Reading Liberally: A Review of John Anderson's Follow the Money

In an election year, it's difficult to concentrate on anything but the future. And that makes sense: right now our focus should be on what Obama and McCain have to offer us. But we're also coming to the end of the eight-year stretch of the worst presidential administration in history and the damage that George W. Bush and cohorts have inflicted on this country is, unfortunately, all-too-relevant to our daily lives.

Which is why it's so interesting to read John Anderson's 2007 expose of the Bush administration Follow the Money: How George W. Bush and the Texas Republicans Hog-Tied America now, in GWB's twilight years. Anderson, born and raised in Texas, presents his painstakingly researched arguments with the narrative rigor of a historian and what emerges is a startling picture of the interconnected world of the Texas republicans. "Early on," Anderson writes in his acknowledgments, "I began by amassing voluminous files, both printed and electronic, labeled 'Delay' and 'Abramoff.' At a certain point in time, I realized just how overlapping their stories were. What I had before me, I realized, was a vast web of intrigue."

Web of intrigue, indeed. Anyone who, in the face of the new election, has begun to feel the sting of Bush's legacy fade would do well to read this book and remember how orchestrated, how purposeful and how incestuous the policies of this administration were.

And it isn't just that: Anderson also offers insight into the character of GWB and the men and women who surrounded him. There's the usual accounts of the president's insensitivity and stupidity: Bush, with his characteristic meth-cowboy tact, couldn't remember Alberto Gonzales' name and would refer to him as "Alfredo," plus an especially poignant anecdote of how W taunted Paul O'Neill for his reputation as an honest, straight-shooter (and also called him the "Big O," but juvenile nicknames seem to be par for the course when dealing with GWB). Other interesting character notes include an analysis of Karl Rove's fascination with William McKinley--another Gilded president whose success was the brainwork of a behind-the-scenes political mastermind.

Anderson is a writer with an interesting and complex view of the way politics work in our country. In promotion of his book last November, he participated in Firedoglake's Book Salon, where he shared a personal theory about the similarities between the Bush administration and the Soviet politburo that's more surprising because of its accuracy than offensiveness or wing-nuttery:

"I’m sure I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but, what the heck: This administration at the highest levels reminds me a lot of the old Soviet Union with its politburo. You’ve got a lot of incompetence, a lot of graft. And a gang of thieves perched at the top of the heap. The politburo includes the State President, and he’s a full-fledged member, but he’s a figurehead too and ranks no higher than third or fourth in the secret sessions where things really get decided; then there’s the head of the party, and that’s Cheney, and he’s the #1 actor; then the party ideologue, which is Rove; then the premier, who was DeLay, and who makes the legislative machine run; the defense minister, Our Rummy; and rounding out the crew, the foreign minister, Powell. After that there are a passel of Candidate Members, Condi and the like. Well, she’s a full member now; and Rummy, Powell and Boss Tom are toast. But I don’t think the mechanics of the thing have changed that much."

Follow the Money is an intriguing chronicle of how the Texas Republicans took over Washington and how things started to go horribly wrong. At the very least, it's the attempt of a sixth-generation Texan to take back his state from the Connecticut-born Yankee who took it over.