Kelley's "explosive" nearly 700-page tome on the Bushes, The
Family, has been barely out on the streets for a day, but the early
news reactions have already made it plain: The sprawling biography simply
doesn't matter. The predominant media take on this book is likely to
go something like this: In Bush tome, unreliable menopausal scandalmonger
again misses mark; world waits out irritating media buzz.
that doesn't mean the book isn't worth a read far from it.
book is unintentionally I think a surprisingly tender
portrait of a small, loyal group of vicious undead fiends, persevering
against all odds in a world of the callous, uncomprehending living.
Kelley does what no other writer to date has really done for the Bushes:
she actually makes you admire them for their remarkable ability to remain
consistently cold, calculating, predatory and unscrupulous in generation
after generation after generation.
one of the great laugh lines of this or any other biography, Kelley
sums up the Bush charm by quoting (third-hand, mind you there's
that damn credibility thing again!) none other than Richard Nixon:
The writer Gore Vidal recalled a conversation with his friend Murray
Kempton shortly after one of the journalist's periodic lunches with
Murray Kempton. Kempton had mentioned George Bush [Sr.], and according
to Vidal, Nixon had responded: "Total light-weight. Nothing there
sort of person you appoint to things but now that Barbara,
she's something else again! She's really vindictive!" Vidal characterized
the comment as "the highest Nixonian compliment."
then Richard Nixon hadn't met W.
book covers some six generations of Bushes in some detail, focusing
primarily on the Big Three: Prescott, George H.W., and George W. It
is less an intergenerational saga than a breathtaking tale of genealogical
one-upmanship in which each successive Bush child strives to indelibly
stamp the family name on some previously unconquered region of human
iniquity. Each successive Bush is Worst of All in his own way.
title of Meanest Old Bugger goes to George W.'s great-great grandfather,
David Davis Walker, who once wrote a letter to the editor of the St.
Louis Republic that said:
consider [Negroes] more of a menace ... than all other evils combined
... For humanity's sake, I am in favor of putting to death all children
who come into the world hopeless invalids or badly deformed ... I
am in favor of a whipping-post law ... for wife-beaters and all other
petty offenders on whom jail sentences are imposed.
squirming out of combat duty, it turns out W. was merely following a
long family tradition, first initiated by D.D. Walker, who Kelley claims
got out of the Civil War by paying someone to take his place in the
D.D. Walker hardly represents the pinnacle of the family's achievement.
His son, George Herbert (Bert) Walker, had his father declared insane
late in life to prevent him from giving away too much family money.
Bert would later gain some renown during Poppy Bush's tenure in the
White House as the family's great investor in Nazi businesses. And until
W. came along, Bert Walker was the family's most exalted Maker of Suspiciously
Successful Stock Deals. He was also best in the family at buying things
(companies, tournaments, land, towns) and naming them after himself.
importantly, Bert also began the proud family tradition of Bush/Walker
men who were driven to extraordinary accomplishments by their unconcealed
contempt for their fathers, who in turn hated their sons.
there was Prescott Bush, W.'s grandfather, who took part in the failed
theft of Geronimo's skull (he and his creepy Yale friends stole the
skull of a ten year-old Apache boy instead) and denounced playwright
Edward Albee on the Senate floor without ever reading his work. Prescott
appears in the book as the family's great Cringing Ass-Licker; much
of the middle chapters are concerned with his tireless efforts to flatter
(in succession) Eisenhower, Nixon, Rockefeller and Nixon again.
however, was a relative political moderate who supported civil rights
and limited forms of socialized medicine and aid to the poor. He is
also a vitally important character in understanding our current president
as the fruit of the Bush family tree. Prescott represents the moment
in the family's evolution before the Genteel Yale Snobs of the Bush
family fully merged with the Mean Unscrupulous Moneymaking Bastards
of the Walker family.
is only with Prescott's son, George Herbert Walker Bush, that the two
strands of the genetic lineage come together in perfect alignment, hence
paving the way for the creation of W.
who are accustomed to viewing Bush I as the moderate in the family will
be shocked at reading Kelley's book. The "bombshell revelations"
in the book are likely to be the numerous extramarital affairs Kelly
hangs on the neck of Bush I, using language that makes it seem almost
inevitable that reporters will now find these mistresses that somehow
escaped public detection for all these years. The most obvious lead
Kelley offers appears to be an unnamed New York lawyer who claims he
was engaged by an Italian woman he calls "Rosemarie," who
considered suing Bush I after he broke a promise to leave Barbara for
her. I will be shocked if the lawyer and the mistress are not identified
by some British tabloid by the end of the baseball season.
the more damning details about Bush I are the things that he said on
the record during his first Senate run statements that we somehow
never heard about when he was running for president. His accomplishments
include calling Martin Luther King a "militant," being a member
of three all-white clubs in Houston (GHWB: "I always believe people
should associate with their friends in things like that"), and
deriding the concept of medical care for the aged as "medical air
for the caged." It was as useless as putting air-conditioning in
a ship hold for caged zoo animals.
as chairman of the RNC during the Nixon years, Bush I attacked Watergate
investigator Carmine Bellino by falsely charging him with wiretapping
Nixon in 1960 while working for John F. Kennedy previewing similar
tactics that both he and his son would use as president.
