October 5, 1999
Bush Family Politics
By Robert ParryOn the stump, Texas Gov. George W. Bush bounds toward the voters, flashes a smile, shakes a hand and kisses a baby.
His jovial big-man-on-campus confidence is unshaken even by the flap over his half-admission about abusing cocaine as a young man.
To many observers, George W. Bush is "a natural," a politician with an easy manner, a common touch and the look of a winner.
Though he has offered no comprehensive domestic policy and demonstrated only a rudimentary knowledge of world affairs, Bush has floated -- more than battled -- into his position as the early front runner to succeed Bill Clinton in the White House.
Yet, in his near-effortless jockeying for the inside track, the Texas governors greatest asset has been not what he says or what hes done, but who he is -- or more precisely, who his father is.
Only the strong public perception of former President Bush as an honorable man can explain how quickly Gov. Bush has taken control of Campaign 2000. A recent CBS News Poll found 60 percent of Americans with a favorable view of former President Bush and only 17 percent with an unfavorable view.
"People just automatically say, 'If this guy is George and Barbara Bush's son, we don't have any question about those personal qualities that we were fooled on by Clinton'," explained Robert M. Teeter, President Bush's campaign manager in 1992. [NYT, July 24, 1999]
Indeed, without the glow of the Bush name, it is hard to imagine that the joshing-backslapping Texas governor would be the odds-on favorite to win the White House or even be viewed as serious presidential timber.
As Marilyn Quayle bitterly told The Arizona Republic, the caricature they made of Dan [Quayle] in 88 is George W. Its him. It wasnt true about Dan. But it is him. ... A guy that never accomplished anything. ... Everything he got, Daddy took care of.
In relying on his fathers good name, Gov. Bush can count himself lucky, too, that a series of investigations into his father's alleged wrongdoing were sidetracked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, dead-ended by both Republicans and senior Democrats.
This fuzzy bipartisanship spared President Bush from accountability in scandals ranging from the Iran-contra affair to Iraqgate -- the clandestine arming of Saddam Hussein -- from the contra-cocaine operations to October Surprise, allegations of secret contacts between Republicans and Iranians in 1980. [For a summary of President Bush's alleged misconduct, see Robert Parry's Lost History.]
Still, even today, as Gov. Bush takes aim at the White House, Democratic decisions continue to benefit President Bush's reputation.
In late June, the Clinton administration chose to keep secret most U.S. government documents about the 1976 assassination of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt in Washington, D.C.
That terrorist bomb, planted by a Chilean intelligence agent, occurred while George Bush was CIA director and after he received a warning about the planned arrival of the chief assassin.
Although other Chilean human-rights documents were released, Clinton's Justice Department blocked disclosure of key Letelier evidence on the grounds that the 23-year-old murder case is still active. [For details, see Bush & the Condor Mystery.]
So, with memories of the many unanswered Bush questions fading, Americans are left with the hazy impression of President Bush as a "kinder and gentler" sort of fellow, remembered best from Dana Carvey's imitation of him as an inarticulate preppie-president saying, "Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent."
Bush's son is seen in the same benign light as he stresses his "compassionate conservatism" and struggles with the names of foreign nationalities from "Grecians" to "Kosovians."
But both Bushes have a darker side that occasionally breaks through the public facade. In private, President Bush would rant about political enemies in a tone reminiscent of President Richard Nixon. George W. Bush sometimes flashes a personal mean streak, too.
In early April 1986, for instance, George W. was miffed at a prediction by the Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt that Jack Kemp -- not Vice President Bush -- would win the GOP nomination in 1988. At a Dallas restaurant, Bush spotted Hunt having dinner with his wife, Judy Woodruff, and their four-year-old son.
Bush stormed up to the table and started cursing out Hunt. "You [expletive] son of a bitch," Bush yelled. "I saw what you wrote. We're not going to forget this."
Bush supporters have excused the governor's behavior that occurred before his 40th birthday on the grounds that Bush was still drinking heavily in those days. [WP, July 25, 1999]
But even recently, Bush has demonstrated a startling lack of compassion. In an obscenity-laced interview with conservative writer Tucker Carlson for Talk, Bush ridiculed convicted murderer Karla Faye Tucker and her unsuccessful plea to Bush to spare her life.
Asked about Karla Faye Tucker's clemency appeal, Bush mimicked what he claimed was the condemned womans message to him. "With pursed lips in mock desperation, [Bush said]: 'Please don't kill me'."
Other times, the governor displays a sense of humor that makes jokes at the expense of his friends. Lining up for a photo at an event in Texas, Bush fingered the man next to him and announced, "He's the ugly one!" Spotting a reporter, Bush offered the explanation that he was only kidding an old buddy. [NYT, Aug. 22, 1999]