Shrub, by the Texas journalists Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, was granddaddy to them all. Published in 1999, it stands even now as the template for the Bush critique. In his great essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the political scientist Richard Hofstadter remarked how political paranoids in early America–the anti-Masons, for example–were alarmed from decade to decade by the same chimera: They convinced themselves that they saw, operating just beneath the surface of the national life, “a libertine anti-Christian movement, given to the corruption of women, the cultivation of sensual pleasures, and the violation of property rights.” Now, of course, the paranoids are bewitched by the mirror image: In Bush and his followers they detect, in place of a libertine anti-Christian movement, an uptight pro-Christian movement, given to the “virtue” of women rather than their corruption, the denial of sensual pleasures instead of their cultivation, and–perhaps most shocking of all–the preservation of property rights rather than their violation. Times do change. The earlier American paranoids imagined their enemies in drunken orgies and were horrified; today they see them at prayer–and they’re still horrified.
Shrub bears all the marks of Texas progressivism. The carefully shaded accounts of Bush’s stint in the National Guard and of his failed career as a businessman–accounts that have been plundered and plagiarized by nearly every anti-Bush book since–jump with class resentment. The then-governor’s professions of religious faith are viewed with alarm and suggestions of primitivism. Dark, controlling forces move just offstage. Hidden agendas slither beneath the surface of the governor’s policy proposals. The contradictions of the standard Bush critique are fully ventilated, and never acknowledged. In Austin not long ago I mentioned to Lou Dubose, Shrub’s coauthor, that as admirable as the book is in many ways–it is a genuinely masterful polemic–a reader can never reconcile the contradictions in its portrait of Bush. Is he a dim bulb or a rascal–an ideological revolutionary or a go-along, get-along pol–a feckless rich kid or a cold-eyed manipulator? Dubose laughed. “Yes, to all of the above,” he said.
DUBOSE IS TOO SKILLED A REPORTER, and Ivins too high-spirited a polemicist, for Shrub to come off as unrelievedly dark. There’s even a grudging affection for its subject lurking in there somewhere; “He’s such an affable fellow,” the book concludes. “It’s not Bush hatred,” Dubose told me, smiling. “It’s more liberal condescension, which is a much finer quality.”
Indubitably. Ivins was also accused of plagiarizing fellow author Florence King and others.