The Bushes

Excerpt from Chapter 25 of THE FAMILY by Kitty Kelley

…Within days of his reelection as governor, George W. Bush was secretly planning to run for President, because, as he said, he felt certain he had been called. He was encouraged in this belief by evangelical friends like Doug Wead and by his mother, who called him “the Chosen One.” Anticipating W.’s reelection in 1998, Wead had written a memo encouraging George to run despite his less than promising past. “You have been given a great opportunity, an opportunity that has been denied to many who have sought it. It is a gift that has rarely been extended. It might not ever be extended again.”

During the religious service for W.’s second inaugural, the Reverend Mark Craig, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Dallas, preached about a calling for public service. Barbara Bush leaned over and whispered to her son, “He’s speaking to you.”

By then George had come to believe it himself. Seven months earlier he had not been so sure. At that time Karl Rove had escorted him on his first pilgrimage to the home of former Secretary of State George Shultz on the campus of Stanford University. Shultz was the Jack Steele Parker Professor of International Economics at the Graduate School of Business as well as a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He had gathered a few former Reagan and Bush economists as well as the Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice to take a look at the fifty-two-year-old governor, whom Republicans were clamoring to make their nominee. Having raised $24 million for his race for governor, George had proved himself a stupendous fund-raiser, and his financial backers now wanted to go the distance for a national race.

His top-ten contributors were:

1. Enron Corporation, Houston, Texas
Kenneth and Linda Lay
2. Bass Family Enterprises, Fort Worth, Texas
Lee and Ed Bass
3. Sterling Software, Dallas
Charles Wyly Jr. and Sam Wyly
4. Arter and Hadden LLP, San Antonio
Tom Loeffler
5. Denitech Corporation, Austin and Dallas
Dennis Berman, CEO
6. First National Bank, Dallas
Peter O’Donnell
7. Sterling Group, Houston
William A. McMinn
8. Beecherl Investments, Dallas
Louis Beecherl Jr. and Louis Beecherl III
9. Hicks, Muse, Tate, and Furst, Dallas
Tom and R. Steven Hicks
10. MBNA America Bank, Wilmington, Delaware
Charles Cawley, CEO

…W. was young, attractive, and had a brand name. “It was just one big massive hug around this guy they thought was the most likely to deliver a Republican White House,” said the pollster Frank Luntz. Without trying, George was perceived as—and had virtually become—the party’s best chance to beat Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election. Despite an unprecedented period of economic prosperity and world peace during  the Clinton-Gore years, the Vice President was considered vulnerable because he would be running in the scandalous wake of the President.

Having spent most of his public life scrambling (in fact, desperate) to become President, George Herbert Walker Bush could not believe what was happening. He was dumbfounded by the presidential groundswell engulfing his son and totally perplexed as he watched his party go down on bended knee to proffer its nomination. He was the last to recognize George’s success at retail politics. This was the son he least expected to succeed in anything, let alone national politics. Dizzy with disbelief, George senior sought advice from old friends in Congress about whether George junior should run.

“When he called me, I told him I didn’t think the kid was ready,” said Dan Rostenkowski, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who served fifteen months in a federal prison and was fined $100,000 for running petty scams out of his congressional office. “George assured me his boy was ready, so I said, why the hell are you asking me then . . . I like the old man. I think he should’ve been reelected. George senior went up against the right-wing conservative bastards in his party in 1990 and did the right thing for the country by raising taxes and laying the foundation for the economic growth that took place under Clinton . . . Of course, Clinton took all the bows, but it was George Bush who made it possible . . . When he called to ask me if his kid should go for it, I said that if it’s his time, he should grab it because the time only comes around once.”

While his father was canvassing friends for a consensus on his son’s political future, George W. had already decided. …He had come to believe that he had been “called” to the presidency.

