Over the course of the first three months of this election year, no book on the Bushes and the Bush presidency has sold more copies than Kevin Phillips’s American Dynasty. Having spent 11 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (currently, it’s Number 4), it has been praised by Times columnist Paul Krugman as “remarkable.” Yet, surprisingly, it has received little scrutiny.
In the past, Phillips has written books that were based on solid documentation and used historical and economic data. Agree with him or not, you could tell that he had done his homework. But if there were ever any doubt that Bush-bashing is a cultural phenomenon that affects even the level-headed, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, offers definitive proof that conspiracy theory has entered the establishment’s body politic.
Phillips makes some good points and sheds light on the background of a dynasty that has never before been studied in depth. In many instances he uses reputable sources to replay controversies in the past. Yet the real interest in the book comes from the supposedly new and startling information that Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, among others, calls “devastating.”
Most of the new information concerns what Phillips claims is the Bushes’ long association with the military-industrial complex. He claims that Prescott Bush might have served as “shadow CIA director” owing to his Skull and Bones ties, and that George H.W. Bush was a CIA asset in the1950s. Yet, digging through the copious footnotes, it quickly becomes apparent that Phillips seems willing to accept facts from anyone who supports his thesis. Besides The Nation, the only sources he uses to make the case of the Bushes’ secret CIA links is the Adamson Report (cited four times), a newsletter produced by one Bruce Adamson, a geologist who runs a crackpot website called ciajfk.com. Adamson apparently believes that the Bushes are implicated in the assassination of JFK “and tied directly and indirectly to the Diana accident and the crash of September 11, 2001.”
Phillips makes allegations that Neil Bush’s Silverado escapade had something to do with the CIA, and cites Rodney Stich’s book Defrauding America as his source. How credible is he? On his website Stich claims he warned American leaders about a 9/11 attack but that he was thwarted by the “felony cover-ups of federal judges” and both political parties. Phillips calls Stich “a former government investigator,” but fails to mention he worked for the FAA.
Phillips believes a good case can be made that Prescott Bush, George W. Bush’s grandfather, was recruited into the world of intelligence by a British spy. The source he quotes is John Loftus and Mark Aaron’s book The Secret War Against the Jews, which argues that every American president since FDR has “betrayed Israel and the Jewish people.” The book offers only anonymous sources for this remarkable claim. Nevertheless, Phillips quotes it ten times on such sensitive matters as his allegation of Bush-family links to Nazi Germany even though the authors offered only anonymous sources and an unpublished paper by an unknown author for their claims. (I asked repeatedly for a copy of the unpublished paper from them over the course of two years and received no answer.) In another instance, Phillips claims that the Bushes have obstructed Justice Department investigations into CIA activities. His source? A book by Russel Bowen called The Immaculate Deception: The Bush Crime Family Exposed. Bowen claims to have run drugs for “the secret government” in America, which apparently makes him qualified to write on this subject.
In another chapter Phillips revives the tired old story that the Reagan-Bush campaign planned an “October Surprise” to prevent the release of American hostages in Iran before the 1980 presidential election. Although long since abandoned by Democrats who, after an official inquiry headed by Rep. Lee Hamilton, admitted there was no evidence for it, Phillips says the theory should be taken seriously–based on new evidence. His sources? A series of overheated stories on the left-wing website, consortiumnews.org, written by Robert Parry, an obsessive pursuer of this theory whose work has been repudiated by The New Republic, Newsweek, American Journalism Review, and even The Village Voice.
Phillips also relies on J. H. Hatfield’s Fortunate Son, a now-discredited book about George W. Bush which was pulled by its publisher. He also accepts the reporting of Victor Thorn, writing in Babelmagazine.com, concerning the Bushes’ relationships to Saudi Arabia. (Thorn’s other credits include the books, The New World Order Exposed and The Real Reason Jesus Was Crucified.)
One of Phillips’s most attention-grabbing chapters posits the theory that the Bushes were involved in the rise of Adolf Hitler. While he correctly notes that Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment-banking firm employing Prescott Bush and George H. Walker (George W.’s great-grandfather), invested in Nazi-era German companies, Phillips fails to note that it was Averell Harriman, later FDR’s ambassador to Moscow and Truman’s commerce secretary, who initiated these investments (and some in Soviet Russia) before either of the Bushes joined the firm. Prescott Bush did not oversee these investments; the reality is that he was involved almost exclusively in managing the firm’s domestic portfolio. It was Harriman who largely managed the foreign investments and, accordingly, it was he who met German and Soviet leaders.
Phillips also makes much of the fact that Prescott Bush was involved with the Union Banking Corporation, which was seized by federal authorities in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, a story frequently cited on left-wing websites. But what Phillips fails to mention is that Bush had only a token role in the bank: Of the more than four thousand shares, Prescott Bush owned only one–urged on him by Harriman. Moreover, despite the conspiratorial argument that members of the WASP elite always work together hand in glove, Bush and Harriman were never as close as Phillips leads one to believe: Harriman actually campaigned aggressively against Bush in his 1952 senate race.
Likewise, Phillips tries to paint great-grandfather S. P. Bush as a war profiteer. His sin? S. P. served on the War Industries Board, later criticized for approving lucrative deals with American companies. But Bush joined the WIB on June 1, 1918, barely five months before the armistice.
While companies like U.S. Steel and Remington eventually made a bundle based on contracts before his arrival, Bush’s Buckeye didn’t make out well. A look at Buckeye records at the Ohio Historical Society (the kind of basic research Phillips didn’t do) reveals that profits grew only slightly faster than volume; there was no Bush war-profits windfall.
Bush hatred is often characterized as a mass phenomenon, one similar to the populist movements of the 1930s. In reality, it reflects the ethics and practices of the elitist muckraking writers of the late-19th century. The problem is, these attitudes don’t apply in today’s world or to the Bushes. Unlike other great American families driven by political ambitions–like the Rockefellers or Kennedys–the Bushes have rarely married into moneyed, old-line families with pedigree; they also lack the enormous personal fortunes of the Kennedy clan. And unlike those dynasties, which have sought office on their home base (the Kennedys have locked up Massachusetts for 40 years), the Bushes have taken their chances in unfamiliar territory like Florida and Texas. Instead of a top-down enterprise, they are a bottom-up operation. When George W. Bush ran for governor in 1994, he did it against the advice of his parents.
–Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-author (with Rochelle Schweizer) of The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty, which will be released by Doubleday on April 6.