Review of 'Bushwomen' by Laura Flanders, Verso £15
'The sisterhood of women, like the brotherhood of men, is a hollow sham to labour,' the great American radical Elizabeth Gurley Flynn wrote at the beginning of the last century. The existence of the Bushwomen - the Republican women George W Bush has paraded in his government - sums up why the idea of a sisterhood of all women remains just as much a sham today.
Media pundits fell over themselves to remark on how Bush has included more women and ethnic minorities in his government than any other administration. These women are sold as the supposedly soft face of the Bush regime. Bush once even declared, 'The "W" stands for women.' In reality they are hard-nosed warriors for the ruling class - profit-driven free market fanatics and warmongers driving through anti working class, anti-women, anti civil rights policies which are destroying the lives of millions.
Perhaps the most well known of these right wing warriors is Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the woman who famously had a Chevron tanker named after her. But this book tells the stories of many of the lesser known Bushwomen who have 'benefited directly from feminism and the hard won civil rights struggle, in the destruction of whose victories they actively collaborate.'
There's Kay Cole James, for example. She is in charge of appointing staff in Bush's White House. She's so pro-women that in 1998 she signed a Southern Baptist Convention declaration stating that wives should always submit to the authority of their husbands!
Or there's Karen Hughes, Bush's director of communications, who positively drips with her oil connections. This is a woman who once said that she would have loved to have done public relations for the giant Exxon company after the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill. Hughes is also responsible for spinning the war in Afghanistan as a 'war to liberate women'. But as this book points out, this was just a cynical cover to justify a war that murdered and injured thousands of women while doing nothing to provide the food, water, health and education women in Afghanistan so desperately need.
The corporate connections of some of the women serving in Bush's regime are staggering. Elain Chao, Bush's labour secretary - responsible for the lives of millions of workers - comes from a Chinese-American immigrant family that made its money from a giant shipping company. Chao likes to tell of how she and her family pulled themselves 'up by the bootstraps'. But just take a look at this list of capitalist firms that gave Chao's bootstraps a pull as she did their bidding. These are just a few of the many companies she has served on the board of directors of: Northwest Airlines, Clorox, Dole Food Company, Nasdaq, and HCA Healthcare.
As labour secretary, Chao has presided over huge budget cuts which have slashed funding for health and safety regulations, child labour regulations and the minimum wage. She is now advocating a Family Time Workplace Flexibility Act. This would give unlimited flexibility for US bosses and eliminate overtime pay for an incredible 80 million workers. It is no surprise to then learn that she made her mark in government by using anti-union legislation to beat a strike by 10,000 dockers in 2002 and was the most vociferous advocate of sending in troops to crush the strike.
This book is full of the details of the dirty records of many of the women in Bush's regime. That would make it an interesting enough read. But Laura Flanders is also severely critical of the record of the other mainstream, equally pro-capitalist US party, the Democrats. She also slates the mainstream feminist organisations in the US, like the National Organisation of Women, for giving right wing women 'feminist cover' and for 'keeping their criticisms of powerful women to themselves'.
This book is a very timely reminder both of the right wing record of the Bush regime, but also of why women of the ruling class are the enemies and not the friends of working class and poor women the world over.