“There’s a sense of entitlement that all the Bushes have,” said Ron Reagan Jr. in 2004. “They feel as if they’re entitled to everything that comes their way. I know that the first President Bush felt that he deserved to be President because it was his ‘turn’ to be President. It was his due. He’d served all the people he was supposed to have served. He’d put in the time. He’d done favors for all the powerful people he needed to do favors for. So in his mind, he deserved to be President . . . His son George W. Bush was ‘run’ for President. They [the party establishment] came to him and said, ‘You’ve got the name recognition, we can raise the money and run you . . .’ I think they looked around at the other potential candidates and thought, ‘There’s no one else out there we can control.’ They found the perfect empty vessel in W. He’ll go wherever the wind will go. And ‘they’re’ in charge of the wind. That doesn’t mean he’s stupid. I don’t believe he is. I think he’s of average intelligence . . . My sense of him is that he’s not ideologically motivated at all. But he’s certainly willing to use an ideology to benefit himself. I think George W. Bush’s ideology is the ideology of self.”

…Despite the pleas of his closest friends and his twin daughters not to seek the presidency, George W. Bush felt that he was the only man who could save the Republican Party. As his close friend and top aide Clay Johnson recalled, it was a “calling, this sense of there’s a need [that only] I, George W. Bush, [can] satisfy.”

…The timing was impeccable. Even if George lost, he still remained governor of the second-largest state in the nation. Having become a multimillionaire, he no longer needed to work. He had hit the jackpot in June 1998, when Tom Hicks, one of the Bush family’s biggest contributors, bought the Texas Rangers for $260 million. For his 1989 investment of $500,000, George received $15 million. “When all is said and done, I will have made more money than I ever dreamed,” he said.

“Who knew that he would be further blessed with an opponent [Al Gore] so wooden and awkward and arch that he would make people overlook Bush’s abysmal lack of fitness for the highest office in the land?” said a disgruntled member of the Democratic National Committee several years later.

At the time, Vice President Gore was assumed to be the Democratic nominee for 2000. Ordinarily, his incumbency would have given him an unbeatable advantage, but the Democrats had been damaged by the scandals surrounding President Clinton, who was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998, on one count of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury. It was an extraordinarily contentious period in America’s political life, but the Senate acquitted Clinton on both charges, permitting the forty-second President to complete the remaining 708 days of his term.

…The Republicans pounced. They saw that their best chance for recapturing the White House resided in the firstborn son of a family universally accepted as good and wholesome. “Family values” became a term of indictment against Bill Clinton. Every time George W. Bush said he was running “to restore dignity to the White House,” he subliminally called up the image of a twenty-two-year-old intern from Beverly Hills snapping her thong at the President of the United States. Her seductive trifle had led to a constitutional crisis, following a relationship of oral sex and telephone sex that by turns titillated and revolted all who had become fixated on the saga as it unfolded twenty-four hours a day on television and radio.

At the time Al Gore formally announced his candidacy in June 1999, he did not know how to personally dissociate himself from the man who had made him Vice President and still claim the political advantage of the administration’s peace and prosperity. It was a problem that vexed him throughout the campaign, throwing him on the defensive as he teeter-tottered on the Clinton seesaw. The President dominated the primaries of both parties. He was the dog’s mess in the middle of the living room; Democrats tried to escape, while Republicans kept dragging them back to rub their noses in it.

“People want to elect a statue,” said Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Frank Keating.  They want a hero, an unblemished and unvarnished guy in the White House. They don’t want to revisit the agony of the past eight years. Bush has to show his character is unvarnished and unblemished.”

Karl Rove knew he had to present his candidate as the anti-Clinton: fresh (no inhaling or drugs of any kind, no alcoholism), religious (acceptable to evangelicals), and faithful to his wife (majority of voters: women). Rove wanted no explosive, potentially devastating revelations to emerge that might portray W. and Laura as anything but an ideal and idealized couple.

George W. Bush wasn’t Bill Clinton, certainly not in terms of sexual excess. But to present him as pure and pristine was hypocritical and untrue. Clinton is not the standard to which George W. should be held. He must be compared to his own declarations on morality and his own carefully crafted public image—the image that the entire Bush family has cultivated for so long.

