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2004-03-09

Bushwomen Pt II: Tales of a Cynical Species

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Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. For many years he has dealt extensively on the issue of Haitian refugees.

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Part II of our discussion with radio host Laura Flanders about her new book "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species" which tells the story of the women of President Bush’s inner circle: Condoleezza Rice, Elaine Chao, Christine Todd Whitman, Ann Veneman, Gale Ann Norton and Karen Hughes as well as Lynne Cheney and her lesbian romance novel. [includes transcript]

Radio Host Laura Flanders’ new book "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species" tells the story of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, Secretary of the Interior Gale Ann Norton and former White House counsel Karen Hughes.

Some interesting facts Laura Flanders reveals in "Bushwomen":

- National security advisor Condoleezza Rice is a board member of Chevron, which props up a corrupt Nigerian military government that suppresses Ogoni activists and killed the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Click here for Democracy Now!'s award-winning documentary "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship"__

- Secretary of the Interior, Gale Ann Norton, once fought to legalize marijuana and for equal rights of homosexuals.

- Karen Hughes, still one of the President’s closest advisors, says she would have loved to do public relations for the Exxon after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. Her father was the last U.S. Governor of the Panama Canal Zone.

- The government’s top workplace safety regulator Elaine Chao is married to a top mining-company campaign finance receiver–Kentucky Senator Mictch McConnell. Any conflict of interest?

- Administration "moderate" Christine Todd Whitman (former director of the EPA), has been close to the Bush family for years. She first worked with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in Richard Nixon’s government.

- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first permit for a genetically modified food, and then joined the board of the company that received the permit.

- In 1981, Lynne Cheney, the Vice-President’s wife, published a steamy novel celebrating free love and lesbian romance. It’s called "Sisters."

  • * Laura Flanders*, host of "Your Call" heard on KALW-FM in San Francisco, and on the Internet, and author of the new book "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species" (Verso). She is also the author of "Real Majority, Media Minority; the Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, Laura Flanders, author of "Bush Women: Tales of a Cynical Species," part two of our radio interview. Welcome.

LAURA FLANDERS: Good to be back, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us to really go through the women of the Bush administration. Laura Flanders, for those of you who don’t know, is host of "Your Call" heard on KLW-FM in San Francisco, and on the internet as well, author of "Bushwomen." Well, why don’t you tell us the intriguing stories that you dug up as you profiled the women of the Bush administration.

LAURA FLANDERS: There is no end to them, really. But listening to the coverage from Haiti, what I’m so struck by is that this administration engaged in some very sinister operations. What we’re seeing in the public eye and seeing from the get-go is this kind of multi-culti-façade that leads people to think this isn’t a sinister right wing cabal running the country;, there are women there and people of color. You might remember after the inauguration, the naming of Anne Veneman to head up the Agriculture Department, of Gale Norton to head up Interior, of Elaine Chao to Labor and so forth. The media went crazy. The Washington Post said the face of the Republican party had been changed. Suddenly a cabinet that looks like America. It looks a little like America. But it is deep in its political history. Funny enough, the mainstream media when they see people of women of color tend not to dig deep into the political past. What we get instead are their personal stories.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you suggesting that people look rather than listen at Bush women?

LAURA FLANDERS: I think there is a manipulation of stereotypes. Look at Elaine Chao, a woman who came to this country at age 8 from Taiwan, not speaking a word of English. That much we’ve heard. She rose to the high ranks of power in the United States as if anybody and everybody could do that. And this was an argument she used when she was a member of the Independent Women’s Forum in the 1990’s campaigning against Affirmative Action. She was, you know, your classic model minority character who suggested if I can do it, everyone can do it. But there is a little bit more to her history that we need to know.

