restricted access Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty (1)
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Well, it’s officially the presidential campaign year, and Kevin Phillips has set a high water mark for any other Bush books appearing in 2004 with the publication of American Dynasty. Given its relevance and revelations, no other work is likely to surpass it. Kevin Phillips is no bomb-thrower, no hot-headed upstart out to make a reputation by means of an inflammatory exposé, but a seasoned , wise man, with deep roots in the Republican Party. Nonetheless , in many ways, American Dynasty is more incendiary than the BillClinton -murdered-Vince-Fosterbookssopopularduringthenineties. Unlikethoseproductions,Phillips’bookisnotsensationalistic,andits claims are historically verifiable. KevinPhillips’careerisinstructional:hisfirstbook, The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), was accepted as a bible for the party faithful , predicting, as it did, the successful Sun Belt-dominated rise of the GOP. But, since 1990, with the publication of The Politics of Rich and Poor, Phillips has become more and more alarmed over the divergence of wealth and social position in this country. His last book, Wealth and Democracy (2002), is a clarion call, warning readers that democracy and such polarization can’t coexist. Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty (1) 164 165 American Dynasty extends that analysis, centering on one family, which he calls “the House of Bush.” His book tells the story of four generations of Bushes, covering over a century, from World War I, up to the ongoing Iraq conflict. Phillips examines, at length, the current president’s grandfather Prescott Bush (and his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker), and Prescott Bush’s attempts to duck his family’s “aura of wealth” when he ran for the Senate: “The original, mild version of the family’s public ethos began with Prescott Bush, whose representation of midcentury Connecticut required much less artifice than did catering to the family ’s later southern electoral base. . . . he had tried to minimize the connotations of his rich-family, Wall Street resume by seeming less stuffy and emphasizing his involvement in charitable, educational, and civil rights causes.” What Phillips makes clear is how similar successive generations of the political Bushes are: each masquerade as the common man. For those who have paid keen attention to the career of George W. Bush, a lot of the facts in American Dynasty are not news, however startling. But it is Phillips’ training as a historian, and the context he provides, that make his book so fresh and damning. Indeed, having spent so much time considering the Bush family, Phillips admits to being somewhat aghast at what he discovered: In examining two Bush presidencies and a four-generation pursuit of national prominence and power through an unusual lens – one that highlighted elite associations, recurring political practices, and dynastic ambitions – I learned much more, and I admit to being shocked at some of what I found. The result is an unusual and unflattering portrait of a great family (in power, not morality) that has built a base over the course of the twentieth century in the back corridors of the new military-industrial complex and in close 166 association with the growing national security establishment. In doing so, the family has threaded its way through damning political and armaments scandals and, since the 1980s, faint hints, never more, of acts that in another climate might have led to presidential impeachment. If the writing of poetry is thought of as “emotion recollected in tranquility,” histories, usually, share the pose of tranquility. Phillips’ book maintains that tone, though the experience of reading it is disconcerting , similar to reading histories of the Vietnam War while that long war was being waged. Phillips seems most exercised by two verities at the heart of the Bush family: the first being that their wealth and power comes principally from the investment communities, oil being just a paper holding to them, not a tangible thing that produces something (other than profit), and that this interest has been forever entwined with governmentintelligencework .TheBushes,sonandfather,mightliveinTexas, but their family oil and business interests are in the Middle East and the Caribbean. Theintelligence-global-corporationcombinationproducedamount-­ ed to a government within a government, which, at this point, is now becoming one and the same thing. Phillips writes: “No previous presidential family has been so wholeheartedly involved with a single economic sector over two generations, yet with so little scrutiny of the resulting narrowness of its public policy views. If representing Texas for ten or twenty years stamped a senator’s or congressman’s view of thenationalagenda,whatwouldhavebeenimprintedonapresidential family by a century of working...