Bushwomen: tales of a cynical species by Laura Flanders

Iron ladies with all the right moves
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The Independent Culture

The cover is smart, edgy, goading. The title, Bushwomen, is audacious. On a blue background, framed inside bright red stars, are the floating heads of the top women in the US Republican firmament. The glittering luminaries scowl, stare, ponder, smirk, smile, show off dazzling, expensive teeth. Like the first sips of sparkling water, ice and lemon, the text begins cool and sharp. "George Bush might never have snagged the White House if one woman had been laughed at less: Katherine Harris, Secretary of State of Florida. No one did more, more carefully, to use the power of her public office to steal the presidency for her candidate; no one was made more fun of in the media."

There is no retreat after such an opening. Laura Flanders writes with the clarity and freedom of a true American who has imbibed the rights bestowed by the US constitution. There are entitlements Americans take for granted: sure, 11 September seriously diminished those liberties and it is only now that critics of government are finding their voices again. Flanders is part of that reawakening.

She writes: "Butch Bush literally showed his balls to the world and barely a titter was heard." Political discourse here in Britain is never as forthright, because we are expected to use fudge and humbug; caveats and padding. Our mendacious politicians - even those who took us into an illegal war - expect due deference and get very peeved if accused directly.

This book scrutinises the meticulously-planned neo-con schedule for the US, and reveals the way that key women willingly promote that agenda while enabling George Bush to appear fair, egalitarian, non-racist, humane, moral and an all-round nice guy.

Among the fragrant handmaidens are Laura Bush ( naturally) and also national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice; agriculture secretary Anne Veneman, and labour secretary Elaine Chao. When you look at them, they are the rainbow nation, diverse women at the heart of government: a kind of dream team for old-time feminists. But we have long left behind notions that women in high places always and necessarily means progressive politics.

These Bushwomen come immaculately conservative in dress and ideology. They believe in US imperialism, in trade advantages for US farmers, in repealing equality laws. They can always be depended on to stand by their Main Man as he moves towards a harder anti-abortion position and a tough line on gays. Bright and ambitious, they ride fast with Rumsfeld and Cheyney and the rest of the Republican cowboys. But always as girlies.

What sweet fables they tell, herstories which reassure America that it is indeed a land of limitless opportunity. Rice, a beneficiary of the civil rights movement, reiterates that her family bypassed racism by educating themselves to enter the white world as equals. Just get yourself into Yale, all you wild black boys, and you too can do it. Veneman reminisces romantically, "a poor little peach farmer's daughter". Chao proclaims that her life is a legend, proving immigrants can achieve anything "with unswerving faith in themselves, the promise of America and in God". Nauseating stuff, but it plays well with moms.

Flanders is not simplistically partisan. She rebukes Clinton for appeasing the right (copycat Blair has followed the same route). Under Clinton, welfare was "reformed", the prison population exploded, draconian anti-terrorism laws were passed, and killing sanctions against the Iraqi people were enforced.

There are new revelations here. Examples include dirty tricks in the last election and Republican celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger's boasts: taking a black girl upstairs for a "gang bang" in 1977, and enjoying pushing a girl's head down the toilet in Terminator. There are also too many details about domestic personalities and events which will mean nothing to the British reader. But the main flow is compelling and foreboding. Be scared, be very scared. If the Bushwomen succeed in getting Bush another term - and they are clever and manipulative enough to do that - the world may as well switch off and give up.

Yasmin Alibhai Brown's 'Who do we think we are?' is published by Penguin