As happens every so often when you’re a blogger, last month I received a free copy of Jack Huberman’s new book, Bushit! An A-Z Guide to the Bush Attack on Truth, Justice, Equality and the American Way. Nation Books, the publisher, asked me to write a review. I’m happy to write that review, but Nation Books will probably not be happy about its content. A central problem with Bushit! is its two distinct missions, neither of which are well-executed.
Although Bushit clocks in with a hefty 439 pages, at its end I find myself unable to succinctly and fairly describe its purpose. What was this book written for? If I were to be completely literal, I’d simply parrot Huberman’s own introduction, which informs the reader that:
the aim, again, is to provide a user-friendly, frighteningly entertaining overview of the Bushevik revolution, covering, from A to Z, all the main bases of Bush baseness, duplicity, and all-around villany.
Two sentences later, we read a very different mission statement:
Hardliners among us liberals and lefties insist we have no credible peace partners. This book aspires to unite ‘red’ and ‘blue’ readers in a mutual understanding of Bushism as a bottomless well of wickedness; to win the hearts and minds of hard-hearted, bone-headed Bushits and at the same time fill gaps in the knowledge of even the most devoted and learned Bush-hater. For those who fall somewhere in between, or are just waking from a four-year nap, this may serve as the perfect, utterly fair and balanced primer.
In just one paragraph, we’ve taken a round trip through two distinct missions that frankly undermine each other. Mission 1 is to give those who already oppose Bush information and/or entertainment. Huberman’s idea of entertainment is to use the insulting lefty insider references to the “Busheviks,” the “Bushits,” the “Bushies,” the “Bushrovians” and “amBushing.” Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t find such cutesy turns of phrase to be entertaining; I find them to be grating, especially after I read “Bushies” for the hundredth time.
Alright, how about giving information to those who already oppose Bush but would like to be able to articulate their opposition in a snappier, more informed way? This is an admirable goal for a book, and there is certainly a lot of information in Bushit! The problem is that Huberman must offer “apologies to readers to whom some of my information will seem overly familar. This is not a work of journalism. I did no original research.” If there’s nothing new in Bushit! why read it? Huberman offers himself an out: “It’s basically an opinionated catalog distilled from various news and opinion sources.”
Alright, then: Bushit! is claimed as a catalog of points of information to use in an argument against the Bush agenda. There’s nothing wrong with that; we ourselves wrote 2004 Reasons to Boot Bush with the same goal in mind for the 2004 Elections. But Bushit! doesn’t make for a very well organized catalog. It is 430 pages long, and nobody but Huberman’s mother is going to read the entire 430 pages from front to back. A catalog of opposition information is a reference, to be referred to when need arises — for a statistic, a quote, a source on a particular issue for help in that argument with Aunt Mildred about abortion, or that ongoing feud with your neighbor about enterprise zones. A good reference has an index so that the reader can find exactly where in the 430 pages information about abortion or enterprise zones might be. But Bushit! has no index.
Worse than this, Bushit! inconsistently cites its sources. Most political arguments depend upon advocates being able to back up their claims when someone calls their bluff. A user of this catalog cannot back up Huberman’s claims half the time, because half the time there is no cited source for a claim. For instance, quotes from Naomi Klein’s essay regarding 2003 protests in Miami are given a citation in an endnote. But on the same page, Bushit! quotes former Attorney General John Ashcroft as saying “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists.” Do I have a source in which I can find the quote myself, or even a reference to a date or place for the quote? No. No citation. No date. No place. Such a lack of citation is all-too commonplace in Bushit!. In between complete citation and the complete lack of citation are a number of frustrating passages such as the following, passages that make a passing reference to a reference but don’t complete the job:
Since 9/11, wrote Michelle Goldberg in Salon, “protest in America has increasingly come to resemble that in countries such as Egypt, where demonstrations are allowed only in tightly controlled spaces and riot police rush in at the first hint of spontaneity or disorder.”
If I want to follow up on Huberman’s reference to Goldberg, if I want to read her justification of this assertion, where do I go? To a Salon article. Written sometime or other, during some year or another, maybe. Ech! If I want to turn this bon mot into a point I can cite in conversation, I have to do my own literature review first! Huberman’s not helping me here, and he’s also not helping himself. If he is being so sloppy with his citations, should I trust him to get his quotes, his claims, his statistics right? How do I know he’s not being sloppy there as well?
In short, Mission 1, providing a useful reference for anti-Bush activists, is a bust. But what about Mission 2?
Mission 2, “to win the hearts and minds of hard-hearted, bone-headed Bushits,” is lost on the same terms. While to a Bush opponent words like “Busheviks,” “Bushrovians,” and “Bushits” are annoying, to a person who has at any time been a Bush supporter such terms are personal affronts. According to the polls, 90% of the American population has at one time or another supported the presidential agenda of George W. Bush. Needlessly insulting 90% of the population with juvenile and substanceless terms is not a good idea if you want them to actually read your book, Mr. Huberman. There’s a place for such fun, but a book dedicated to convincing Bush supporters of their error is not that place.
In the unlikely event that a Bush supporter would keep reading past the first Chapter of Bushit!, she or he would run into the same issues facing the Bush opponent. No index. Few sources. Sloppy citation. Add in a few tongue-in-cheek references to “Mess-o-potamia” stolen from The Daily Show to distract, annoy and confuse, and I cannot imagine any Bush supporter taking Huberman’s book seriously, much less changing their mind. If anything, it might cement pro-Bush sentiment as an equal and opposite reaction to a poorly presented critique.
The two missions of Bushit! are important. Someone out there needs to execute those missions more competently.