Both George and Laura used to go down to the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands to visit Laura’s college roommate Jane Clark and her boyfriend, the former baseball great Sandy Koufax. Elsewhere on the island, the Bushes used to attend and enjoy heavy pot-smoking parties. This was not inconsistent with Laura’s past. She graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1968 and had been known in her college days as a go-to girl for dime bags of marijuana. “She not only smoked dope,” said public relations executive Robert Nash, an Austin friend of many in Laura’s SMU class, “but she sold dope.”

Smoking pot was hardly a sin—particularly in the late 1960s—but it did not mesh with the straitlaced image the Bushes were now presenting to the voters.

Because of the anger that Clinton’s indiscretions had aroused with voters, W. loudly proclaimed that he had never committed adultery. “Everyone knows, or should know, that I have been faithful to my wife for the past twenty-one years,” George told Tucker Carlson of Talk magazine.

Potentially more damaging, in some ways, than free-floating rumors of adultery was something that wasn’t a mere rumor: George’s alcohol-induced behavior toward his wife. In W.’s drinking days, abusive behavior had, several times, driven Laura from their house. Often George would disappear at night, and Laura would not know where he was. Friends recalled a drunken George being bitingly sarcastic and pugnacious. One friend even worried about spousal abuse, but there was no official police report to document the allegation.

In December 1998, the Bush team—Karl Rove, Joe Allbaugh, and Don Evans—began in earnest to tidy up the governor’s past. They knew they could rely on Laura’s close girlfriends to keep mum and protect her from the hurtful rumors, accusations, and investigations of the abuse. And if there were extramarital affairs, George W. had been discreet. Rove and the others were able to maintain the image. The past, in many ways, had been erased.

George and Laura’s marriage had indeed survived all the ups and downs, but the toll was obvious to those close to the couple. Laura developed her own circle of friends, mostly women, with whom she shopped and regularly vacationed. She pursued her interests by herself, going alone to museums, the theater, and the ballet. When they were in the White House, she continued this pattern, taking her annual women-only hiking vacations.

George had declared that he could not tolerate a wife who stole his spotlight, and Laura never did. Even on the national stage, she appeared strangely removed. Some observers wondered if she was on antidepressants because her calm demeanor seemed slightly unnatural. She accompanied her husband to and from the helicopter Marine One on the weekends to fly to Camp David, but there was no public display of affection between them. They rarely held hands. In fact, they were more demonstrative toward their dogs than toward each other. Laura accompanied George to their ranch in Crawford and on some state trips, although she traveled more on her own than she did with him. She even made a few fund-raising trips for him during his drive for reelection, but she remained very much in her own world, not his.

…In 1998 the governor’s tidy-up team was not as concerned about Laura as they were about George. Fanning out across the country, they made sure that Andover would not release the governor’s personal records as a prep-school student, and they received assurances from Yale and Harvard that his records would be secure unless he gave permission for release. They contacted the Texas Air National Guard to make sure that his service record was “in order.”

Retired Guard officer Colonel Bill Burkett is said to have been present during a speakerphone call between Joe Allbaugh of the governor’s staff and General Daniel James III during the summer of 1997. Burkett said he overheard Allbaugh tell the general to make sure there were no embarrassments in Bush’s Guard record. Both Allbaugh and James deny Burkett’s assertions, but another former Guard officer, Dennis Adams of Austin, Texas, said in 2004 that Burkett told him in 1997 about the records cleanup. “I have no doubt he [Burkett] is telling the truth,” Adams said. “Bill is one of my heroes. He was trying to take on certain rotten SOBs inside the Guard.”

The governor’s top aides knew that the long reach of the Bush family worked to their advantage. People naturally want to please, not alienate, those in positions of great power and wealth. The psychological fear of retribution from a family whose patriarch was former director of Central Intelligence automatically worked to silence pesky girlfriends, talkative associates, and grudge-bearing enemies. In Texas especially, the Bushes ruled. Even people who disliked them did not want to run afoul of them socially. “Why disturb a lion that could maim you and eat your young?” said a member of the Houston Country Club.

