Reviewed 5/12/2005

Crimes Against Nature, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

CRIMES AGAINST NATURE: How George W. Bush and his Corporate Pals
    Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking our Democracy
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
New York: HarperCollins, 2004




ISBN 0-06-074687-4 244pp. HC $21.95

The publisher's blurb inside the dust jacket leads off with

In this powerful and far-reaching indictment of George W. Bush's White House, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. . . . charges that this administration has taken corporate cronyism to such unprecedented heights that it now threatens our health, our national security, and democracy as we know it.

Ho, hum... another indictment of the Bush administration's record on the environment. All of this stuff — the covert weakening of clean air and clean water laws, the staffing of agencies with ideologues and former industry lobbyists, the distortions of scientific studies — is old news, familiar to me from a number of books I've reviewed. Kennedy's message, too, is familiar: that these practices not only diminish our quality of life, but threaten to undermine the quality of our democracy.

Familiar, yes — but neither invalid nor unimportant. Because, of course, these events and the trends they reveal are new news too. They are continuing, with even less public notice than before, because in his second term the president has even less to fear from the party of opposition — and not just because it is his second term. The solid Republican majority in the Congress gives him unprecedented ability to push through his agenda. (None of this is in the book; it was published before Bush won re-election.)

Kennedy, as a veteran environmental attorney, brings an extra dimension to his report on the problem. He knows the anti-environmentalists' legal tactics as few others do, because he has been battling them in various positions for 20 years. The files in his law office are filled with detailed information on such cases, and a little of that is distilled into this book. There are new (to me) reports on the origins of the Sagebrush Rebellion and the Wise Use movement and the people behind those pro-industry groups. There is more about Christie Todd Whitman, Bush's EPA Director in his first term,1 and other Republican officials, think-tanks and individual advocates. Best of all is the fact that, since he is involved in this fight, he has first-person accounts to relate. One example is the time he was asked to appear on Bill O'Reilly's Fox Network TV show. There was one proviso: Kennedy had to agree beforehand that, in discussing the state of the environment, he would not say anything bad about George W. Bush.2 This is but a single indication of how effective the Republican public-relations apparatus has become.

Kennedy's writing is for the most part clear and straightforward. He does have an unfortunate tendency to use loaded language ("rapacious officials", "flat-earthers in the administration", "obscene subsidies" and the like), and the coined epithet "biostitutes" (biological science prostitutes) appears in several places. But this does not greatly diminish his effort. His account is enriched by a sense of history, emboldened by a sense of justice. It is well organized, well documented and well annotated. There is, alas, no index; that is the book's most significant lack. As for typos and other errors, they are few and far between. Those I found are, as usual, listed on an Errata page.

I cannot resist inserting two memorable quotes. Discussing the loss of the Fairness Doctrine, Kennedy quotes FCC Chairman Michael Powell thus (page 177): "Television is just another appliance—it's a toaster with pictures." About this view, I can do no better than to repeat the Cato Institute's evaluation of another Bush administration claim (page 109): It is "not just nonsense, but nonsense on stilts."

1 In my review of Strategic Ignorance, I described Whitman as well-intentioned but compelled to go along with the party line. Kennedy paints a somewhat darker picture of her.
2 In the end, to be totally safe, Fox decided to tape the show. The story is on page 184. See also the reports about NBC and CNN on the following page.
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