January 7, 2004
Phillips, Author of "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and
the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Hey, you would expect this kind of talk from a lefty, right. But Kevin Phillips ain't no lefty. He's a former Nixon staffer and authored "The Emerging Republican Majority" back then. He hasn't had any transformation that has turned him into a -- God Forbid! -- Democrat. As he tells BuzzFlash, he voted for Reagan twice and would have eagerly voted for John McCain.
He hasn't stopped being Republican. It's just that he's appalled at what the Republican Party has become under the Bush dynasty.
In "American Dynasty," Phillips weaves evidence of the Bush family's dynastic sense of entitlement -- and corruption -- throughout this erudite book.
"Few have looked at the facts of the family's rise, but just as important, commentators have neglected the thread -- not the mere occasion -- of special interests, biases, scandals (especially those related to arms dealing), and blatant business cronyism" Phillips writes in his preface. "The evidence that accumulates over four generations [of the Bush family dynasty] is really quite damning."
"Three generations of immersion in the culture of secrecy...deceit and disinformation have become Bush political hallmarks," Phillips notes.
Entitlement, elitism, privilege, secrecy, mediocrity, corruption, financial cronyism, bailouts of family failures by the taxpayers -- these are some of the true characteristics of the Bush Dynasty, according to Phillips.
To Phillips, however, the greatest threat to America posed by the Bush dynasty is not its inherent unfitness to rule. What most offends and angers Phillips is the threat that the imposition of the Bush dynasty on America poses to democracy itself. The American rebellion in 1776 represented the creation of a nation built on the foundations of a government elected by the people, not determined by the restoration to power of corrupt bloodlines.
No book makes a stronger case against an American sitting in the White House who believes that he is in power because of hereditary entitlement and divine choice. Patriots rebelled against King George in 1776. Phillips notes that Americans have the opportunity to dethrone the Bush dynasty at the polls in 2004.
That is if the electronic software is not rigged in favor of the monarchy.
To buy "American Dynasty" as a BuzzFlash premium, go to: http://www.buzzflash.com/premiums/dynasty.html
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BuzzFlash: The title of your new book is "American Dynasty." You make the argument that the return of George W. Bush to the presidency restores, in essence, a Bush dynasty. What is wrong with that?
Kevin Phillips: Well, dynasties are something that the United States came into being fighting against. We have George III in 1775 and 1776. I don't see any reason why, in the last 25 years, we should have George I and George II, and think about Jeb I and so forth. It's pernicious, almost, by definition of what America's all about. It's doubly pernicious when you start thinking about the legacy of economic politics and bias, the legacy of association with the national security state intelligence agencies, the legacy of involvement in the Middle East in a way that may send some horrible chickens coming home to roost. I just don't think there's anything good about a dynasty in this country at all.
BuzzFlash: You frequently reference European dynasties in the book -- and as you mentioned, we rebelled against one of those. You mentioned the Hapsburgs, the Stuarts, the Bourbons, and so forth. Every dynasty had its characteristics of rule. You spend a good part of the book detailing what are some of the hallmarks or characteristics of the Bush dynasty, going back four generations to the founder of the Bush dynasty -- who, you mentioned at one point, I think, was a Democrat? Is that right?
Kevin Phillips: Well, it's hard to say. You're talking about George Herbert Walker in Missouri and Sam Bush in Ohio. And because they were the two great-grandfathers of the current President, attention is merited to them. And one was clearly a Democrat -- that was Sam Bush in Ohio. It's not so clear what George H. Walker was. By the time he got to New York in the 1920s, he seemed to be supporting more Republicans, but his origins in Missouri -- St. Louis -- had him a Democrat there. It's probably not terribly meaningful what he was. He was a financier in that era, and, I think, a real piece of work.
BuzzFlash: What are the primary characteristics, as you see them, of the Bush dynasty -- the Restoration now?
Kevin Phillips: Well, when you get the Bushes, you get really what amounts to a four-generation history of involvement with finance and the oil industry. That's what they've done. They haven't done much else. And their loyalties are enormous toward, first off, an economics of investors and inheritors, as opposed to workers and earners; and, secondly, a very close tie to the intelligence agencies of the military-industrial complex, of which the oil industry has become a major part. And obviously there are the ties to the oil industry and the preoccupation with the Middle East and Texas, and the price of oil. There again, that's a bias which is both economic and geographic.
BuzzFlash: Talk a bit about the covert side. The first President Bush was a former head of the CIA, but you go back further and detail that this covert side extends farther back than the first President Bush, and that secrecy is a hallmark of their dynasty.