I's fierce campaign to the top of the political totem pole allowed the
next generation of Bushes to make their dastardly mark on the world
in an atmosphere of relative leisure. This round of Bush children
with names like "Neilsie" and "Georgie" marked
a radical departure from the Bush family tradition. The previous Bush
patriarchs, for all their moral flaws, had been men of indomitable will,
superior culture, and remarkable ingenuity. With George W., they began
an evolutionary march backwards, back toward a more perfect and streamlined
ancestor, the Horseshoe Crab Bush, the Coelocanth Bush.
the book, W. appears as the evolutionary essence of a long and nasty
family lineage, boiled down and stripped of civilizing ballast. While
popular culture derides Bush II as a bumbling buffoon who has been lucky
since birth, in The Family he appears almost beautiful: a pure vision
of human ugliness, born to rule an ugly world that deserves him.
W. sections of the book contain many of the same allegations that have
already shadowed his political career: drug and alcohol abuse, adultery,
his use of connections to evade military service. The Air National Guard
sections includes some new reporting that may move the story forward.
Kelley traces Bush's acceptance into the guard, where there was a waiting
list 100,000 people long, back through the ranks of the Texas reserves
to a phone call from Bush I. But for the most part, these hot-button
angles are not documented sufficiently to really hurt Bush.
is notable that in Kelley's numerous bites at the coke-story apple,
she always talks in generalities about drug and alcohol use in the Bush
family, as if to convict W. by implication ("We all got hit...
Our family suffered terribly," says Bush cousin John.). There is
an unmistakable desire to hint at controversy that pervades Kelley's
writing, and it shines through particularly in her "revelations"
this is certainly a flaw in the book, it doesn't detract from the priceless
details about the young W. that she does get right. For example: his
job as a "pillow-toter" for Republican Senate candidate Edward
Gurney, who had a war wound that needed the aid of something soft and
portable. Time and again in the book, you witness the future president
joyously non-performing in non-jobs in the company of horrified colleagues
forced to listen to him ramble on and on about what a great life he
has and how he always gets away with everything.
a description of W. when working on the campaign of congressional candidate
"Red" Blount in Birmingham (the same time period as when he
was supposed to be in the Guard in Texas):
Those who worked with George... recall that he liked to drink beer
and Jim Beam whiskey, and to eat fistfuls of peanuts, and Executive
burgers, at the Cloverdale grill in Birmingham... [he] tended to show
up late every day at work, "around noon," come into the
office, prop his cowboy boots on a desk and start bragging about how
much he had drunk the night before.
most distinctive quality in the book is his completely unapologetic
attitude about being a child of privilege. He brags to new acquaintances
in a political campaign of how his father's name got him out of drunk
driving arrests. He tells a Harvard professor openly that he got into
the Business School through his dad, happily adding that he got out
of Vietnam the same way, as well. Throughout the whole book, W. is mostly
bragging or getting drunk, or bragging about getting drunk. It is indeed
a great life.
does appear more wayward than mean, however, until he gets to Harvard
Business School in 1975. That is when he really comes into his own.
In one class, he buttonholes a professor for showing "The Grapes
of Wrath": "Why are you going show us that commie movie?"
Later in that same class, during a discussion on the Great Depression,
W. the same man who has spent his entire life to date boozing
and shoving fistfuls of peanuts in his mouth says: "Look.
People are poor because they are lazy." The class freaks out at
him, but he holds firm just as he's holding firm now.
few people realize about George W. Bush is that it takes balls to be
him it takes balls to go to room full of intellectuals in Cambridge,
sit in class without a clue, blast the poor, and call John Steinbeck
a commie. The same kind of balls it took to invade Iraq and get the
nation into an open-ended war when the whole world told him over and
again that it was a terrible idea. His unwavering belief in the righteousness
of his idiotic life of privilege is so impressive that you almost come
away believing he might be right. The rest of us have doubts; Georgie
is always sure, even when he is toting pillows.
a book, The Family will merely affirm the worst suspicions of
both those who hate George Bush and those who hate the Evil New York
Liberal Media. But a few people who aren't too fond of the president
might just change their minds. If you are the kind of person who roots
for the monster in horror movies, expect to come away from The Family
as a devoted Bush fan.