushwomen to front for its policies. It has a "Winning Women" website that says, "It is vital that women know the Republican Party offers them the best hope for a secure and stable future for women and their families." It helpfully adds links to pages on Laura Bush, Elaine Chao, and other Bushwomen. Fortunately; Flanders lets us see through the ruse.

Elizabeth DiNovella is Culture Editor of The Progressive.
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Title Annotation:Books
Author:DiNovella, Elizabeth
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:1798
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