Left Field

The Bush Beat, Petro Retro & That Jesse Look


The Bush Beat

George W.’s staff gets prickly when the question of books comes up. The Governor was first tripped up last spring, when a student asked him to name a book he had read when he was a child. Bush stumbled around a few subjects — Willie Mays, for one — before admitting he couldn’t name any title. The issue was raised again in Bill Minutaglio’s First Son, in which the author describes Bush press secretary Karen Hughes angrily lecturing a reporter who had been asking around about what books Bush might have read. “He reads even more books than Karl Rove,” Hughes said, adding that Rove, Bush’s chief political advisor, “reads a lot of books.”

Hughes recently had her own opportunity to define her boss as a guy who, if not a bibliophile, well, is at least someone who has read a few books. Hughes is the ghostwriter of George W. Bush’s A Charge to Keep — a political memoir so bad that reviewers have been calling around looking for ghost readers to review it.

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times’ in-house book critic and a woman who seems to read every book published, didn’t exactly review A Charge to Keep. But in her feature on books written by candidates Bush, Bradley, Forbes, McCain, and Gore, she concludes that Bush hasn’t read too much, or at least he and ghostwriter Hughes don’t suggest that he has. Bradley kicks off Time Present, Time Past with epigraphs from Fitzgerald, Eliot, and Conrad — and refers to Tolstoy, Brecht, John Updike, Richard Wright, and Louise Erdrich. McCain talks about Kipling, Hemingway, and Maugham. Forbes at least mentions in passing The Federalist Papers, Common Sense, and rather predictably, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Gore’s Earth in the Balance manages to embrace Descartes, John Bradshaw, Sir Francis Bacon, and Bucky Fuller. Yet, Kakutani writes, Bush, “who reportedly says he loves books, discusses only one title in his memoir — the Bible, which he says he reads through every other year.”

Bush’s slim literary pickings recall a line from Inherit the Wind, about the Scopes’ Monkey Trial, in which the legendary Clarence Darrow memorably declares, “The Bible is a book. It is a good book. But it is not the only book.” Couldn’t prove that by our implacable young George.

West Texas Crude

If you haven’t checked lately, the benchmark price for West Texas sweet crude is bumping twenty-seven dollars a barrel. And even if Midland isn’t quite what it was in the booming seventies, when “shoe salesmen were working as landmen,” at least landmen aren’t working as shoe salesmen, as they were after the bottom fell out in the mid-eighties. Who killed the oil boom? That’s a question asked and answered in the Petroleum Museum, situated on I-20, a few miles south of downtown Midland.

The museum’s a monument to oil production and one of the main draws in a town where Friday night at the Wall Street Grill looks like a casting call for “The Incredible Whiteness of Being.” Outside the Petroleum Museum is the world’s largest collection of oilfield equipment: workover rigs, heater-treaters, pumpjacks — all looking like they are awaiting a crew of roughnecks or roustabouts to show up for work. Inside is a huge Texas-tacky geological chart of the substrata of the Permian Basin, which uses multi-colored shag carpet to depict the various formations. There’s a gift shop, a cheesy recreation of a twenties oilfield boomtown, an ode-to-petroleum slide show, and a Petroleum Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is set up as a large boardroom, with dark paneled walls covered by portraits of oil pioneers such as Sid Richardson, William and Tex Moncreif, Will and Hugh Liedtke, Erle Halliburton, and George Bush — the one who made a million dollars in the oil field and was elected president in 1988.

The ode-to-oil slide show opens with Babylonians using oil to waterproof boats and huts, then moves quickly to this century to identify exactly who caused the energy crisis of the early seventies. (One might say the story that begins in Babylon returns there.) Then we are told what we can do to avoid another energy crisis.

Actually, the history of oil, as presented here, is pretty upbeat: it progresses from Colonel Drake’s 69-foot-deep oil well in Pennsylvania, to the legendary Spindletop Oil Field near Beaumont, to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. It’s a story of steady growth that accelerates with the Post World War II shift from oil for war to oil for commerce. It’s even observed that after the war, “Petroleum became the fashion rage, as women dressed in nylon, rayon, and other synthetics made from petroleum.”

Then the music shifts to a dark minor key, as “a cloud appears on the horizon in the late forties. That’s when we began importing oil, much of it from the Middle East, when control shifted to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Nigeria, and Indonesia.” A half-dozen slides take us through lines at gas stations, OPEC’s collapse, and increased American production and conservation efforts — insulation of houses and the fifty-five mile-per-hour speed limit — that got us all out of the service station lines that helped make Jimmy Carter a one-term president.

Viewers are warned that Americans don’t control their own “oil destiny…. Much of the oil we use today comes from the world’s most unstable and militarily vulnerable areas … controlled by nations who regularly declare their hatred for the United States. Each day, we live with their hands on our gas pumps.” As the musical score becomes more upbeat — almost triumphalist — it is pointed out that there is domestic oil. Much of it is “in environmentally sensitive areas, like offshore, or in the frozen wilds of Alaska, or the rugged Rocky Mountains. … And we must find it!”

President George H.. W. Bush’s success in the oilfields of the Permian Basin earned him his spot on the wall of fame in the museum’s the board room.. Governor George W. Bush didn’t fare so well in the oil bidness, where he actually lost a couple million. There’s space for additional portraits; W. probably won’t be hanging there.

Don’t I Look Presidential?

When he’s not flogging his autobiography or playing part-time pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura is the incumbent Governor of Minnesota. One of his other current occupations is Not-Running-For-President, which is the two-step he’s been dancing with the media for several months. Ventura initially promised Minnesota voters he would serve his full term (until 2002), but in recent weeks has enjoyed publicly toying with the idea that maybe he’ll change his mind. In August, he told C-SPAN if the Reform Party nominated him and put him on the ballot, “There’s not a lot I could do about it, is there?’ More recently, according to The New Republic, he said would consider a run with the “blessing’ of Minnesota voters, although it’s not exactly clear how he might receive that ordination.

Ventura hasn’t had a terribly good rep, however, with the orthodox Reformists ever since he dissed organized religion, advocated legalized prostitution, and defended the Tailhook assailants in the pages of Playboy. There he also described how to win all the marbles: wait until George W. Bush and Al Gore shoot it out and repel the voters, then “enter the race three months before the election and take the whole thing.’ (Playboy is reportedly sitting on additional interview material for next year, so Jesse may have more surprises/embarrassments in store.) He’s also publicly promoted the candidacy of tycoon Donald Trump, and Party insiders suspect him of doing so on George W. Bush’s behalf, to derail the candidacy of GOP-switcher Patrick Buchanan. We suspect the voters would rather see a caged celebrity death-match between Buchanan and Ventura himself, but who’s to say Trump and oh, Arianna Huffington, can’t act as seconds on a tag-team donnybrook in the center ring of the Metrodome?

It all goes to show that the unconventional candidate has steadily, month by month, become a Politician — but definitely the one with the most distinguished presidential trousseau.