the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates
by Jim Hightower
Harper Collins, 2000
the Short but Happy Life of George W. Bush
by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
Random House, 2000
Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty
by Bill Minutaglio
New York Times Books, 1999
Revenge of the Bush Dynasty
by Elizabeth Mitchell
George W. Bush, otherwise known as ""Shrub,"
and "W" (that's pronounced "Dubya" in Texan),
has a terrible hankering to be our next president. The young Bush
has excellent qualifications for the job. First, brand- name recognition.
Second, an ability to raise huge sums of money by promising very
rich Americans that he will do exactly what his father did: lower
the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates.
by Jim Hightower
If Baby Bush does get hired to keep expanding
the well-to-do-fare state, it will be because his fellow Baby
Boomers think he's one of them. The children of uptight, penny-pinching,
skeptical refugees of the Great Depression have grown up into
uptight, free spending, born-again-and-again believers in the
Great and Infinite Boom. Most Boomers don't seem to mind the idea
of being governed by an underachieving, wise-ass bubba, a member
of their never-aging cohort who won't make undue demands upon
Books by Mitchell, Minutaglio, and Hatfield (all
conventional biographies) offer substantial evidence that George
W. Bush is this kind of bubba. Raised on Eastern loot amid the
booming oilfields of West Texas, Bush was bred to be an ideal
East-Westerner, a kid equally at home among the old rich, blue-blooded
Eastern Establishment and the new rich, hot-blooded Western Bible
thumpers.The drawling, glad-handing teenager managed to goof off
everywhere he went Texas, Andover, Yale, Texas, Harvard,
and Texas until he was umpteen years old (well past forty).
Young Bush excelled at such activities as head cheerleader (Andover);
president of the Deke fraternity at Yale, where he defended the
practice of branding pledges on the back with a small, red-hot
metal triangle; heavy drinker and recreational drug user; and
investor of tons of his father's friends' money, most of it sunk
and lost in the murky oil fields around Midland, his home town.
Son was the victim of corporate censorship in late 1999
when its original publisher, St. Martin's, under pressure from
the Bush family, recalled about one hundred thousand copies and
shredded them. (The book was quickly republished by a smaller
and braver alternative publisher, Soft Skull Press.) Hatfield
had angered George W. Bush with his "Afterword," which
alleges that Dubya was arrested for cocaine possession in Texas
in 1972, only to have his father arrange for a judge to immediately
expunge the son's arrest record. Given the boy's party-animal
reputation, the story is probably true. So what's new? A youngster
gets busted for drugs and Poppy talks to a DA, who happens to
live next door, or maybe to a magistrate at his tennis club. Happens
all the time in upper-middle-class America: affirmative action
for white boys has existed for two hundred years.
Many Bush supporters, especially those from the
Christian Right, are not fretting about his youthful indiscretions
because they know Jesus has since led George W. to righteousness.
And for those of us who are severely annoyed when the privileged
go free and poor boys of color fill up the jail cells, the tale
of Dubya's treatment before the law sounds all too familiar. There
are, however, more important abuses of privilege that deserve
our attention: these are the prerogatives of wealth and power
that pertain only to the true upper class, advantages without
which Dubya could not get elected dogcatcher.
Unfortunately,the books under review give us a
disconnected smattering of facts about the Bush dynasty's links
to the investing class. One of Dubya's robber-baron great-grandfathers,
Samuel Bush, owned a steel company and helped invent the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce. Another, George H. Walker, who gave Shrub
his "W," named the Walker Cup golf championship after
himself. George H. Walker owned investment banks in New York and
plantation houses in South Carolina. He was a firm believer in
free and open international trade - in his case, taking a leading
role in building up Nazi industry with American capital in the
George W's grandfather was Prescott Bush, a Republican
senator who was nonetheless quite comfortable managing the investment
houses of fellow Yale alumnus Averill Harriman, the moneybags
of the Democratic Party. The Bushes are the kind of people who
get tapped in almost every generation for secretive elite clubs
like Yale's Skull and Bones (Prescott and the Georges Senior and
Junior) and not-so-secretive clubs like the Council on Foreign
Interesting stuff, but is it more than a matter
of coincidence? None of our authors provides a coherent picture
of how and why the upper class periodically makes use of its economic
and social power to assert itself as a "ruling class."