Kevin Phillips: Secrecy is a hallmark of it very much, and also favoring old retainers who've often helped to keep a scandal under control. That's another little nuance of their dynasty record. But in terms of talking about what the dynasty has been in terms of national security and the intelligence agencies, you really have to go back again to World War I with George H. Walker. He was very much involved with the U.S. intelligence agencies, and he was a partner of Averill Harriman, who went on to be very much involved in intelligence, too, later in World War II. They did a lot of business in Germany and Russia.
The other Bush great-grandfather, Sam Bush, was the director of the Small Arms, Ammunition and Ordnance Division of the War Industries Board, and I can assure you there's a lot of intelligence of relationships with the Allies and dealings with armaments people there.
It's just continued. You've got eight decades of these people having ties to the agencies. And by the time you get to George H.W. Bush in the 50s and 60s, when he was running something called Zapata Offshore Oil, there have been a number of allegations that either his company or one of its subsidiaries was an asset or a front of the CIA, and that his relationship to the CIA began well before he became the director.
BuzzFlash: You detail in here what is an extremely fascinating counterpoint to the Bushes that they certainly don't acknowledge. They present themselves as the WASPish, genteel family, compassionate conservative, and above board on everything honorable, full of integrity, only dealing with the highest quality of people. But threaded through the entire history of the family is a dalliance with -- if not absolutely sleeping with -- extremely sleazy characters, including, of course, Noriega and Saddam Hussein. The first President Bush had a history of scandal nipping at his heels that somehow he managed to just miraculously evade, including Iran-Contra. You bring up the allegations involved in the alleged 1980 October surprise, the BCCI scandal, the whole involvement with the shady edge of the Cuban émigré community that Bush has stayed involved with. They present themselves as the heir to this tradition of great, noble, blueblood lineage with a little bit of a populist bent to it, and yet you detail this really seamy underside of consorting with very shady, nasty characters -- and getting away with it.
Kevin Phillips: Well, the consorting with shady, nasty characters goes back quite a long way. As I mentioned, George H. Walker was playing games in Germany and Russia in the 1920s, and the U.S. government was trying to stop some of what he was doing. By the 1930s, you had Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the current President, who was, for some time, a director of several companies that had relationships with Germany after it had gone under the control of the Nazis.
You can't really say what was involved in those relationships, but he was a director of something called the Union Banking Corporation, which was connected to the Thyssen steel interests in Germany. Certainly there were questions about whether it was a world bank and a money laundry, and when you see some of those connections, you have to say: well, all these ties to BCCI and the rest of these operations -- rogue S & Ls that were tied to the Contras in Florida and what-have-you -- well, it's a family treasure at this point.
BuzzFlash: The accumulated evidence is quite amazing. Much of the material you bring up has been documented before, and you bring some further documentation. But how have the Bushes evaded any legal accountability for the S & L's, BCCI, Iran-Contra, Iraqgate etc.? There were the Iran-Contra pardons, of course, but there are and have been countless other kinds of shady deals that they've been involved with, including business deals, of course. Many of the people they've been involved with ultimately have been held accountable. Former Argentinean President Carlos Menem, who was a good friend of the first President Bush, is under indictment in now. And yet the Bushes somehow miraculously evade any accountability in the courts.
Kevin Phillips: Well, I think it's an interesting dimension, and it's something that obviously deserves a lot of attention because it sort of mocks the idea of not just civic-mindedness, but responsibility in the American governmental system. In terms of the obvious big scandals to which President Bush senior was connected -- we're talking about the October surprise in 1980, in which the Republicans were said to have had relations with Iran to keep the American hostages held in Iran from being freed in time for the election [in order to help Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush get elected]. Then you go to Iran-Contra, where Iran would be supplied with arms in order that Iran use its influence for hostages being held in Lebanon in 1984, and for a while after that. And then Iraqgate was the involvement of George H.W. Bush, in building up Saddam Hussein during the 1980s.
Now all of these things were becoming issues during the presidential term of George H.W. Bush. And when he was defeated in 1992 -- and it was an amazing rejection of a President who had a 90 percent job approval rating at the end of the first Iraq war -- but as people began to see all of these things, as they talked about, it became just a devastating counterpoint: that he had been involved in illicit arms deals, and in building up Saddam Hussein, perhaps stealing the 1980 election. These are all major, major things. But he was defeated in 1992. And at that point, people just said: Aw, well, he's gone.
Well, he was gone, but his son is back.
BuzzFlash: You use words like "entitlement," and you point out how the Bushes have been careful, particularly the first President, to talk about "legacy" and not "dynasty." But your interpretation is that they have a sense of entitlement to governing the country, mixed with an emergence of a new strain in the current President -- which didn't appear in marquis-type headlines in the first presidency of the Bush dynasty -- and that is that the current President, George W., has heavily invoked the name of God and brought God into this, as in he believes that he was chosen by God to lead the country. Not only has he laced that in his speeches, as you point out, but he has told other leaders that. And his staff -- obviously with permission either from Karl Rove or the President -- spoke of his belief that God had chosen him to lead this nation. What does that dimension bring?
