Joe Conason's Journal

The first Bush kiss-and-tell book: Does the president's ex-speechwriter dish dirt, or throw valentines?

Published January 8, 2003 5:40PM (EST)

Turkey, chicken -- or crow?
It made me smile this afternoon to listen to David Frum on NPR's "Fresh Air," where the author of the administration's first kiss-and-tell confided that the president's most significant quality is an ability to "inspire loyalty." I have yet to read his book on George W. Bush, "The Right Man," but press reports suggest there's more to it than the comprehensive suck-up indicated by the title. He flatters Karl Rove ("a risk taker and an intellectual"), eviscerates Karen Hughes ("rarely read books and distrusted people who did"), and proves his own loyalty to his former colleagues by confirming John DiIulio's portrait of the White House staff (except Rove) as a confederacy of dunces. Writing that "conspicuous intelligence seemed actively unwelcome in the Bush White House," he may be alluding to his own sudden departure, shortly after his wife sent around that famous e-mail boasting about hubby's copyright on "axis of evil." Or maybe not: Frum insists that around the same time, "I had decided it was time for me to go."

He got a book deal, while the rest of us got a foreign policy crisis. For a short, brilliant assessment of the "axis" episode's lingering ill effects, see Hendrik Hertzberg's comment in the New Yorker. According to Hertzberg, who ran the speech shop for Jimmy Carter: "As a rhetorical flourish, the axis of evil soared like an eagle. But in retrospect it more closely resembles a turkey, and the inclusion of North Korea, in particular, has begun to look uncannily like a chicken that in recent days has come home to roost." Frum at the presidential keyboard seems a bit like Homer Simpson at the controls of the Springfield nuke plant.

As of today, the Bush White House is "negotiating" though not "compromising" with that North Asian branch of Frum's axis. After a decent interval, the White House will indeed compromise, as quietly as possible, simply because there are no sane alternatives. Eagle, turkey, chicken ... crow.
[1:49 p.m. PST, Jan. 8, 2003]

Dividends for Dick and George
It must be my irrepressible urge to wage class warfare that draws me to yesterday evening's Reuters analysis of the Bush tax plan, which was buried on the site. Using the president's and vice president's tax returns, and a calculator available on the Heritage Foundation Web site, Reuters determined that George W. Bush would have saved $16,511 on dividend payments of $43,805 in 2001 if his new proposal had been in effect last year.

With dividends of $278,103, Dick Cheney would have saved $104,823. As this proposal moves through Congress, Reuters and other news organizations should figure the potential tax savings for senators and representatives, as revealed by their financial disclosures and tax returns where available. For instance, someone might ask Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist just how much Columbia/HCA stock he currently owns -- and how much he stands to save by pushing through this tax cut. (Frist's holdings are in a "blind" trust that might more accurately be described as "wearing sunglasses.")

Good Times, bad Times
Speaking of the corporate class, do not skip the gripping first installment of the three-part New York Times series on McWane, Inc., which reveals what certain businessmen do to American workers. As told by David Barstow and Lowell Bergman, this tale of brutal mistreatment, maimings and deaths in a Texas foundry will shock the paper's more innocent white-collar and suburban readers -- especially if they believe the worst offense committed by corporate malefactors is cooking the books. They cook human beings, too. (These horrors will also be covered tomorrow evening in a documentary on PBS's "Frontline," as part of a joint project with the Times.) The pictures aren't pretty, either.

It will be interesting to see whether the Times examines the sociology of the McWane family, a very respectable Birmingham, Ala., dynasty that endowed a charitable foundation and a science museum along with various Republican war chests. All that munificent bounty is mortgaged with ruined backs, amputated limbs, crushed skulls and destroyed families.

Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd commences the ritual belittling of the Democratic presidential challengers by the Beltway press clique. She emits a couple of lines of unfunny bile in the first graf, and then veers off into a discussion of the Republican convention in New York and the manifest flaws of Terry McAuliffe. I often enjoy Maureen's work, but this morning she manages to be both predictable and weird.
[9:26 a.m. PST, Jan. 8, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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