I blame Foucault

Jenny Diski

  • Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species by Laura Flanders
    Verso, 342 pp, £10.00, July 2005, ISBN 1 84467 530 0

‘W. stands for women,’ cried Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Lynne Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes, Elaine Chao and Gale Ann Norton at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and in case the Good Ol’ Boy’s good old ladies didn’t get it, a banner explained: ‘The country and my administration have benefited from the strong women who serve as senior members of my White House team.’

‘Sometimes, we complicate policy and processes so much that busy women don’t have time to sift through it all and figure out how it really matters to their lives,’ the Republican communications director said in 2003. ‘We are always striving to find women to talk about our policies . . . Women have a way of being able to boil things down for other women in a way that they can understand.’ Busy boiling things in the kitchen, that would be. Of course, W stands for quite a lot: wanker, wastrel, wanton, woodentop, warmonger, witless and, if it’s the W in the middle of George Bush’s name, terrifying.

Laura Flanders’s book – first published in early 2004, now with an updated post-election foreword – comprises biographies of the major Bush women and their doings. The title page calls it ‘Tales of a Cynical Species’, probably only unintentionally suggesting that Bushwomen are not human beings. They are, at any rate, traitors who lend their gender to the enemy to befuddle their sisters. In some cases they serve a double cause: as African American, Chinese or Latino women they betray their ethnic origins as well. (The destitute in Louisiana must have been particularly moved by Condoleezza Rice hot-footing it down South to commiserate with her fellow women and African Americans only a week after their lives were reduced to rubble by Hurricane Katrina.) None of them can be called working class, but the words immigrant, minority and ordinary are regularly applied by themselves and their party to prove that social background and gender have not hampered them in their climb (hard work and determination is all you need) to cabinet office, so what are all the bleeding-heart liberals complaining about? The rise of Condoleezza Rice hardly signifies the existence of a harmonious society, and it wouldn’t even if she had been born into a shanty town of illiterates, but in any case it was partly thanks to affirmative action that Papa Rice was assistant dean at Denver University, where Condoleezza took her first and third degrees. And although she claims that her father had no interest in direct political action against the bombers and racists of Birmingham, Alabama, John Rice made a passionate speech to the campus in 1970 to commemorate the students killed at Kent State, calling them ‘young people who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and for the cause of eliminating useless war’. He went on: ‘As I look out at you, I know that you are the educators of tomorrow, that you are the capitalists of tomorrow, that you are the businessmen and the politicians of tomorrow. When tomorrow comes, will you be the perpetuators of war or of peace? . . . Or did your brothers and sisters at Kent and Jackson State die in vain?’

Condoleezza Rice had a schoolfriend who died in the Birmingham church bombed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963; she also has a cousin called Connie who was brought up in the segregationist South with the same family belief that children could educate themselves out of their circumstances. Both of them did just that, after which Condi Rice chose the board of Chevron oil, the invasion of Iraq and right-wing Republicanism; Connie Rice studied law, joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and has her own views on capitalism: ‘It’s not an invisible hand, it’s an invisible penis, and my clients always get screwed.’ That’s America for you: people can grow up with similar difficulties and come to completely different conclusions about their relationship with the world.

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