Friday, August 27, 2004

MAUREEN DOWD IN SANTA FE

A version of this story was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Aug. 27, 2004

Despite the title of her book, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk, Maureen Dowd doesn’t want it to be lumped in with the avalanche of Bush-bashing works currently filling the nation’s bookstores.”

“I went to the book fair in Chicago and was just stunned by the number of Bush-bashing books,” the New York Times columnist said in a recent telephone nterview. “I had no idea there were so many. I mean you see books about Condi’s dog. The market was saturated.”

While working late one Friday, she said, she noticed “13 or 14 (anti-) Bush or Cheney books. They’re coming in faster than I can read them.”

Dowd will be in Santa Fe this weekend to sign copies of Bushworld, at Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St., at 4 p.m. Saturday.

So how is Bushworld different than the other George-must-go books?

Dowd’s book, which mainly consists of her columns, deals with the “father-son drama” of the current presidents and his father, who was in the White House from 1989 to 1993.

“I love the father-son drama in Hamlet and the father-daughter drama in King Lear How your parents shape your life, that’s the part that interests me,” Dowd said.

Indeed, one of the major recurring themes is how Bush the younger has moved to repudiate much of his father’s term.

As she wrote in the introduction of Bushworld, “With each passing day of the Bush restoration, it became clearer that we were entering the primal territory of ancient myth in which the son must define himself by vanquishing the father. While W. loved his dad and was close to him, he wanted out of his shadow … From the start, W. and Karl Rove used Bush pere as a reverse playbook; if they avoided his father’s missteps with the right, they could keep their base happy.”

Later in the book, Dowd wrote, “It must be galling for Bush pere to hear conservatives braying that the son has to finish the job in Iraq that the father wimped out on. ... His proudest legacy, after all, was painstakingly stitching together a global coalition to stand up for the principal that one country cannot simply invade another without provocation Now the son may blow off the coalition so he can invade a country without provocation.” (This is from a column originally published months before the Iraq invasion)

“… But W. has spent a life running from his father’s long shadow, trying to usurp Daddy’s preppy moderate Republicanism with good ol’ boy conservative Republicanism,” Dowd wrote.

A major difference between Dowd’s book and many of the partisan anti-Bush screeds is her friendly relationship with the first President Bush, who was in power when Dowd had the White House beat for the Times.

In the phone interview Dowd started to say, “how much I love” the senior Bush, but corrected herself to say “like.”

The former president described his relationship with Dowd as “a love-hate” relationship.

She later said, “I don’t think in terms of love or like. I don’t want to have dinner with or be friends with the people I write about because I might have to come down on them hard in my next column.”

But she maintains a correspondence with Bush Sr. She said he sends her “comic, wacky screeds” about The New York Times.“He reads the Times very carefully,” Dowd said. She contrasted this with the current President Bush’s statements that he never reads the papers.

The elder Bush has never told Dowd how he feels about her contention that some actions by the current President amount to a repudiation of his father’s administration.

“I think there’s a WASPy compartmentalization there,” she said. “It’s not like a Eugene O’Neill play where they thrash it out at the end. The father tries to focus on how proud he is of his son, how proud he is that he and his son are the only father and son elected president since the Adamses.

“He doesn’t focus on his son’s statements like ‘We’re not going to cut and run’ in Iraq or that he’s the heir of Ronald Reagan. I think that would be too painful for (the elder Bush.)

“They’re very thinned skinned, but I can relate to that,” she said. “I am too.”
Like her role as a journalist, Bushworld, Dowd said, is not about taking a partisan position, but about “tweaking those in power.”

After all, back in the late ‘90s, some Bill Clinton partisans considered her an enemy for the harsh way her columns treated the president during the Monica Lewinsky scandal Some Democrats assumed she was a Republican mouthpiece, even though in reality, Dowd was even more harsh on special prosecutor Ken Starr.

Although they are harder to find in the book than her complaints about Bush, there also are also some shots fired at Democrats.

John Kerry, she wrote, “has a tendency toward striped-trouser smugness.” She mocks Kerry “when he puts on that barn jacket over his expensive suit to look less lockjaw -- and says things like `Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR’ …”

Talking in the interview about the Bush-Gore debates in 2000, she compared the Democratic candidate to “a waxy orange candle.”

Dowd has been criticized for questioning political leaders on what kind of movies, television shows and music they like. She said she’s interested in the interplay of “personality and power,” insisting that much information about a politician can be found in asking these questions.

In Bushworld, Kerry listed “40- 50” movies. “It was almost like he was trying to get the right answer,” Dowd said in the interview. “Kerry was trying a little too hard.”

While it was obvious that Bush wasn’t as attuned to cultural matters - he named baseball as his favorite “cultural experience,” Dowd found him to be more real and down-to-earth. “That’s a quality that people found charming in 2000.”

“Washington looks like Troy, in a bad way,” she said. “There’s barricades around all the monuments. It makes me sad, because I was raised in Washington, D.C. But it’s a perfect metaphor on how politics is today.”

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