Her family is very well-connected. Her father is a shipper with personal ties to Jiang Zemin of China. His trade grew as Henry Kissinger brought down the barriers between the United States and China. And she attended Mount Holyoke, the Ivy League college. She grew up in a leafy queens suburb of New York where she describes helping her father pave the horseshoe driveway. She had to petition him, please, to let her have a summer job. She studied a golf course. She took golf at Mount Holyoke. Good for her. I spoke to somebody who took the class with her. Fair enough, but don’t tell us a part of your personal story and let that suggest that you have some insight into, you know, the poor immigrant populations in this country. She has insight, but I don’t think it’s quite what most people suspect. You push the button and the stereotype plays in people’s mind, Chinese immigrant. They think sweat shops and Chinese takeout stores. It is a little different. She is now married to one of the most powerful people in the administration, in the Republican party, Mitch McConnell.

The conflicts of interest, I think, are rank. She is the head of the Mine Safety Administration, part of the Labor Department, that is supposed to watch out for miners and make sure that mines are safe and we remember the horrible disaster with the miners caught underground in Pennsylvania, a non-union mine working illegally. Her husband is the Kentucky senator, receives a lot of money from mining corporations. Is there a conflict of interest there? That is the kind of story I want reporters to look at. Not just how great it was that she learnt English so fast and rose so far.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Karen Hughes?

LAURA FLANDERS: What about Karen Hughes?

AMY GOODMAN: The position she plays today.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, now she is back as an official spokesperson for the administration, for George W. Bush. And she’s been out there responding to the families of 9-11 who were offended and hurt to the quick by the manipulation of images from the tragedy of 9-11 in the very first campaign ad. She had the gall, I think, to take to the television and suggest that these were not really people with credibility. These were not really people with standing. I think it is easier for her to do that than it would be for Dick Cheney to do that, for George Bush himself to do that. She’s played this role from the beginning.

When the Bush campaign of 1994, going back to the Governorship of Texas, needed to go up against Anne Richards, one of the most popular Democratic Governors of the day, a rising star in the Democratic party, they needed a woman to go up against Anne Richards who had won a lot of the women’s vote, even the Republican women’s vote, and Karen Hughes was there. She was put in a position of the Chair of the Republican party. She, every day, mobilized Republicans to snipe at every action that Anne Richards took. She and Karl Rove pioneered in 94 a kind of campaigning where George Bush would say the same thing every single day on the campaign trail and we saw that again in 2000. She would stand at the back of hall and literally cut off the press conferences when she thought they were getting too close to the bone.

She supports an administration that is aggressively anti-Affirmative Action, that is aggressively for rolling back protections for women and people of color in the workplace. But I suggest that she first got her first job in 1977, in part, thanks to the National Organization for Women. That was the year that the networks were under pressure to enforce Affirmative Action mandates, the federal government had mandated them to do as they were told. They had been in violation, they’d been sued under the Equal Employment Opportunity laws of the 1970’s. She had the women’s movement, the law, the federal government at her back when she walked in the door at channel 5, an NBC affiliate in Dallas and was looking for a job. The best every year for women and people of color to get a job in the networks. Most of the people who got a job then, Judy Woodruff, Barbara Walters are still the people you see on TV today. The cynicism is these women advanced thanks to laws they are now trying to repeal and that is where they need to be called to account.

AMY GOODMAN: Very interesting, her family history and the role of her father in U.S. history.

LAURA FLANDERS: She grew up — and we heard that she was an army brat. Not quite, again, the story that you imagine of being dragged from place to place. Sure enough she did stay a lot of time in different bases. But her father was one of the top people in the Panama Canal Zone, ultimately the last Governor. And he was the man whose job it became to pull down the U.S. Flag.

And as you recall or have read, you’re so young, the 1970’s fight, the Panama Canal was the fight in the Republican party, the issue against which Republicans campaigned against Jimmy Carter, that he was going to sign a pact that would ultimately hand over power of the canal to the Panamanian people. That was the dividing line political issue in that election. Her father was deeply involved in the sense that he was the man who ultimately had to pull down that flag, a sign of tremendous ignominy. She spent many years in the Panama Canal Zone, a very segregated place. I think she takes these issues of American empire very personally.

AMY GOODMAN: You also say Karen Hughes says she would have loved to do PR for Exxon after the Exxon Valdez.

