Men Without Qualities

Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an
American President, by J.H. Hatfield, Soft Skull Press,
2000;

Dick: The Man Who Is President, by John
Nichols, New Press, 2004;

Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election
& Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too, by Mark Crispin
Miller, Basic Books, 2005.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter These three books have
several things in common. For one thing, they are all well written,
though J.H. Hatfield’s prose is chattier and less elegant than John
Nichols’s or Mark Crispin Miller’s. All three deliver a lot of
information that concerned citizens should find very useful. And
each in its own way demonstrates a new kind of censorship — one
that seeks to suppress inconvenient information by ignoring it
rather than confronting it directly. This last notion reveals a
fair amount of cowardice on the part of the American intellectual
establishment. How can we have an informed debate if we don’t know
what the main propositions are?

The case of Hatfield’s Fortunate Son shows that the
Bush secret service was already in full operation before the
Supreme Court appointed him president. The craven submission of St.
Martin’s Press, the confiscation of the original edition, the
last-minute save by Soft Skull Press, and the slander campaign
against Hatfield that culminated in his lonely death in a motel
room (perhaps he killed himself; perhaps he had help) — these are
what we know about the book, if we know anything at all. Few
journals of opinion and comment paid any attention to the book.

Hatfield interviewed hundreds of people for Fortunate
Son
. He researched exhaustively every known fact about George
W. Bush and his family. He crosschecked every controversial
statement. The picture that emerges of what Garrison Keillor calls
“the Current Occupant” is of a well-born loser who wouldn’t have
succeeded in anything without the intervention of his family’s
friends and hirelings. Dubya is, in Robert Musil’s phrase, “the man
without qualities.” Or, as the prez himself put it, “I’m more or
less a media creation. I’ve never really done anything.” As
Hatfield tells it, W’s story is exactly that of an 18th-century
nobleman’s son, who spends his youth dodging all responsibility,
drinking and jumping from scrape to scrape, and then, when he
succeeds to the title, becomes an object of veneration. If people
had been able to read this biography before the 2000 election, it
might not have been close enough for the Right to steal.

Nichols’s Dick makes a convincing argument that the
United States is being governed by Vice President Richard Cheney.
The preference for cheating over playing by the rules, the
obsession with secrecy, the gathering of all power into the hands
of a “unitary executive” — these are all earmarks, as Nichols
shows, of Cheney’s career. As a portrait of the architect of our
present disaster, Nichols’s book is mesmerizing in its insight:
“Cheney did not rise on the basis of his competence, as the
official spin would have it. His career has been characterized by
dashed hopes, damaging missteps, and dubious achievements. No, it
was not competence; rather, Cheney has climbed the ladder of
success because of his willingness, proven again and again, to
sacrifice principle and the public good in the service of his own
ambition and of those who might advance it.”

Miller’s Fooled Again is the final piece in the puzzle
of how we got into this mess. It is an elegant detective novel, an
agonizingly detailed and brilliant reconstruction of a great crime.
Miller concentrates on the most egregious theater of election theft
in 2004, the State of Ohio, and the violations he reveals, the
felonious dirty tricks, the role played by partisan government
officials, add up to an appalling story almost too painful to think
about. Yet we must. We only learn by reading, not by watching
television, and these three books make a great tripod on which to
base our future actions.

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