Kevin Phillips: Well, you have two phenomena here. You've got, one, the sense of being entitled to be national rulers of a sort, whether it was Prescott Bush to become a senator -- and he wanted to be president, too -- and then the subsequent generations had this sense that they were part of a ruling family. They deserved to be able to hold these offices; it had nothing much to do with election. They weren't terribly good at elections, really.
Then you get the second facet, where you've got the sense of being anointed in the sense of chosen by God, which certainly Bush Sr. did not ever purport to be. But we've had some of these incredible comments that have come out of the current President. People have described how he has held himself out to feel that he was selected to play this role, and that God is talking to him. And some of the pastors he deals with have said as much. This is very, very unusual.
BuzzFlash: We had an editorial at BuzzFlash at one point about Louis XIV, who saw himself as the God King. And in a way, Bush sees himself that way. In fact, there was a report awhile back that he told one of the Egyptian diplomatic officials that, as God had chosen him to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, it was also God's will that he rid the world of Hamas, or something like that.
Kevin Phillips: You've got the sort of arrogance of the family that's entitled to rule. And you've got the presumption of having been anointed by God to play this specific role. Now, you can find other rulers in world history that have had the arrogance, and family, and the sense of being anointed by heaven to do something, but you don't look for that in the United States. That's nothing we did.
BuzzFlash: Let's talk about the court advisors, if one is to carry the dynastic analogy through. Were you surprised that, after this so-called vice presidential selection process, George W. picks Cheney? He was his father's defense secretary during the first Iraq war, and also, as you point out, with Rumsfeld, the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff under President Ford during the mishandled Mayaguez incident and during the end of the Vietnam War. And when you add James Baker, there really hasn't been much of a change in advisors to the court for the two presidencies at all. With Dick Cheney, you've got sort of a sort of pulling the strings, if one follows that theory, behind the Dauphin Prince or something. What is going on here?
Kevin Phillips: This is a profoundly reactionary symptom. This is a dynasty bringing in all the old retainers and the people who represent various interest groups and geopolitical commitments. In the case of Cheney, you've not only got the lineage back to the first Gulf War and Vietnam, you've got somebody who, I think, in many ways, came to the mind of George Bush Sr. as somebody who would be an adult of skill who could play a role for the restored heir, so to speak. And in that sense, it's much like what Charles II had as one of his principal advisors the Earl of Clarendon, an advisor to his executed father 20 years earlier. This is something that makes a lot of sense when you think in dynastic terms. It doesn't make sense when you think in terms of American history.
BuzzFlash: And of course, Rumsfeld was there -- that much-circulated clip now of him shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in the early 80s, during the Reagan-Bush administration. It's the same cast of characters who supported Saddam, then brought him down.
You don't bring up much of Noriega in your book, but it does also seem there is this Bush dynastic tradition of supporting these horrifying puppets like Noriega, whose drug trade was tolerated for a long time, and Saddam Hussein, and right-wing governments in Central America who send out death squads. But it seems if the puppet who's the nasty puppet, involved in all sorts of illicit, illegal activity, tries to become a little independent, that's when the Bushes jump on the guy.
Kevin Phillips: These people serve a purpose for the Bush leader in question. And when that purpose is changed by some other consideration, whether it's political advantage or the fact that the person in Nicaragua or Saudi Arabia or Panama, or whatever you're talking about, is either too ambitious or at loggerheads with what the Bushes want, then it's time to dump them. But what's amazing to me is how easily they get away with this, and how little the press will go to the trouble to portray the way in which this is a change of convenience -- dumping somebody who was built up.
It isn't really pointed out the extent to which not just George Bush, but Rumsfeld and others, were involved in building up Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. He's starting to get some attention. But that's obviously a major reason why the Administration doesn't want Saddam tried by a world court. They want him tried by a body in Iraq that can be controlled and will keep testimony like that out of public hearing.
BuzzFlash: One thing you sort of bring up here -- although I don't think you explicitly state it, and I'm kind of imposing my own interpretation -- is that there seems to be a tremendous amount of incompetence in the Bush dynasty. You detail better than I've seen detailed before all the contretemps and inept signals that the Bush Administration sent to Saddam Hussein before his invasion of Kuwait -- not just the celebrated April Glaspie meeting with Saddam, but actually a statement by Secretary of State James Baker that we wouldn't necessarily come to the aid of a country that was invaded in the Middle East. And yet, although this has been discussed, you get the sense that these guys really just have a tremendous number of missteps, and then start wars to kind of cover up, in a way.