LAURA FLANDERS: I found that quote. I thought it was worth repeating. She’s a PR person. She sees it as war. She says I look at PR as a war game. And she was asked, you know, are there any PR campaigns you wish you had in your contract. She said she would have liked to have represented Exxon after the Exxon Valdez spill. So, I think she found the right job.

AMY GOODMAN: I wonder if at any point she feels like she is in that situation again.

LAURA FLANDERS: Well, she might and she’s probably enjoying every minute of it. She is brilliant at what she does. The women in the book, some of them, I came away with more respect than others. Karen Hughes is brilliant at what she does and she helped to elect this President as no other individual and while I think Karl Rove deserves a lot of credit, too, Karen Hughes really pioneered during the election campaign the with us or against us motif that you were either on our side or the side of the enemy.

In the 1999-2000 race, the enemy were reporters who asked tough questions, were reporters who raised questions of the candidates drunk driving convictions, the candidates absent without leave, it seems, not turning up for the National Guard duty he was supposed to turn up for, who raised those questions you were off the buss. So in so doing, she created a very comfortable situation for the candidate. If all of those who will ask difficult questions are banished, then the environment, the climate on the bus can be warm and friendly and collegial as every journalist who was there describes it. Bush had this relaxed, very friendly relationship with journalists. Why? Because his pitbull, Karen Hughes, was at the door keeping anyone who would cause trouble out.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Laura Flanders, and Laura is the radio host of "Your Call" on KLW in San Francisco. She has written a new book called "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species" and last night you launched the book in New York at a raucous, rowdy theater production of parts of the book in which — well, the beginning was a reading by Condoleezza Rice. And was played by Jill Nelson. TalkINg about her father. And then having the speech, one of the speeches of actually Condoleezza Rice’s father. Talk about.

LAURA FLANDERS: It’s quite chilling to go back and listen to these speeches. Jill did a fantastic job in her twin set and pearls and wigs and stockings and the comfortable shoes, the whole nine yards. Thank you, Jill. Charles Turner, who recently played King Lear at Yale, he came forward and read an account of a demonstration on the campus of Denver University in 1971, May, a year after the police killings of anti-war activists at Kent State and civil rights activists at Jackson state.

The account is chilling, too, because you hear Condoleezza describe her father as the first Republican she ever knew and talked about her family to explain why she joined this party that stands for peace and security and all good things. He participated in a rally where he looked out to the crowd and he said I look at you, you are the capitalists of tomorrow, you are the politics of tomorrow, I ask you, will you be the perpetrators of war or of peace? Are you going to be the agents of a long and lasting change that brings — that makes this country an agent of war or of peace or did your brothers and sisters at Kent state and Jackson state die in vain? Chilling because Condoleezza Rice has become all those things. A politician, a businesswoman, she was on the board of Chevron, an educator, she was the provost at Stanford and now a person with tremendous political power. Has she been an agent of war and of peace?

I answered that question, or tried to, by talking to the women of Nigeria from the Niger delta, who, throughout the 1990’s, were petitioning the shareholders of Chevron to review their relationship, at the very least, with the dictatorship, who were on the receiving end of the devastation of the environment of their neighborhoods by the oil companies, Chevron, Shell, and the rest, who ultimately saw their own community members shut down by agents of the state working for the corporations. Shareholders petitioned the board throughout the 1990’s. There were those shareholder initiatives. And throughout the 1990’s, while Condoleezza Rice sat on the social policy committee of Chevron, there are only six people on the committee, she would turn away those resolutions, we won’t even consider them, we won’t put them forward for consideration by the full board because corporations do not pick and choose which countries they deal with. We’re bringing development to those countries in the long run. That is her view. She is entitled to it. But the public is entitled to know that about her history. Particularly when she presents herself as a kind of civil rights paragon.

AMY GOODMAN: Folks actually can go to our website at democracynow.org and link to the documentary that Jeremy Scahill and I did on the killing in Nigeria that Chevron was involved with, this ordering of the directorship of Condoleezza Rice on the board of Chevron. It’s called "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship" at democracynow.org. She also had an oil tanker named after her.

