Book Review By Mark Crispin Miller W.W. Norton, $15.95 We"re all over-punditized these days. The proliferation of talking heads throughout the media serves not so much to enlighten as numb us to what"s right before our eyes. It"s refreshing then, if not downright imperative, to get a book on our political leadership - not from yet another member of the chattering class, but from a humanities scholar whose stock-in-trade is critical thinking.
Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University, is best-known for his brilliant collection of essays on television, Boxed In. Being a kind of media watchdog, Miller was naturally attracted to the sequence of events beginning in November 2000 that led to the Supreme Court selection of George W. Bush as president of the United States. The more Miller watched what was going on, the more stunned he became by the unprecedented nature of these events - and by how uncritically the news media chose to deal with them. Miller, in turn, became outraged - an outrage he does little to hide in this book. The Bush Dyslexicon is a cry from the heart from a critical thinker who has watched our president closely and found him not just wanting, but dangerous. "Look out!" Crispin seems to yell on almost every page. His book isn"t another in the series of jokey collections of Bush bloopers. Miller, through close analysis of Bush"s public statements going back to his days as governor of Texas, argues that our president is not the simple, aw-shucks straight-shooter his image makers have concocted, but a mean-spirited, vindictive and mentally challenged man who can barely keep a complete thought in his head. One consequence of this condition is that, when required to speak spontaneously, Bush frequently mis-speaks. The media treats these gaffes as bloopers. But Miller shows that they happen so frequently and in such patterns that these statements actually reveal alarming truths about what Bush really thinks about things. For example, when asked on Dec. 21 to characterize his year in 2001, Bush replied, "But all in all, it"s been a fabulous year for Laura and me." Smoke, of course, was still rising over southern Manhattan at the time. Miller attempts to show that Bush, rather than a populist, is a plutocrat, whose election was rigged and whose persona is the creation of an angry, fundamentalist faction in the Republican Party - the same group that succeeded in making Bill Clinton"s life miserable for eight years. Miller also points to how the corporate media has chosen to allow Bush his missteps and scandals. Where they dogged Clinton for eight years over Whitewater, a $375,000 land deal that took place 10 years before Clinton was president, the media has been remarkably docile over Bush"s ties to Enron and Ken Lay - a scandal involving billions of dollars and thousands of lost jobs. At times shrill and disappointingly partisan throughout, Miller has nevertheless compiled a deeply disturbing dossier on "the president-select." Bush"s words are more than enough to suggest the depth of our national predicament.