Kevin Phillips: Well, I'm not certain Baker himself said that. It tended to be people in the State Department. But I'd basically agree with your point -- that there's been an awful lot of incompetency lately. They've been poor in handling the economy. They've been outfoxed often by Saddam Hussein. Even Saddam Hussein as a captive right now -- the legacy that he's leaving for Bush is one certainly that Bush never expected when he made that touchdown on the carrier. No, and they haven't been good at elections either. After all, Bush actually lost the last election -- certainly he lost the popular vote. His father could never win election from the Senate in Texas. That should have doomed him, but he had so many private connections that they counted for more than the fact that he wasn't good in public appeal. No, they haven't been terribly competent -- that's right.
BuzzFlash: Returning quickly to Baker and Cheney, they seem to play enormously important roles in the Bush dynasty, and certainly Cheney in the second one. You can make an argument he wasn't as significant in the first one, although he was secretary of defense during the first Gulf War. But Baker -- and again, this is our interpretation, not yours -- but we can't help but think of the Godfather and the consiglieri played by Robert Duvall. He's sort of the consiglieri to the Bush dynasty and just seems to pop up everywhere, including being the muscle and chief strategist behind the Florida election theft. Now he's out trying to shake down countries to forego their debt to Iraq. How do you describe exactly Baker's role?
Kevin Phillips: Well, Baker's an ex-Marine with a fair degree of competence, so you got competence and toughness coming together. He's made his share of mistakes, too, on both the economy and on dealing with Saddam Hussein, right in the lead-up to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. But he is a capable man. And so when they get in trouble, he's somebody who assumes quite a bit of importance because he's recognized in the United States and around the world as somebody very, very close to the Bush family who can speak for them, and who can give orders to virtually anybody in their cabal, so to speak. So Baker's a very important player.
BuzzFlash: In a commentary on NPR after the 2000 election -- and you bring this up briefly in your book -- I heard you talk about the theft of the election, going back to Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, in 1876. That also involved Florida electoral votes, even though it was more than a century before. You make quite a case here that not only did the Bush family outmuscle Democrats and, in essence, steal the election, but that the consortium of newspapers that looked into the voting and the under-votes and the over-votes withheld their findings, and then sort of smudged them when they did release them, because it did prove that if you counted the under- and over-votes for the full state, that Gore would have won. But that it would have been unpatriotic to release that following September 11.
Kevin Phillips: You've got a whole thread here, and you can take it back and begin with 1876 in Florida, which, in addition to involving Florida, also involved the swing vote in deciding the election being cast by a justice of the Supreme Court. So it's the two times in history -- 1876 and 2000 -- the Supreme Court got in and played a very political role, and chose the person who did not win the popular vote.
The second aspect that comes into play here is that in 1980, the thrust of the whole argument surrounding the October surprise accusations is that George H.W. Bush was involved in convincing the revolutionary government of Iran, with the help of some arms deals, to hold the American hostages. Now what I get a sense of from all of this -- and then topped obviously by spending all the money in 2000 to basically buy the election -- is that this is not a family that has a particularly strong commitment to American democracy. Its sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution.
BuzzFlash: One final background question: you served under the Nixon Administration, and you wrote a famous strategy book, Emerging Republican Majority. Are you an Independent now? Or how do you describe yourself?
Kevin Phillips: Well, I would describe myself at this point as an Independent. If John McCain had decided to run in the primaries against Bush, I would have reregistered as a Republican to vote for him. But, as I get into in the book, as far as I'm concerned, what the Bushes represent is just totally at loggerheads with everything from Abraham Lincoln down to McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, to Eisenhower, who warned about the military-industrial complex. When I wrote The Politics of Rich and Poor in 1990, which attacked Bush economic policies, the lead quote on the back of the book jacket was from Richard Nixon. John McCain and others -- not many -- but they've taken out after Bush Jr., and Ross Perot, and John Connelly, and even Ronald Reagan, didn't have much use for George Bush Sr. So there's a Republican lineage to this too.
It's not that I've just become an Independent, and that's the genesis of my view of the Bushes. My view of the Bushes came out of everything from Teddy Roosevelt down to Eisenhower and Nixon and Reagan.
BuzzFlash: Correct me if this interpretation is wrong -- you haven't stopped being a Republican. It's just the Republican Party under the Bushes has stopped being Republican.
Kevin Phillips: No, I haven't stopped being a Republican, in the sense I'm not registered as one. I voted for Ronald Reagan twice. My disenchantment came when the Republican Party did something I couldn't believe it would do, which was take George H.W. Bush and then, in 2000, take his son. The first one boggled my mind. The second one triple-boggled me.
BuzzFlash: Thank you so much. It was a wonderful book. I enjoyed it, Kevin.
Kevin Phillips: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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