LAURA FLANDERS: Yeah, the Condoleezza Rice. And the reason this is important is that when Dick Cheney takes to the television screen, at this point, he reads visually as oil man. People can almost see the contracts in Iraq sprouting out of his head. You see Halliburton. He can’t go anywhere in the country without alarms sounding, reporters covering his presence. Condoleezza Rice takes to the television and addresses the people and says, as she did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, this is the civil rights issue of our day to bring democracy to the people of the Iraqi nation, and she reads in a whole different way. And I suggest that part is stereotype, that we still live in a stereotype country and media and we don’t imagine that she is really oil man. But it’s also the failure of the media, I think, to fill out the picture beyond what she’s cared to share.

AMY GOODMAN: Christine Todd Whitman, no longer with the EPA, head of the EPA.

LAURA FLANDERS: As you remember, when she was appointed, that was the sign that the administration was open to liberal views. Why liberal? Because she was prochoice. We have a media in this country that defines liberalism or conservativism on social issues, not on financial issues, not on economics. If you look at her economic record, in the state of New Jersey, where she’d been Governor before she joined this administration, her record was second to none when it came to slashing taxes. She was the darling of the Republican convention in 1994 because she had been the first to make the promise that she would cut taxes and carry through — in 1996, I’m sorry. She came to power making a promise to slash taxes in a way that no Governor ever had. She was able to do it.

That’s what got her the support of the Republican party and she co-chaired that convention, as you may remember, with another popular up and coming Republican Governor George W. Bush and at that convention, she helped to silence the voices of pro-choice Republicans who wanted to say there was room in the party for pro-choicers, too. She, even on the issue that she became famous as a progressive, as a liberal, as a social moderate, even on that issue, she wouldn’t stand up.

This is a woman whose history on the environment, you’ll hear about. Yes, she granted a billion dollar bond issue to protect open space in New Jersey. You’ll hear about that. But those are the green open space issues. When it comes to the brown issues of the inner city and watch-dogging corporations and how they affect neighborhoods and pollute communities, she opened the door to corporations. She established an ombudsman specifically for the business community, to help them, as she put it, navigate the state’s environmental protection laws, even as she cut the budget for the public’s ombudsman.

AMY GOODMAN: And the cover-up of the 9-1-1 and the environment, right here —

LAURA FLANDERS: Exactly. That is a story that Juan Gonzalez, your co-host, has covered extensively and good for him. She came out — really the very same day of 9-11 and was saying we believe the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink. Two days later, came to the city, confirmed that view. Very re-assuring and luckily, just luck would have it, sent a message to the Wall street stockbrokers that Wall street was safe to open. It wasn’t safe. Talk to anybody at the EPA. They have protocols that in a standard situation would have required the whole neighborhood to be evacuated until they could ascertain whether it was actually safe for humans to be here. That wasn’t possible. You couldn’t keep Wall street shut for any longer than it had been shut. The economy was facing a serious crisis.

Her coming forward and saying it is safe, when her scientists were saying we don’t know that, how could anybody know that? We’ve never been in a situation like this before, at least say we don’t know. At least say we can’t assure you of anything. No. She came forth. She said it’s safe. She played a political role. Now she will say yes, the White House played a role in that. But she has now left the administration. She still has nothing bad to say about how they undertook their environmental policy except for perhaps they didn’t attend to appearances in the way they should.

AMY GOODMAN: Of course, the memo came out from the White House that was suppressing the information and ordering the EPA to do that. We’re going to end with — I want to get everyone in here.

LAURA FLANDERS: Read the book. Read the book.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that will be a tease for people to actually read "Bushwomen" because it is not only about these women. It is a way that you have illustrated the whole Bush administration. But last night, you did a reading of — or the actor there, did a reading of Lynne Cheney’s book "Sisters." Can you talk about this? Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president.

LAURA FLANDERS: The Lynne Cheney players are taking to the stage and I think they will be coming to the conventions. They did an extraordinary job, Maggie Moore, Lois Weaver.