There is little discussion of how monied families connect with
each other, not in secret gatherings that hatch "one world"
conspiracies, but in comfortable social settings. There they can
call on each other for discreet help in maintaining their capital,
their privileges, and their political influence. These relationships
are invisible to us commoners except when a tenacious wealthy
family decides to plug away at the throneship until they get it
right: first George senior, then George W., and, quite likely,
after he's messed up, we'll get George the III (who goes by the
name of Jeb).
The Bush family demonstrated a nasty will to win
in 1988 when they encouraged their political pit bull, Lee Atwater,
in his program of negative campaigning and racist advertising
(the infamous Willie Horton commercials). George W. worked closely
with Atwater and in the process earned the admiration of another
operative, Karl Rove, the guy who puts the bite into the Bush
2000 campaign. Voters can expect Bush 2000 to give Al Gore the
same treatment that John McCain received: out of one side of the
campaign's "mouth," a steady stream of trash-talk from
soft-money surrogates; out of the other, pious, sentimentalized,
and issue-free ads featuring the born-again Dubya.
Son, an otherwise lightweight effort, does provide a choice
quote from Mary Matalin, the savvy Republican strategist who watched
Baby Bush work in the trenches of his father's campaigns and has
just signed on for the family's 2000 effort. She calls Dubya a
"campaign terrorist," which from her is a high compliment.
Mitchell's W., the best of the three biographies, offers
another reference to Dubya's political prowess, this one concerning
the most intriguing non-story of his father's '88 campaign, the
tale of a mistress. It seems that a bright and friendly young
Englishwoman spent a year with George Senior on his ambassadorship
to China (Barbara stayed home) and then remained on the Vice President's
staff for years. When allegations of illicit love leapt from the
alternative press (Spy magazine) toward the big time (Newsweek),
it was George Junior who called upon Newsweek's editors,
denied the story, and asked them to get off his dad's back. The
mainstream media immediately suppressed the story, as did rival
Republican candidates. Clinton surely wishes he had had such luck
in suppressing bimbo eruptions! Mitchell suggests that Dubya's
success in dalliance diplomacy was a matter of deference to his
good family name and upper-class connections, but she fails to
explore the networks of elite power that influence media coverage.
Such experiences may have helped the young Dubya
understand the limits of democracy, yet they have hardly qualified
him for national office. What happened after 1988 to launch him
toward political prominence? The most succinct and entertaining
answers come from the non-biographers Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower.
Ivins, of the Fort Worth Star and Telegram, is probably
our most talented and funniest syndicated political columnist,
while Hightower, the former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture,
is a straight-talking lefty populist with a talent for long and
humorous titles (his previous book was There's Nothing in the
Middle of the Road Except Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos.)
These two writers wisely eschew Dubya's forty-year boyhood in
favor of analyzing recent local politics and lingo (they speak
Texan). They easily manage to sniff out the trail of Shrub's evolution.
It's a money trail. The Shrub gained his fame money in sports,
starring for the Texas Rangers baseball team. Not on the field,
mind you, but as cheerleader and waterboy for the plutocrats (from
Texas, Yale, and Wall Street) who bought the team in 1989. Bush's
billionaire buddies used America's favorite trick play
getting the local citizens to raise their own sales tax, build
a fancy stadium, then hand it over to the owners for free after
a few years. Thus, Bush and his buddies tripled their money in
less than ten years. The plutocrats gave Dubya a generous tip,
nearly fifteen million dollars, for showing up at the ball park
to greet the fans each day; more importantly, they propelled him
into the governorship of Texas.
Anyone who saw George Walker Bush stand up and
emcee the 1996 Republican Convention knew that the plutocrats
of corporate America were grooming him for the big house, maybe
in the company of Christy Whitman of New Jersey, another child
of the investing class. Hightower thinks that the gods are observing
this perversity and have instructed half of American voters to
sit out the 2000 election. Citizens who want something different,
such as democracy, says Hightower, ought to start organizing.
They ought to "slug the corporate bastards right in the snout."
This approach is straightforward and commendable,
as is Hightower's determination to spend less than a chapter on
the life of Dubya. There is, however, a problem with attacking
corporations as Enemy Number One, and that is the American consumer's
tendency to view corporations as abstract purveyors of goods and
services. If these entities exercise a profoundly antidemocratic
influence over our lives, then whom do we "punch in the snout"?