The first hurdle facing the tidy-up team was to deal with the governor’s past drug use. Over the years George had been very careful not to lie about doing or dealing illegal drugs, because he knew there were too many people who could testify to the truth. The steel triumvirate found an honor-among-thieves mentality within the group of those who had been “young and irresponsible” with George. As successful adults, most knew better than to talk about their adolescent use of illegal drugs.

When George had been asked about drugs in the past, he always finessed the question. “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.”

As governor, he required security drug tests for all state employees, so Sam Attlesey of The Dallas Morning News asked if he could meet a similar standard. “Could you pass the White House security clearance as it relates to drugs?”

Bush flicked him off. “I’ve answered that kind of question already.”

He later asked one of his aides to get him a copy of the federal guidelines. After reading it, he called the reporter back.

“If you’re asking me if I’ve done drugs in the last seven years,” Bush said, “the answer is no.”

The next day’s headline: “Governor Says He Hasn’t Done Drugs in Seven Years.” This prompted David Bloom of NBC to ask Bush if he had ever used drugs as a pilot in the National Guard.

“Were you ever high when you were flying the fighter jet?”

The Bush team expected Bloom’s question to explode the never confirmed rumors that George had been grounded by the Guard in 1972 because he had cocaine in his system and knew he would be unable to pass his required physical. Bloom did not get a satisfactory answer to his question and was not permitted to follow up.

Tim Russert, NBC’s moderator on Meet the Press, tried to engage the governor on the issue of his past drug use, but George dodged the question. “I’ve said all I’m going to say,” he told Russert. “I don’t want to provide any excuse for your 14-year-old child to say, ‘Hey, maybe if old Governor Bush did something, I think I’m going to try it, that [sic].’ ”

Watching George bob and weave around the drug question prompted a Washington Post reporter to ask, “So why won’t you just deny that you’ve used cocaine?”

“I’m not going to talk about what I did years ago,” George said. “This is a game where they float rumors, force a person to fight off a rumor, then they’ll float another rumor. And I’m not going to participate. I saw what happened to my dad with rumors in Washington. I made mistakes. I’ve asked people to not let the rumors get in the way of the fact. I’ve told people I’ve learned from my mistakes and I have. And I’m going to leave it at that.”

The rumor float he referred to concerned an alleged narcotics arrest in 1972, which supposedly prompted his father to persuade a Texas judge to accept a deal whereby George would perform a certain amount of community service in exchange for getting his record expunged. Although this rumor has never been confirmed, George W. Bush did, in fact, participate in a community-service program right around that time, just before he entered Harvard Business School. The official story is that it was W.’s drinking and driving incident involving his underage brother Marvin that led to their stint of community service. They maintain that this community service—at PULL—was strictly voluntary (or at least dictated by nothing more than parental discipline).

As governor and presidential candidate, George denied he had ever been arrested for dealing drugs; no one ever produced proof of such an arrest, and his father vehemently denied ever trying to obstruct justice on his son’s behalf. “It’s a lie,” said George Herbert Walker Bush. “A vicious lie. And I’ll tell you, it’s one of the things that makes a lot of people stay out of public service.”

As governor of Texas, George took a hard line on drugs. He supported and signed legislation increasing penalties for drug possession in the state. He also signed legislation mandating jail time for people caught with less than a single gram of cocaine. Yet as Sharon Bush’s claims show, he could have been subject to jail time himself had he been caught “doing coke” with his brother Marvin and a friend at Camp David during his father’s presidency. “There is a long history of biochemical disorders in the family,” said Sharon in 2003, in the midst of her unfriendly divorce from Neil. “Schizophrenia, alcoholism, and drug abuse.”

Excerpted from THE FAMILY by Kitty Kelley Copyright© 2004 by Kitty Kelley. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.