May 04, 2004

American Dynasty

I just finished Kevin Phillips' book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. This is from the introduction.

National politics, in short, has begun to take on the aura of a great family arena. Of the four wives of the major-party presidential nominees in 1996 and 2000, two quickly gained Senate seats: Hillary Clinton in 2000 and Elizabeth Dole in 2002. A third, Tipper Gore, decided not to make a Senate bid in Tennessee. Other seats in the U.S. Senate, in the meantime, began to pass more like membership in Britain's House of Lords.

Regionally, the prime example of family continuity in national government has been New England. In Rhode Island, Republican Lincoln Chafeee took the Senate seat of his father, John Chafee, when the latter died in 1999. Next door, Edward Kennedy occupies the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by his brother when he became president, and just to the west in Connecticut, Senator Christopher Dodd sits where his father sat from 1958 to 1970. Parenthetically, both senators from New Hampshire are the sons of former governors. One of those from Maine is the wife of a former governor.

Phillips left Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (appointed by her father when he won the governorship) and Jean Carnahan of Missouri (now a private citizen again) off his list, but I take his point. He views this trend with alarm, and when you see it compiled in a couple of paragraphs like that, it's a little startling. He doesn't think dynasties are a good thing for republics; he particularly doesn't think the Bush dynasty is good for the republic, and he spends roughly 400 pages detailing why. The Bushes have a history of involvement in highly questionable activities stretching back four generations, from arms dealing with Germany between the wars all the way up to Iran-Contra, BCCI, Iraqgate and Enron.

He goes into some detail as to how the current Bush managed to woo the Religious Right into supporting his Episcopalian father in 1988, and how there was no need to ask for their support for himself. He also tries to explain the rise of the Religious Right as a political entity, including some statistics regarding the beliefs of its members about Israel and the imminence of Armageddon. He explains some of the murkier details behind the pardons of Caspar Weinberger and Eliot Abrams and the rest of the Iran-Contra conspirators, and he posits that bringing some of those men back into the current administration is typical dynastic behavior.

Besides all the heavily-sourced facts presented, it's also a much better read than his Wealth and Democracy. It belongs in a slightly different category than all the other books currently out by Clarke, Wilson and the rest; it's both a history and a political science treatise. He concludes that the "military-industry complex" Eisenhower warned us against in his final speech was two legs short; he adds banking and intelligence activities to those, and finds it a far more serious problem than even Ike had thought. Highly recommended.

Posted by Linkmeister at May 4, 2004 05:13 PM