Just As I Thought

Family values

There’s an interesting article in today’s Washington Post about Kevin Phillips, a longtime Republican and former Nixon aide, who bemoans the rise to power of the Bush family:

“I’ve never understood why we take Bush and his family seriously,” he says. “They come from the investment-inherited-money wing of the Republican Party. They display no real empathy for anyone who is not of their class.”

He pauses a few seconds as his fingers execute a tap dance on his picnic table.

“They aren’t supply-siders; they’re crony-siders. As far as I’m concerned, I would put Bush on a slow boat to China with all full warning to the Chinese submarine fleet.”

Silence again. Phillips sits on his back porch and looks at you from under hooded eyes, with only the vaguest hint of a chipmunk smile. He’s a curious cat, this 63-year-old Nixon-era Republican populist. His best-selling, muckraking book on the family that has held the presidency for eight of the past 16 years, “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush,” is a sustained rummage through the Bush family closet. He pulls out all manner of files on the early Bushes and the Walker branch of the family, and their dealings with post-World War I German industrialists and post-World War II Saudi princelings. And he draws a bright connecting line between those wheeler-dealer financiers and their Texas-lite descendants.

Phillips’s bottom line is unsparing. He describes the Bushes as second-tier New England monied types who made the strategic move from Greenwich, Conn., to Midland, Tex., just as the nation’s power pendulum took a southern swing. This was not a particularly daring strike into the interior. Rather, like proper Wall Street capitalists, the Bushes and many other financier families had sniffed the scent of sweet cash and sent a relative or two to investigate.

Texas, Phillips writes, “represented one of the century’s great American wealth opportunities.”

The Bushes settled in a west Texas city that, far from being the cowboy wildcatter’s paradise of political myth, was a leafy enclave thick with Ivy League scions, street names such as Princeton and Harvard, and enough Wall Street gilt to keep everyone in country club fees.

… Phillips elaborates on this critique during an interview. “George W. is the first president to come directly out of the oil industry, even if he was a failure at the actual business of looking for it,” he says. “And who did he pick as his vice president? Another man from the oil industry. It’s astonishing that nobody really questions the implications of this.”

It’s a righteous rap, and the sort of angry and richly detailed critique that one might expect from any number of left-liberal luminaries working the Bush-Just-Might-Signal-the-End-of-the-World circuit. These authors and filmmakers are the toast of Santa Monica and Madison and Cambridge and Montclair and Burlington, and they fire up the Democratic faithful. Except that Phillips doesn’t remotely hail from there.

He’s a New Yorker, yes, but also a Republican born and bred, a kid who couldn’t stand that liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller. He penned “The Emerging Republican Majority” in 1969, one of the first books to argue that the Sunbelt could catapult the Republicans to national power. And he locates the source of his populist scorn for Bush not in the polemics of the left but in the politics of his hero, Dwight Eisenhower. The former general was a politician who embraced a top marginal tax rate of 90 percent, who warned of the abuses of the military-industrial complex and who — in Phillips’s telling — had little use for the country club Republican set.

… What bothers him is that generation after generation of Bushes are so unwilling to transcend their class interests.

“An old buccaneer and bootlegger like Joe Kennedy became an SEC head for Roosevelt and cracked down on his own class,” Phillips says, adding: “The Bush family would just appoint a Gucci-shoe-licking sycophant. The family has simply developed a culture of being enormously supportive of their class.”

Even the president’s Texas twang grates on Phillips, whose own accent is clipped and clear and, we must note, a tad patrician. “Listen to them! Assemble the very best panel of linguists you could find and have them listen to brothers Jeb and G.W. — they wouldn’t even guess they’re in the same family,” Phillips says. “G.W. talks like a cowboy and he’s no more a backwoods Texan than I am.”

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