BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times February 7-13, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
For years, readers have known as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post and as the critically acclaimed author of five zany, satirical novels about Florida and Florida politics. But after the last of these novels, Dáte turned his attention to political biography. In 2004 came the highly regarded Quiet Passion: A Biography of Senator Bob Graham. Now comes a thought-provoking and chilling treatment of Florida’s two-term governor Jeb Bush, a man of enormous talent whom Dáte give us reasons to fear if (or, rather, when) he offers himself for the presidency. The perspective is that of an aggressive journalist who has been a professional Jeb-watcher through the entire reign, who has dared to ask the embarrassing – though often simply factual – questions, and who has paid for his independence.
Jeb! America’s Next Bush – which hits bookstores on February 15 and can be ordered now through the online booksellers – will warm the hearts of liberals and be attacked by the fans of the self-proclaimed “fair and balanced” news empire. That much is predictable. The question: will it persuade those in the expansive middle of America’s political spectrum that Jeb Bush is a threat to democracy and to broadly-shared American values. For this middle-of-the-roader, Dáte’s arguments – arguments firmly supported by evidence – are compelling.
Dáte worries that Bush’s push to privatize major government services is too extreme and too driven by unreasoned ideology while blind to measurable, factual consequences. The major case in point is the failed school voucher system that turned taxpayer dollars into vouchers into assets for private institutions that were not held accountable for their performance. By outsourcing education to the private (or nongovernmental) sector, Bush placed a faith in the free market in an area for which that faith could not be justified. At the same time, public education was undermined.
The very same voucher issue illustrates Dáte’s concern that Bush’s policies undermine the separation of church and state. While some might argue that the separation theory is itself a shaky one, there is no question that favored denominational religious institutions have been funded with taxpayer dollars through the voucher system, and that enrollment in such a voucher-supported or voucher-dependent school brings the additional price of being held hostage to religious ideology. Though Dáte does not go quite this far in his claims, one can sense a dangerous circle in which the religious right raises money for Conservative candidates like Jeb Bush who work to put taxpayer money right back into the pockets and proselytizing ventures of the right’s religious institutions. Finding church (or certain churches) and state in this kind of embrace is certainly worrisome.
On these and other matters, Dáte finds Bush’s policies at odds with Florida’s state constitution. But Jeb Bush is not the kind of person who would let something like a constitution stand in his way. He will circumvent it. Why? Because he is always right and because he – according to Dáte – operates like someone anointed rather than elected.
The main thread running through the book is that of an Imperial Governorship. Though the style is different, the stance is much like brother George: we know what we’re doing – get out of the way and don’t ask questions. Dáte traces this royal stance to a privileged childhood and easy entrance into the corridors of wealth and power. Though Jeb believes he is a self-made man whose success is simply the result of his merits and his industry, Dáte makes it clear that many doors where opened to Jeb because of his family’s influence. Jeb Bush acts as one born to rule. He shows little patience with the legislative and judicial branches of government, and even less patience with reporters who won’t simply regurgitate press releases from the governor’s office. Because he is smarter, more a master of detail, more articulate, more ambitious, more hands-on, and far more charismatic than his older brother George W., Jeb may be even more dangerous in wielding presidential power. This book can be highly recommended to anyone concerned with the dynamics of American politics. Especially revealing is Dáte’s group portrait of the assumptions and methods of an American political dynasty.
Who is this guy making trouble for Jeb Bush’s political future? Born in India, S. V. Dáte came to the U. S. as a child. He majored in Political Science at Stanford and became a journalist upon graduation. Before coming to the Palm Beach Post, he worked for the Middletown (N.Y.) Times-Herald Record and then the Orlando Sentinel. His first novel, Final Orbit, a murder mystery set aboard NASA’s space shuttle Columbia, was published by Avon in 1997. His subsequent novels, Speed Week, Smokeout, Deep Water, and Black Sunshine, are darkly satiric thrillers that have been praised in the New York Times and the Washington Post and featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” All four were published by Putnam. Dáte’s new book and its immediate predecessor are published by Penguin’s Tarcher imprint.
As part of the launch tour for his new book, Dáte will be a featured speaker at the Naples Writers’ Conference and Authors & Books Festival at International College. His fifth appearance at this five-year old event makes him the record-holder. On February 24 at 3:15pm, Dáte will address conference attendees on “The Art of Biography” and sign his new book. All are welcome to the book signing, which will begin about 4:15pm. Seating for the presentation is limited. That evening, he will visit the Naples Borders at 7:30pm. For information about the conference, call 593-1488 or visit the website authorsandbooksfestival.org. To learn more about this multi-genre author, visit svdate.com.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at email@example.com.