Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Looking Back in Anger--review of Family of Secrets

Russ Baker's Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House is a book that had two interesting effects on me. Just short of halfway through, when contemplating how it was possible that Nixon had been set up by people around him, from his own party, for Watergate, I found myself feeling a little sympathetic for old, uptight, paranoid Dick Nixon. He's not really one of my favorite presidents. even though Oliver Stone's 1995 movie "Nixon" had given me that same sort of momentary empathy for a person who had very human flaws, after all. It has been for some time bruited about that Poppy Bush might've been part of a group of GOP insiders who had it in for Nixon; Baker makes this seem quite plausible.

The other interesting effect came as he was writing about GWB's 2000 candidacy for the White House. I felt angry. I do not think I was alone in 1999 and 2000 watching Governor Bush get his campaign machine in gear, from self-serving bio and rent-a-ranch to his "compassionate conservatism", and was simply struck by how he and his campaign handlers like Rove and Hughes, came up with narratives that did not have to necessarily be true to evoke what they thought people wanted in a candidate, and be woven into the campaign.

Oddly, the bit that actually set my teeth on edge was the part that I should've scoffed at, altogether: namely, the story of his having been "born-again" being tailored so as to better serve the needs of his political campaign.

I had wondered if this book would offer more in terms of revelation of the scandals (or rather, would-be scandals, since most peccadilloes seem not to really ever see the light of day.) It doesn't--not exactly. What Russ Baker has done with great research is tie together as many of the connections as it was possible to do in a narrative showing how the money and influence of Prescott Bush flows down to GHWB and GWB, but if you were hoping to see the wider family picture--it's Kitty Kelley's book you were wanting. It's the intelligence-industrial-military complex ties that matter for this book, but I think even these can't be completely explored in one volume.

Not to slam Baker's work. The forces that created the current Bush Administration are the Augean Stables, American-style. The Mississippi could be diverted from its banks and not really disturb much more than the surface of that network.

That pretty nearly did happen, and you saw how they hung on.

My emotional tweaks are not called up by the style of writing, which actually is kind of forensic. It lacks a lot of the sensationalistic tweaks that try to end! Every! Shocking! Twist! With an exclamation point! as an actual conspiracy-themed book might do. This is written straight, and that is the infuriating part. Each little arrow suggesting that Poppy Bush is like some wealthy, clever, Forrest Gump always just off to the side right up until he became VP. The Dresher/Halliburton/KBR connections. The cynical Mayberry Machiavellianism of GWB's cabinet.

I think I could recommend a lot of good tangential reads that would be beneficial if you want to take this one in, in full Pick up James Adams' Full Service Bank, Firewall: The Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-up by Lawrence Walsh, and Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Gary Webb for just some of the in-depth looks at the Bush the Elder issues, and by all means, have a look at J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son, to get a capsule of what the campaign machine started with when they had GWB in the raw to work with. And no news organization ever said, "Egad, who is this punk?" Or even connected the dots that he'd be more of the same elitist crap as his one-term daddy. He wore cowboy boots and cleared brush! He drove a pick'em-up truck! Doughnuts! Barbecue! Bread and circuses and orgies. Pfft. Manly in a flight suit, and his little boots, too.

Looking back as this administration winds down, I have to look back in a kind of anger that torture was actually plausibly discussed in our house--the White House. Pre-emptive war--an invasion was planned because they thought it was politically expedient. WMD's--Shrub-uh-Yoo-MD's. Bush can complain he started his term in office with a recession, but how does he account for his ballooning deficits ("Deficits don't matter" snarls Cheney, in the background) having inherited a surplus, his insistence on tax cuts even in the face of his "trifecta", his several small-peaked "jobless recoveries",--his lack of ownership of the "ownership society" that he squawked about not long after he dropped his sights on investing Social Security in the stock market, losing massive sums on our two wars that are not either connected in a "global war on terror" (Pallets of cash gone missing, no-bid contracts to cronies, and opportunities to end either war--ignored or denied? peculiar, that) and the Depression we are facing today?

Poor Bush, the media was so hard on him, misunderestimating him and his slippery, malaprop-prone tongue, cry his apologists. Says I, we'll be etherizing, pinning, and dissecting his misadministration for years to come.

Would that we had only nailed him down before he got into office in the first place. This book shows how he got his leverage, and how he cynically used his influence, and gives insight into why he thought he could--or should. It's a useful read, especially for those who have not really looked hard at the Bushes before.

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