Drawing on public records and their own on-the-scene observations, Ivins and Dubose contend that George W. Bush's most remarkable achievement as governor of Texas has been his own political advancement. The two political reporters Ivins for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dubose for the Texas Observer pay scant attention to Bush's alleged drug use and other youthful excesses. Instead, their focus is on his business dealings and political machinations.

A point they make early in the book is that the Texas constitution so limits the powers of the governor that Bush could not possibly have worked all the wonders he boasts of in his speeches. By their reckoning, the governor is only the fifth most powerful pol in the state's hierarchy. To the extent that Bush might have used the prominence of his office to sponsor or befriend legislation for the benefit of most Texans, they charge he has failed to do so.

As a young businessman, Bush had greater success finding investors among his father's rich and powerful friends, the authors assert, than he did in making his various enterprises profitable for them. They add, however, that he usually did extremely well for himself in these ventures, whether it was exploring an oil field or exploiting the Texas Rangers.

But it is their appraisal of Bush's performance as governor that is most devastating. Ivins and Dubose ridicule Bush's mantra of compassionate conservatism. His conservatism is evident, they concede, but they see no signs of compassion. He has, they point out, been a pitiless champion of the death penalty, a relentless foe of judicial fairness, an enemy of environmental reform, and generally a scourge of the poor and helpless. They do give Bush fairly high marks for trying to improve education, although they say his efforts in this area have been more impulsive than deliberate.

One of the best features of the book is also its worst and that is Ivins's wicked humor and incessant folksiness. (We'll let Dubose off the hook here.) It is hard to absorb and appreciate the full evil of bad politics when you're encouraged to laugh at the politicians. In depicting these people as buffoons (which they surely are at the lowest level), Ivins permits us to view them as mere eccentrics. And that tends to defuse our rightful anger.

Edward Morris is a Nashville-based entertainment and political writer.

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