W stands for window dressing.

Author:DiNovella, Elizabeth
Position:Books - Book Review

Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species by Laura Flanders Verso. 342 pages. $22.00.

Looking for a fun summer read? Consider Laura Flanders's latest book, Bushwomen. Flanders takes a close look at the women in George W. Bush's inner circle. Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Ann Veneman, Elaine Chao, Christine Todd Whitman, and Gale Norton fall under Flanders's scrutiny, as do Lynne Cheney and Laura Bush. Flanders outs these women as "an extremist Administration's female front." And Flanders proves that these representatives of the "cynical species" have been instrumental in rolling back protections that help women.

She defines a Bushwoman as a female who is invaluable to the President yet underscrutinized by the press. She makes a solid case. Bush packed his Administration with darlings of the ultra-right but simultaneously pushed these women front and center.

Condoleezza Rice is a prime example. The press has made much of her growing up during the civil rights movement era, her Birmingham roots, and her friendship with one of the four girls murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. "With Condoleezza Rice's story, the Republicans hit the rhetorical jackpot," writes Flanders.

Rice is skilled at mining her own story for nuggets that resonate with GOP audiences. She bragged during the 2000 Republican National Convention that her father was the first Republican that she knew. But Flanders points out that John Rice was not "the sort of Republican that party faithful might imagine on hearing his daughter's words." He was friends with Ralph Abernathy, raised funds for Martin Luther King Jr., and "took up a shotgun and patrolled the neighborhood with local men" after nearby bomb attacks in Birmingham. He also was the first Head Start administrator in Birmingham. Rice did not mention those details in her speech.

No matter. "Personal biography is gold in the political economy," writes Flanders, and "any carefully selected detail can be deployed for broad political effect."

Flanders chronicles Rice's spell at Stanford, her stint at the Hoover Institution, her time at the Pentagon in 1986, under a fellowship from the Council of Foreign Relations, and her term on Chevron's board of directors. Her service at Chevron, a company accused of human rights abuses in Africa, demonstrates the chasm between Rice's civil rights talk and her actions.

During the 1990s, Chevron had extensive oil holdings in Nigeria, a country under military dictatorship. While Rice...

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