Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Miscreant Dynasty

Former Times executive editor Howell Raines rips into the Bushes.
Starting with Senator Prescott Bush's alliance with president Eisenhower and continuing through the dogged loyalty of his son, George H. W. Bush, to two more gifted politicians, presidents Nixon and Reagan, the family has developed a prime rule of advancement. In a campaign, any accommodation, no matter how unprincipled, any attack on an opponent, no matter how false, was to be embraced if it worked.

The paradigm in its purest form was seen when the first president Bush, in 1980, renounced a lifelong belief in abortion rights to run as Reagan's vice-president. To this day, any mention of this sell-out of principle sends the elder Bush into a rage. His son surpassed the father's dabbling with pork rinds and country music. He adopted the full agenda of redneck America — on abortion, gun control, Jesus — as a matter of convenience and, most frighteningly, as a matter of belief. Before the Bushes, American political slogans of the left and right embodied at least a grain of truth about how a presidential candidate would govern. The elder Bush's promise of a "kinder, gentler" America and the younger's "compassionate conservatism" brought us the political slogan as pure disinformation. They were asserting a claim of noblesse oblige totally foreign to their family history.

But whether Bush the father was pandering or Bush the son was praying, the underlying political trade-off was the same. The Bushes believe in letting the hoi polloi control the social and religious restrictions flowing from Washington, so long as Wall Street gets to say what happens to the nation's money. The Republican Party as a national institution has endorsed this trade-off. What we don't know yet is whether a GOP without a Bush at the top is seedy enough to keep it going. Dating back to the days when they talked of making George Washington a king, Americans have had an ambivalent attitude towards their aristocrats. They have also believed that dirty politics originated with populist Machiavellis such as Louisiana Governor Huey Long and urban bosses such as Chicago mayor Richard Daley. The Bushes, with their minders such as Rove, Cheney and DeLay, have turned that historic expectation upside down. Now political deviance trickles down relentlessly from the top. The next presidential election will be a national test of whether the taint of Bushian tactics outlasts what is probably the last Bush family member to occupy the executive mansion.



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