Book Review: ‘George Bush’

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

A reporter once asked a conservative Texan his thoughts on the moderate views of a colleague, and the quick-witted politician did not take long to answer. “The only things you find in the middle of the road,” he said, “are yellow stripes and road kill.”

Although George Herbert Walker Bush, the nation’s 40th president, was not the target of that pointed jab, the gist of it nonetheless applies, and that should be obvious to readers of “George Bush: The Life of a Lonestar Yankee.” Written independently by Herbert S. Parmet but with access to Bush, his family and his inner circle of friends, the book portrays Bush, a transplanted Texan, as a “nice guy” adrift in a nasty world, as a moderate politician always struggling to please the disparate factions of his party.

Ultimately, Bush appeased those factions well enough to become vice president in 1980 and to be elected president in 1988, but Parmet convincingly demonstrates that Bush never fully suppressed the streak of moderation at the center of his political philosophy. And in the end, Bush became “road kill” at the expense of a more eloquent and telegenic moderate, Democrat Bill Clinton.

Losing sight of the topic
The detail of Parmet’s tome, the first comprehensive biography of a man known as “Poppy” into adulthood, adds a new and much-needed element to the writings on Bush.

It gives readers insight into the characters who shaped Bush’s life — from the “stern and commanding father,” Prescott Sr., to the nurturing mother, Dorothy, who taught her children to raise a family with “‘generous measures of both love and discipline.'” And it is chock-full of interesting trivia. (Who knew that George and Barbara Bush once shared a house, and a toilet, with a mother-daughter team of prostitutes in Odessa, Texas?)

Yet the book falters in other respects. Often times, it seems as if Parmet forgot that George Bush, and not the places that he lived or the people that he met, was his topic. That is especially true in the early pages, when readers are treated to lengthy discourses on the Greenwich Country Day School that Bush children attended in Connecticut and the history of Odessa, Texas, where Bush made his oil fortune. The effect that Watergate and other trying times had on Bush, meanwhile, merit only brief mentions.


Where The Weather Is ‘Fine As Frog’s Hair’

Originally published in the Prince William Journal, Jan. 28, 1998
By K. Daniel Glover

If we are to believe the managers of the world (you know, the boneheads who have made a rich man of “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams), there are two ways of thinking: “inside the box” and “outside the box.”

I do my thinking inside the box. I know that only because a former supervisor once told me during a review that if I wanted to move up the ladder within the company, I had to start thinking outside the box.

What does it all mean? I wish I knew. I think it has something to do with eating McPizza, drinking New Coke and dating the office intern, but I’m not quite sure. I left that company to take a job inside the box.

What I do know is this: If I think inside the box, the powers that be in the Prince William County school system definitely think outside the box. How do I know? Because they closed down the schools a couple of weeks ago on what The Washington Post later called “a pretty standard cold, wet day” and because I thought they were absolutely crazy for doing so.

But maybe I’m just nostalgic. I remember the stories my Grandpa Tumblebug told — of walking two miles to school each day, uphill both ways and through three feet of snow in sub-freezing temperatures — and I long for those days.

OK, Grandpa Tumblebug didn’t actually make that trek each ay, and he didn’t even tell me those stories. His real name isn’t Tumblebug, either. But that’s what I called him and he does tell some good stories — and he did live in an era when men stood tall in the face of bad weather.

People in those days — like the dedicated postmen who delivered their mail — saw rain, sleet, snow and hail not as an excuse to miss a day of school or work but as an obstacle to overcome.

When Congress Muted The Marlboro Man

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

With the midnight hour fast approaching, a man sat in front of his television set alone. He wept as the quartet of cowboys, a symbol of masculinity to all the men who had admired them for years, faded off his screen. He knew he would never see them again, and he had Congress to thank for the start of this new era on Jan. 2, 1971.

The man — whose story is told by Pulitzer-prize winning author Richard Kluger in his 1996 history of the tobacco industry, “Ashes to Ashes” — was Jack Landry, once a top advertising official at tobacco giant Philip Morris. And the new era that continues to this day, the one that moved Landry to tears, is one that relegated the Marlboro Man to the pages of magazines and newspapers and bucked him off the airwaves.

The ongoing war against tobacco advertising, the latest salvo being a proposed settlement between government and the industry, has its roots in a battle that began in the mid-1960s and achieved its greatest regulatory milestone 27 years ago this month: the enactment of a law that banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio.

Making a case for an advertising ban
The Surgeon General’s office fired the first shot in 1964, when it issued a groundbreaking report on the link between smoking and diseases such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and coronary artery disease. That report spurred congressional action. By mid-1965, President Lyndon Johnson had signed into law the first federal anti-smoking legislation, a law that required this warning on the labels of all cigarette packages: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”

By that time, the tobacco industry had earned a reputation as a less-than-honest, albeit effective, advertiser, wrongly boasting of the positive health effects of its products. The Federal Trade Commission sought to eliminate the most outrageous advertising claims, but pro-tobacco forces in Congress had limited the FTC’s powers. For example, the1965 cigarette labeling law contained language that prohibited local, state and federal agencies from requiring the law’s new health warning in cigarette advertisements.

Cigarette makers tried to blunt criticism of their advertisements by promising to police themselves. They announced the creation of a Cigarette Advertising Code in 1964 to deflect charges that companies were targeting the nation’s youth as future smokers, and the National Association of Broadcasters launched its own Advertising Code Authority. But tobacco foes soon exposed those codes for what they were — efforts at self-protection, not the much-ballyhooed self-regulation.

A Nation Of Debtors And Tightwads

Originally published at
By K. Daniel Glover

The scene is a metaphor for life in the 1990s: Each weeknight, three debt-laden consumers compete for the right to have the Lifetime cable television network pay their credit-card bills, college or car loans, mortgages, or any other financial commitments that put a drag on the family budget. Contestants, who must prove that they are in debt, answer questions about pop culture to gain “credit,” and in the final round, the person who answers the last question correctly gets his or her bills paid.

The program, hosted by game-show veteran Wink Martindale, is appropriately named “Debt,” and it demonstrates two truisms about our generation of Americans: We love stupid television — and we love to spend money.

Living beyond our means
Unfortunately, many consumers also have no qualms about spending more money than they earn, hence the market for a game show that is “designed with the ’90s consumer in mind” and that promises to rid its contestants of “endless monthly finance charges and minimum payments.” Even in an economy that is booming by most standards, Americans still manage to overextend themselves financially.

The results: a dismal national savings rate and a record number of personal bankruptcies. Personal savings as a percentage of disposable income has changed little since a peak of 25 percent in 1944, according to Commerce Department figures. That rate has hovered between 3 percent and 9.3 percent since then and was at 4.9 percent in 1996.

The number of bankruptcies, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. The bankruptcy rate in the 1990s, according to an October 1997 story in the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, is about eight times greater than it was during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. For the first time in the nation’s history, the number of personal bankruptcies topped the 1 million mark in 1996, and even more consumers were expected to seek bankruptcy protection in 1997.

The voice of generations past that cautioned against “living beyond your means” seems to be lost on Americans who have compiled huge debts. Installment credit exceeds $1 trillion. Mortgage debt has increased more than 50 percent since 1990, according to recent Federal Reserve figures. And the statistics on credit cards, the fastest-growing sector of consumer debt, are even more alarming — some $450 billion in debt and double-digit increases in the percentage of use in recent years.