Since women tend to vote slightly more to the left, they've been eagerly courted by President George W. Bush, who famously declared in 2000 that the "W" stood for "women." Two recent books, Laura Flanders' Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species and The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, a compendium of essays edited by Flanders, examine the women that Bush placed high in his administration, and what effect that administration's policies have had on lives of millions of women beyond the Beltway.
In Bushwomen, Flanders tells the stories of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice; communications guru Karen Hughes; Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman; Department of Labor head Elaine Chao; former EPA Secretary Christine Todd Whitman; and Gale Ann Norton at Interior.
Throughout Flanders' well-researched book, those already ill-disposed toward the current administration will be rewarded with plenty of alarming policies and actions that didn't make Headline News. Interior Secretary Norton's rise to power, for instance, is the stuff of liberal environmentalist nightmares. Heavily funded by concerned corporate interests including mining and big agriculture, Norton spent nearly three decades waging legal battles against environmental law and public land guarantees before Bush appointed her to uphold the very laws she made a career trying to dismantle.
This is meaty if wonky stuff and holds up better than Flanders' rather thin gender-based arguments. Flanders is dismayed that these women, having achieved what they have on the backs of other women's struggles (and policies such as affirmative action, which most Bushies eagerly discredit), don't feel obligated to ensure such opportunities continue to improve for all women. But surely it's folly to expect such focused policy-makers to be anything but self-serving (and by extension, narrowly constituent-serving).
Bushwomen fares better when explicating the disingenuous way Bush showcases these women in hopes that female voters will extrapolate that he cares about their concerns, which according to The W Effect he does not. On the down side, this collection bears signs of hasty assembly, and as a whole lacks a specific focus. Many articles, while valid, are generalized complaints (Wal-Mart, single motherhood), or concern situations not directly related to Bush's actions or policies.
The most illuminating and on-point pieces concern the Bush administration's direct involvement in global reproductive politics (which also garnered the Bushies some curious fundamentalist bedfellows from regimes we're professing to "liberate" from such anti-woman attitudes); such policies' successful implementation abroad bodes ill for the domestic front. Meanwhile, lost in the steady noise of the war on terror are the inspirational stories, related here, of four New Jersey World Trade Center widows who forced the administration not only to conduct investigations into the cause of 9/11, but to conduct them publicly -- and of angry librarians (stereotyped as mousy women) who numbered among those daring to challenge the Patriot Act.
It's easy to be annoyed at the hypocrisy the Bushwomen blithely employ -- trumpeting "traditional family values" as code for rolling back feminism at the same time they themselves are deeply ambitious and powerful women -- and it's depressing that the struggles for equality have bred such twisted, self-deluded spokesmodels.
But realistically, one must accept that as more women successfully wrest opportunity, some of those winning women will be self-serving neo-cons. But when Bush points to these Bushwomen as a substitute for substantial policies that might benefit all women, we should note his artifice; their gender and their histories are not proof he cares. And when his power gals smile back, they're helping him get away with the scam.