BOOK REVIEW:

Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush

Review by J. Russell Tyldesley

Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush
by Jim Hightower. Viking, 2004.

I’d have to recommend Let’s Stop Beating Around the Bush as a therapeutic read for progressives who may be feeling a little down in the mouth after the November 2nd surprise. The book is aptly titled, for Mr. Hightower knows how to call a spade a spade (or a crook a crook, as the case may be). But the best part about the book is the cleverness of the writing style and the biting sense of humor lathered with much irony and sarcasm. However, it is never delivered in a sour or unsportsmanlike manner--it is really just good fun and quite pleasurable for the reader to imagine how the targets of this report card must be squirming (albeit they may not really get it).

Barring a miracle in Ohio (also known as a fair vote recount), we are back in jail again for another four years. If the jailers allow you one book to take with you--this may be the one.

The book is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp over much familiar Bush-country. It does, however, contain some new revelations and connects a few more dots about fresh areas of insanity being tested by this administration. Considering that this was written before the election, it is, perhaps, milder than it could have been, given the new insults to our intelligence delivered every day by this newly invigorated group at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. who are so obviously enjoying their hostile takeover of the White House. These grinches are, no doubt, even now rubbing their hands together contemplating how much further they can push an agenda so inimical to the people’s interests. Barring a miracle in Ohio (also known as a fair vote recount), we are back in jail again for another four years. If the jailers allow you one book to take with you--this may be the one.

Jim Hightower’s writing has the potential to metaphorically, at least, free our minds for a few hours from the insane reality of the current political landscape, which is beginning to look more and more like the four walls of the county lockup. The contents are not comprehensive--God knows, there is much more terrain to cover in exploring the detritus of a “bushwhacked” America. But the areas he concentrates on are important ones and reflect the emphasis on many of the continuing sagas of greed and perfidy he has covered in his monthly newsletters over the past several years.

Hightower describes succinctly how NAFTA, WTO and the rest of our trade protocols have not only not lived up to their promise, but have left all participants worse off.

The chapter on the food industry is one I found particularly compelling. Hightower has extensive experience in agriculture, having been raised on a real farm and having spent a few years as Secretary of Agriculture in Texas. His commentary on the sorry state of our national food supply has the ring of authenticity from someone who has lived it. He has “walked the walk,” unlike our President who “talks the talk” (to the extent he can verbalize anything). The rancher from Crawford isn’t a real rancher--even his hat is wrong, as Hightower comically observes--but guess what? There aren’t any ranchers in Crawford or anywhere nearby; it’s a farming area. Bush can’t tell the difference, apparently, but it does make acceptable photo-ops when needed to show the real person inside.

Hightower fingers the corporate rogues' gallery in charge of managing agribusiness and he gets into the politics of food and how we push a food export policy that drives down world prices and has the effect of driving out the few family farms remaining--not only here but in many third world countries. He touches on the growth of GMO crops that have tainted as much as one third of all our crops inadvertently (we think it was inadvertent...), and he describes succinctly how NAFTA, WTO and the rest of our trade protocols have not only not lived up to their promise, but have left all participants worse off.

There is a chapter on the economy and one on the environment--read them and weep. After he's warmed up, Hightower gets into the Homeland Security boondoggle and begins to liven things up a bit. He writes several chapter introductions in letter form, as if he is arguing in favor of administration policies, and mocks, with indignant rectitude, any liberal goof-offs who would be stupid enough not to see the genius of, for instance, proscribing certain civil rights in order to keep our democracy safe. Why would anyone reject the intrusions of the USA Patriot Act if they have nothing to hide? These perorations are quite entertaining, but have the serious intent, of course, of exposing the simple-minded idiocy of Bush policies--well, it works for me. One comes away from each chapter feeling like: gee, I wish I could have said it like that.

Only the CEOs are likely to survive in this brave new world of rugged individualism, buttressed by cleverly greased corporate welfare.

In truth, Hightower speaks for all of us. He is the keeper of common sense and plain speaking. There appears to be no hint of an agenda other than to be the conscience of progressive America. He is also apt to be on the frontlines--he is no armchair pundit. In his chapter on dissent, he describes how Bush’s definition of free speech is a lot different from yours and mine. During the FTAA protests in Miami, Mr. Hightower was able to obtain personal experience in the workings of a highly disciplined police state. The free speech zones get narrower as we sink deeper into “fortress America.”

Another chapter on the commercialization and privatization of everything sacred gets him into areas such as education, health care, National Parks, Veterans' benefits, libraries and even our water supply. Only the CEOs are likely to survive in this brave new world of rugged individualism, buttressed by cleverly greased corporate welfare.

Some of Hightower’s populist rhetoric and local colloquialisms may sound corny or like rank hyperbole at times; but, actually, I find it to be refreshing and spot-on (to use his expression) in every issue he tackles. It is scary to think that he is right about what is happening to our country, but he does end with optimism and a long list of websites and organizations that are out there every day fighting the good fight. Thank goodness for a Jim Hightower who has the audacity and the clear thinking to effectively delimit the absurdity of Bush’s Universe.


J. Russell Tyldesley, an insurance executive from Catonsville, Md., frequently contributes to the Chronicle.


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This story was published on December 28, 2004.