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The complete idiot's guide to being president

or, Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

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Anyone who believes that it does not really matter who occupies the White House should be required to read Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose's latest, Bushwhacked. Ivins and Dubose's populist account of the devastating effects of Bush's short time in office will dispel even the most apathetic of voters of such an illusion.

Unlike their counterparts, Anne Coulter and Bill O'Reilly on the right, Ivins and Dubose are serious journalists with real credentials. They have worked as editors for the New York Times and the Texas Observer, as well as writing for such publications as The Nation, Harper's, and the Washington Post.

Bushwhacked is an important contribution to the current political debate. But unlike most political books, Bushwhacked is actually fun to read. The book isn't quite as comical as Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, but the language is extremely playful. Ivins and Dubose subtly mock their subject by peppering the book with "Texas-speak." The word "business" is often substituted with the less well-known, but no less correct (if you're from Texas) "bidness."

In spite of their sometimes playful approach, the authors are dead serious about their subject. The book includes numerous highlights of Bush's poor leadership and how these decisions affect ordinary Americans, including his administration's destruction of the economy and attack on workers' rights, and his deregulation of the EPA and food safety inspection. Some of Bush's scariest initiatives include energy policy, business "reform" faith-based social welfare, women's reproductive rights, the Justice Department's assault on civil liberties, and stacking the high courts with ultra-conservative judges.

Bush has screwed up so many things in just three years that it's hard to pick only one chapter of the book to highlight. Arguably, the biggest hit comes early on. Ivins and Dubose outline in detail how Bush's business model for education is destroying our public schools, all in an effort to gain support for vouchers.

Bush's plan for public education requires students to pass a rigid standardized test in order to graduate. Schools that are unable to get their students to pass this test are punished by having their funding revoked and handed over to private education companies, even if the school is already operating from an economically disadvantaged position.

The Bush administration assumes that running a school is like running a business: Pump money into a school and you get students who meet testing standards. If you don't get the results you want, put your money someplace else.

But standardized testing is only a small measure of a student's aptitude; it says nothing about a student's ability to solve problems or think critically.

Furthermore, many of the tests required by Bush's education reform are misdirected. For example, special education students must also be tested in order for a school to continue to receive funding. But under Bush's policy, special education students are tested for their age group rather than their mental capacity. And then, to add insult to injury, Bush's Department of Education has threatened to revoke funding to the poorest schools that did not allow students time to pray.

If you haven't already, Bushwhacked will really make you wonder if George W. Bush has done anything to improve the lives of the people he represents.

-- Eddie Kovsky

BOOK INFO

Bushwhacked

By Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose

(Random House: New York)

$24.95/hardcover

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