August 15, 2000
The Bush Family "Oiligarchy"
Part Two: The Third Generation
By Sam Parry
At times grudgingly, George W. Bush traced virtually every early step his father took. Like his father, George W. went to both Andover Academy and Yale and joined the secretive Yale fraternity Skull and Bones. Like his father, George W. joined the armed forces. Like his father, George W. benefited from wealthy family connections while starting out on his own.
But the most important similarity between the careers of George W. and his father is the link between oil and politics. Like his father, George W. made his first business investments in West Texas oil ventures in Midland. Like his father, George W. sought to establish his political career by seeking elected office in Texas, where he ran for Congress at an early age.
While the cadence and direction of his steps match, George W.’s early record seems like a child walking around in his father’s oversized shoes. In school, George W. was a C student, while his father graduated Phi Beta Kappa. In sports, George the father was captain of the Yale baseball team while George the son was captain of the cheerleading squad. In the oil business and politics, too, George W.’s early record was eclipsed by his father’s.
But what George W. may have lacked in accomplishments, he made up for in ambition and charm, two traits that served him well in both oil and politics. In 1978, this ambition led George W. to embrace both family legacies, oil and politics. To some, this decision to pursue both goals at the same time might smack of bravado or even cockiness. But George W. was eager to try.
George W.’s Drive
With practically no political experience of his own, George W. launched an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress. He lost badly to the Democratic incumbent. George W. later said that his biggest mistake that year was running a race “he couldn’t win.” The loss still gave George W. a taste of politics he would never lose.
That same year, he incorporated his own oil-drilling venture, Arbusto (Spanish for bush) Energy. Both his race for Congress and his oil business were based in Midland, his father’s old stomping grounds. In fact, George W. opened an office in Midland’s Petroleum Building, the same office building where his father started out more than 25 years before. [See the Washington Post’s profile, “The Turning Point After Coming Up Dry, Financial Resources,” by George Lardner Jr. and Lois Romano, July 30, 1999, and Harper’s Magazine’s “The George W. Bush Success Story: A heartwarming tale about baseball, $1.7 billion, and a lot of swell friends,” by Joe Conason, February 2000.]
While his run for Congress fell short, his oil business venture seemed promising at first. Just as his father had done nearly 30 years prior, George W. Bush sought financial assistance from his uncle, Jonathan Bush, a Wall Street financier. Jonathan Bush pulled together two dozen investors to raise $3 million to help launch Arbusto. Among the investors was Dorothy Bush, George W.’s grandmother. At the same time, Jonathan Bush was lining up investors for Arbusto, he also was raising money for George H.W. Bush’s presidential explorations. Many of the funders were the same. [WP, July 30, 1999]
Unfortunately for George W., 1978 was not the best time to start up an oil-drilling company in West Texas. After a brief price spike in the late 1970s, the price for a barrel of oil dropped throughout the 1980s to less than $10, which in turn sank many small businesses in the West Texas oil industry.
Still, while other oil ventures failed, George W. kept his afloat in the 1980s thanks to family connections and international financiers attempting to build and nurture relationships with his father, who was elected vice president in 1980.