People may remember, after 9-11, somebody was drawing up a list of who was patriotic and who wasn’t; it was the American Association of Alumna, a group founded by Lynne Cheney, keeping with her history as a culture warrior, since the 1990’s, when she headed up the National Endowment for the Humanities. She has been the moral arbiter of who receives government funding and who is accepted politically correct, politically incorrect and part of the campaign to belittle political correctness and complain that feminists were taking over campuses and that people of color were destroying the cannon. How did she get this standing of culture warrior and arbiter of morality in the United States? On the basis that she was a published author.

We went to look at what she had actually published; it turns out, at the time she was appointed to the N.E.H., she published two novels. One "Executive Privilege," a not very good suspense novel set in Washington. The second was this book "Sisters" that came out in 1981 in kind of Gothic paperback, Signet classic. I found a copy after much searching and it is a romance set in late 19th century Wyoming that looks at, you know, the close relationships between women and there are women in the book that articulate, you know, why are our relationships not taken seriously, that talk about the passion they have for one another.

The other more interesting character is really the Lynne Cheney character in the book. The protagonist has run away from the church school, run away from the convent to go and join the musical theater and she travels the country with a musical theater troupe led by a charismatic woman who is a big advocate of free love and who takes her aside and says you are very beautiful. You are going to have a lot of relationships with men, but don’t be caught by men, don’t be trapped by them. This is how you can avoid being trapped and she presents her with a laquered box filled with condoms, basically and other preventive devices. And there is a strong message in the book that women can enjoy sex without getting pregnant and having children if they can have the protection that comes with contraception.

That is the Lynne Cheney position in 1981. Now she is part of an administration that is denying condoms to people who need them for HIV prevention in countries all around the world. She is part of an administration that is making the argument — the opposite argument for what her character Sophie made in 1981. She may want to come forward and say I’ve completely changed my views, but don’t just drop this book off your official White House biography as you have done. Don’t pretend you didn’t once hold those views and explain how you’ve changed those views. If you were then an advocate of free love and of condoms and if you understood the importance — and her novel is not beautifully written —- but the message is pretty clear that condoms can liberate women from this sort of war of the sexes as she describes it, it’s -—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s also a steamy lesbian love novel.

LAURA FLANDERS: It is hysterical. It is hysterical, it is silly. She says no more than 50 people ever read it. It is worth reading to realize these people who now cough themselves up as having this strong moral compass right v left — right v wrong and right v left, perhaps, have a far more checkered past.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s not just that does she — is she painted with the same brush as the administration. She herself is one of the leading conservatives. When you have someone, she recommends the right wing of the Republican party.

LAURA FLANDERS: The two wives perform that function. Lynne Cheney represents the right. She is the culture warrior for the hawks. Laura Bush represents the social moderates and they send her on the campaign trail to woo the social moderate voters in this election.

AMY GOODMAN: I was fascinated to read about George Bush Sr. in your book and Barbara and their view on abortion before they were against it.

LAURA FLANDERS: When he was a congressman, he was called rubbers. He was in favor of government distribution of contraception. She was a big funder of planned parenthood. The point here is that these people are cynical, hypocrites after power. They will change their position for political reasons. And their policies are driven by interests in profit, in self-advancement, not necessarily the good of the country. In many cases they have completely switched their views, when it comes to what serves the public interest, and that is one good example. When he was up against Ronald Reagan in the presidential campaign of 1980, he needed to be as right wing as Reagan was, and he abandoned pro-choice Republican women who had brought him to that point in the campaign and they’re still steaming over that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laura Flanders, I wish we could go on, but we have to break and go on to Vanessa Redgrave who is in town in the United States to deal with the issue of detainees in Guantanamo. Laura Flanders’ book is "Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species." It is a fascinating book and she may be coming to a city near you. You’re embarking on —

LAURA FLANDERS: In San Francisco, we’ll do a similar theater event. If you are in San Francisco March 18 at the Bravea theater.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Los Angeles and other places. You can check her website at LauraFlanders.com. Thank you very much for joining us. It is great being your neighbor on the other side of ground zero. For folks listening to the coughing in the background, that’s Sharif. I don’t know that it’s any accident that Sharif lives closest to ground zero. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Vanessa Redgrave. Thank you, Laura.

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