INTERVIEW WITH KITTY KELLEY
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What’s the toughest part of writing a book like THE FAMILY? Can you talk about some of the obstacles that you had to overcome to tell this story?
Probably the toughest part of writing a book like this is that I had to write about a sitting president, and the timing of this particular book. I began research in the year 2000 shortly after George W. Bush became president. Now the book is not just about George W. Bush, but it’s about the entire Bush family. Still he was the sitting president, and that is a scary prospect for some people because if you call them up people are frightened to talk about a sitting president, and I didn’t really realize that. Also it was a very sensitive time because a few months after Bush became president we had 9/11 and when I began calling people they were very, very resistant. They didn’t want to be negative; the country was behind the president. We were all so shell-shocked about 9/11 that no one wanted to say or do anything that—it sounds silly now because I’m saying this in the year 2004, but—people just wanted to be behind this president. I think at that time George W. Bush looked like he needed the support of the country. He wasn’t the strongest person in the world, and this country had gone through a real traumatic hit with 9/11. So everybody pulled together and I reversed my work schedule: I decided to spend that first year doing the research and reading and the historical work. And so I put off interviewing for a while.
How did the experience of writing THE FAMILY compare to that of writing some of your other books, on Nancy Reagan for instance, or Frank Sinatra?
Well it’s hard to compare the experience of writing this book, which is a historical retrospective that covers a hundred years, to writing about Nancy Reagan, or even writing about Frank Sinatra, or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, because in each of those cases I focused on one individual and tried to bring the history of their times around them. In this case I had to go back a hundred years and cover a lot of characters, not just one.
Can you talk a bit about the title. Why THE FAMILY as opposed to, say, The Dynasty?
The question of titling the book THE FAMILY, as opposed to The Dynasty—in fact, it started out the working title was going to be "The Bush Dynasty"—but the Bushes hate to be called ‘a dynasty.’ They hate it because they feel that there are imperial overtones of royalty, or a monarchy that’s passed down from father to son. But I began to see, as I got into the research, that they really aren’t a dynasty in a sense but they’re more—they’re more a family. And if you want to bring the cosa nostra connotations to it, fine, because in many ways this family, the Bush family, plays by Godfather rules: everything will be settled after the baptism. It’s not personal, it’s just business. Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer. I just found that there were Godfather rules that applied to the Bush family, and you can even find comparisons to the Corleone family in the Bush family maybe: George W. could be compared to the hot-headed Sonny. Fredo, that idiot child in The Godfather, could be compared to that sweet-wheat Neil Bush. There’re comparisons. But on another, more serious level, I called it THE FAMILY because the Bushes have put themselves forward as a family: George Herbert Walker Bush has sought success in politics based on his family; he has presented himself as representing ‘good family values’; he represents a ‘good family’. That’s the image that the Bushes have given us over the years.
Other families have had tremendous success in Washington politics, the Kennedys of course, and the Rockefellers. How would you compare the Bushes to these other dynasties or families?
Well the Bushes can probably be compared to the Kennedys in one sense, but they seem to lack the glamour and the sex-appeal and that sort of Hollywood razzmatazz that the Kennedys have, and the Rockefellers of course are in another financial stratosphere from the Bushes. The Bushes are real financial hustlers. The Kennedys never had to be, neither did the Rockefellers. The descendents of the Kennedys and the descendents of the Rockefellers were left so financially secure that they didn’t have to scramble. The Bushes had to scramble, and they had to use everything at their disposal to get ahead.
How does George W. Bush stack up to his father as president in your mind? And how does George W. stack up to his grandfather, Senator Prescott Bush?
The differences among the three major political Bushes, or four I should say, Prescott Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush, are really significant. Prescott Bush seems like a high minded, very moderate, some might even say liberal Republican. George Herbert Walker Bush, I still don’t know what he represents. He represented nothing which is probably why he was never embraced by his party. He didn’t bring to the country any political goals, any political agenda. His biggest agenda in life was being elected President of the United Sates. He simply didn’t know what he was going to do with it once he got there. Now George W. Bush is different. He has got a real agenda. So, how do I compare him to his father? He seems to be much more rigid, determined, focused, and ambitious than his father. Maybe not—ambitious is the wrong word—he seems to be a better politician, in a sense, than his father. But the two men, George Herbert Walker Bush and George Walker Bush, are so far removed from Prescott Bush that they don’t even seem to be on the same family tree. For instance, Prescott Bush believed in Civil Rights. That was the cutting issue of his day, and he stood up on it. He was honorable; he supported every Civil Rights Bill that came his way. George Herbert Walker Bush tried to defeat every Civil Rights Bill. And I use Civil Rights because race is probably the cutting issue of the twentieth century.
And how does George W. Bush stack up to Ronald Reagan?
The comparison of George Walker Bush to Ronald Reagan sends Reagan’s family around the bend. George Walker Bush would like to stack up to Ronald Reagan. But I don’t see any grounds for comparison. First of all, Ronald Reagan was a phenomenon. Whether you agreed with his politics or not you have to give this man credit. He came to the country with three things; he had a definite political agenda. The Bush’s political agenda just seems to be getting reelected. Now of course every politician wants to be reelected, but Ronald Reagan was such an effective communicator. He was able to inspire people with his rhetoric. You could never say that about either Bush. They don’t understand that one of the first things that makes a leader is the ability to communicate.
And finally, how representative of America do you think this family truly is?
I don’t know that the Bush family is representative of America because the Bush family has an inbred sense of entitlement. And I don’t think most Americans have that sense of entitlement. I think that even in 2004 the rules of hard work and fair play still apply, but they didn’t apply to the Bushes. The Bushes got ahead on something else, and most Americans don’t.