Take Them At Their Words

by Bruce J. Miller with Diana Maio

Academy Chicago


by Laura Flanders


Reminiscent of The Clothes Have No Emperor, Paul Slansky’s invaluable day-by-day history of the Reagan Presidency, Take Them At Their Words intends to offer “a wide-angle snapshot of the moral values Republicans and their allies proudly embrace.” Following a quote from Adlai Stevenson —

“I will make a bargain with the Republicans. If they will stop telling lies about Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them”

— it takes this snapshot by way of a collection of right-wing quotations that range from the historically ironic -•

“Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”

George W. Bush, about Kosovo, in 1999.

— to the sickeningly astonishing:

“I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive.”

George W. Bush, on a golf course in Kennebunkport, Maine, reacting to a suicide bombing in Israel that killed nine people.

Besides Slansky, the book is also a successor in interest to such volumes as Stephen Rendell, Jim Naureckas and Jeff Cohen’s The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error. Speaking of Limbaugh, by the way:

“The left hasn’t been right about one aspect of this whole Iraq situation.”

As Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal (author of The Clinton Wars) writes in his introduction, “You may read and laugh, but remember, they mean it.” -wm What the books mentioned above have that this one lacks, however, is context. It’s well-documented, and will be one-handed reading for many of those who agree with the editors’ point of view. But that POV seems to assume anyone reading the book will automatically know where the neocons aren’t making sense. And here I am, an obnoxiously blatant liberal, thought by some to be a well-informed, hip observer of our culture. And I’m here to tell you spending a little more space more clearly and definitely “debunking” some of the G.O.P.’s more facile comments would have been a good idea.

As it is, this book is best recommended as a supplemental reference work, to be enjoyed after better books by Lou Dubose, Al Franken and even Michael Moore. But let me leave this section with Ann Coulter on the subject of environmentalism:

“God said ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.”

Miss Coulter thus allows me a relatively smooth segue into the topic of Laura Flanders’ Bushwomen, which focuses on the conservative women of George W. Bush’s inner circle, Condolezza Rice, Christine Todd Whitman, Karen Hughes and so on. Flanders’ thesis is that these women, often from two or more minority groups, are put up as a distraction from the G.O.P.’s fiercely anti-feminist, anti-minority platform. I am, as they say, down with that. Yet I found this book an interminable chore to get through, surviving only by allowing myself breaks to read Nina Munk’s latest. Flanders’ writing style is so prosaic as to cause the eyes to blur and the brain to long for Molly Ivins. This is the kind of book that with good editing could have made a fine magazine article or even series; as is, it’s overly inflated and nearly impossible to enjoy. This is a pity, because it’s a valuable subject, one that has not gotten much attention in the popular press. And there’s some priceless information here. For example, the recently-returned-to-the-spotlight Karen Hughes’ expressed desire to have done PR for Exxon after the Valdez oil spill, and Lynne Cheney’s having written a novel in support of gay love.

There’s an expression which is common coin among those who consider themselves free speech absolutists; in effect, “I disagree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” Confronted with books like Take Them At Their Words and Bushwomen, I find myself wishing for an equally pithy way of expressing an related sentiment: I agree with much of what you have to say, but I wish you’d found a better way of saying it.

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