AUSTIN, Texas -- My long-reigning favorite Bushism has now been edged out by a fresh contender I cannot resist. The old fave goes back to Oct. 4, 2001, when Bush, still trying to reassure a shaky nation, said, "We need to counter the shockwave of the evildoer by having individual rate cuts accelerated and by thinking about tax rebates."

            I didn't think he could top that, but there is something so winningly confused about my new No. 1. This is from Paul O'Neill's report of the large meeting in November 2002 about a second round of tax cuts. O'Neill argued against it, noting that after 9-11 and the war in Afghanistan, the budget deficit was growing and the nation faced urgent problems.

            Everyone expected Bush to rubber stamp the plan, but he surprised them by asking: "Haven't we already given money to rich people? Why are we going to do it again?"

            Now, it is true that Karl Rove promptly quashed this unseemly fit of populism by jumping in with: "Stick to principle. Stick to principle." Dick Cheney further elucidated the matter for the president by explaining: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the midterm elections, this is our due."

            During Watergate, people used to hold readings from the transcripts of the Nixon tapes. Friends would take different parts -- Haldeman, Ehrlichman or Nixon -- and render their pals helpless with laughter just reading what our leaders had actually said. While one sees the script possibilities here immediately, I still find that one plaintive question quite touching: "Haven't we already given money to rich people?"

            For a truly surreal experience, as someone at The New York Times editorial page has already noted, try reading Ron Suskind's book "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill" along with "In an Uncertain World," by Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's secretary of treasury.

            A chapter from one book, then a chapter from the other. That is an educational experience.

            One of the sadder items from Suskind's book is that Bush thinks the recession was caused by "SEC overreach." Oh dear. The trouble with O'Neill's book is that it raises the "George W. Bush is a nincompoop" debate again, which is wholly unproductive.

            True, it is not reassuring to hear his loyalists praise him as a mental giant -- eerily like the Reaganistas at the end of that era insisting the old boy was not slipping when he clearly was. Given Bush's obviously bored and disengaged performance in Mexico, I'd say the larger problem is that Bush is just rude. I don't think we should send him anywhere to represent the country if he can't behave better than that. He really does consistently display bad manners.

            The news that Bush & Co. wanted to invade Iraq from Day One does not surprise -- Bill Clinton has been telling a similar story for some time about his meeting with Bush on Inauguration Day, 2001. It is the, "So what?" reaction that needs to be addressed.

            We learn that there are no weapons of mass destruction, and the Bushes reply, "So what?" We learn there never was a connection between Sadism Hussein and Al Qaeda, and the Bushes say, "So what?" It matters because we need to understand how we got into the mess we're in, so we won't get ourselves into another one.

            There has to be some recognition of how seriously we were misled. If one then wants to argue that invading Iraq was worth doing anyway, fine -- but it must be acknowledged that it was done on false premises. And as an excellent article in the current issue of Mother Jones called the "The Lie Factory" shows, the false premises were carefully manufactured in the Pentagon. Conservatives cannot possibly be comfortable with that, no matter how repellent Sadism Hussein.

            Perhaps more unnerving still is a third book (which I have not yet finished), "An End to Evil" by Richard Perle and David Frum. It might more aptly be titled, "The Beginning of Evil," since it is a plan for unlimited, unprovoked war, in which we overthrow the governments of Iran, Syria, North Korea and, apparently, China. One would dismiss this as mere crackpottery if one author, Frum, had not written the "Axis of Evil' speech for Bush and the other, Perle, were not a leading neo-con.

            Perle is a longtime advocate of invading Iraq and still on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board despite numerous conflicts of interest. Interesting exercise to triangulate these three books -- like the old blue-book essay, "Compare and Contrast."


            Crow Eaten Here: In a column written on Nov. 28, 2003, I included some useful research on campaign contributions and obligingly attributed it to Public Citizen, which would have been fine, except the research had been done by Public Campaign instead, a different outfit altogether. If you'd like to receive their regular bulletins, go to their website, My apologies and thanks to them.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.