A corporate logo? A CEO who hangs around about four years before
strapping on the golden parachute? Retired teachers whose pensions
are invested in General Electric and Microsoft?
Corporations came into existence as legal conveniences
permitting very rich men to pool their investments, retain individual
rights to their profits, and avoid personal liability for the
failures or crimes perpetrated by their businesses. Corporations
are the best way yet contrived for the American upper class, always
a dynamic blend of old and new rich, to exercise control over
our political economy and our various layers of government. Have
corporations become more democratic because more Americans now
invest in mutual funds or trade on-line? Not on your life. It's
still one dollar, one vote. The few thousand Americans who have
fortunes of twenty-five million dollars and up still own or influence
enough votes to elect every director of every major company. These
directors appoint dictators, otherwise known as CEOs, whose jobs
are decidedly authoritarian and undemocratic. A CEO makes all
the rules, declares everyone (including himself) a slave to capital,
and pursues one abstract goal singlemindedly: providing major
investors with the highest possible return on their capital.
Herein lies the "miracle" of the ever-burning
Bushes, one that is only partially alluded to in any of the books
under review. Some of the people who control the largest American
corporations and investment houses, or speak on their behalf,
have been trying to establish plutocracy in America for over a
century. Texas populists like Hightower and Ivins understand this,
but they ought to provide some background for Americans who do
not. The only books that elucidate the intersection of the class
and corporate structures are academic offerings. The best of these
is still G. William Domhoff's Who
Rules America? Power and Politics in the Year 2000, a
highly readable analysis, recently reissued. This book tells how
the owners of capital set the parameters of public discourse at
venues of corporate leadership such as the Business Roundtable
and sponsor piously disinterested discussion of public policy
at gathering places like The Council on Foreign Relations. The
owners of capital also host innumerable philanthropic organizations
that promote elite solutions to social and educational problems.
If Baby Boomers read Domhoff's WRA (Who
Rules America?) instead of watching WSW ("Wall Street
Week...") or WWF (World Wrestling Federation), they might
understand how the aristocracy of money allies itself with the
institutions and the machinations of "the power elite,"
as C. Wright Mills has called the leadership of the military-industrial
complex that consolidated itself after World War II.
Al Gore will never raise as much money as George
W. Bush. Can Gore nonetheless stand up to the one-two punch of
moneyed elites and corporate power? He can if he takes a page
from Franklin Roosevelt, acknowledges his familiarity with the
privileged life, and then summons the courage to show some contempt
for the hands that feed him. He'll have to tell ordinary working-class
and middle-class Boomers (wage- and salary-earners and small-business
people) what they must already suspect from the evidence of their
lives: they've been on the losing end of an undeclared class war
for twenty years. The Boom has passed most of them by, and as
a consequence, about one tenth of all national income (and an
even higher percentage of national wealth) has been transferred
from the bottom 95% of Americans to the top 5% (most going to
the top 1%). The amount transferred is so large (about a trillion
dollars a year) that, had it been earmarked for the economic security
of all citizens, we would now be enjoying what citizens take for
granted in most other advanced industrial nations: universal health
coverage, a solid social-security system, good public education
for all, and provision for the long-term care of elderly parents
These measures, which FDR proposed as the "second
Bill of Rights" in his annual message to Congress in 1944,
are part of a Democratic political tradition that has been abandoned
in recent decades. Clinton and the rest of the Democratic Party's
leadership have joined the Money Party instead. Thus Al Gore shows
no sign of embracing FDR's egalitarian legacy. He will probably
not encourage Americans to follow Hightower's advice and "run
right at the bastards."
Dubya is likely to win. If he does, the plutocracy
will have further consolidated its victory in the Twenty Year
War (the class war of 1980-2000). Most Baby Boomers won't know
what they have lost or even which side they were on; the great-grandchildren
of the robber barons will know very well what they are celebrating.
The Money Party will have bought the highest office
and put a W on the door.
The Dubya will stand for "waterboy,"
waterboy to the billionaires.
ALSO DRAWN ON IN THIS ESSAY
Domhoff, G. William, Who
Rules America? Power and Politics in the Year 2000,
3rd Edition. Mayfield Publishing Co., 1998. Paperback, 335
Hightower, Jim. If
the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates.
Harpercollins, 1998. Paperback, 308 pp.$13.00.
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