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The First Family Tree
By Carlo Wolff

The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty
By Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer
Doubleday, 450 pages, $27.95

The Bush family places a pre-mium on privacy and loyalty, doesn’t like the media and considers “dynasty” too elitist for an entrepreneurial brood whose members strain to be regular guys and gals. But the term is accurate, according to Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, who trace the Bush and Walker families back to their roots in this exhaustive, chatty book.

The Bush clan got into gear in Columbus, Ohio, at the end of the 19th century, when Samuel P. Bush, an Episcopalian, left his native New Jersey to join the Pennsylvania Railroad, launching a lucrative career that spanned the transportation and steel industries. The Walker family got going in St. Louis around the same time, when Bert Walker, a staunch Catholic with a fiercely competitive sense of sports, sold his stake in his father’s dry-goods business to found G.H. Walker and Company, one of the first investment-banking firms in the Midwest. The families joined when Sam’s son, Prescott, married Bert’s daughter, Dottie.

You see the “potent genetic cocktail” of the cautious, conservative Bushes with the risk-taking, more flamboyant Walkers in the current crop: George Walker Bush is more Walker, steely, charming when necessary, anything but risk-averse; John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, by contrast, is deliberate. The Schweizers suggest, provocatively, that Jeb is the deepest of the Bushes—and certainly the most patient. They also effectively document the brothers’ deeply competitive nature.

Now that George Herbert Walker Bush and his more complicated and sensitive wife, Barbara, have largely delegated their political power, the sons have become the barometer. This is a dynasty indeed, no matter how the family demurs. “Ask Bush family members whether they consider themselves a dynasty and you are likely to get a strong reaction,” the Schweizers write at the end of their trek. “Family members will grimace, roll their eyes or simply shake their heads.”

“ ‘D and L—those two words, dynasty and legacy—irritate me,’ says former President Bush. ‘We don’t feel entitled to anything.’

“ ‘Dynasty schmynasty,’ says Jeb.”

Plow through this gregarious, occasionally repetitive tome and you will surely conclude that in 2008, Jeb, who helped deliver Florida for his older brother in the disputed 2000 election, will make a run from his base as governor of the Sunshine State. And even if that fails, it will certainly be well-financed. This family does one thing best: raise money. That’s why it’s become effectively synonymous with the GOP and why there was so little primary activity, other than from the maverick John McCain, when W. made his initial presidential run in 2000. Take this anecdote about Jeb, the stealth Bush, helping his big brother in 2000: “During one day, he secured $800,000 at breakfast, $500,000 at lunch, $650,000 at a cocktail reception and another $400,000 that evening.”

The reason the Bushes excel at fund-raising is connections that go back more than 100 years and reach into every nook and cranny of American heavy industry, or what’s left of it. Those links, of course, also extend to the Middle East, where George H.W. Bush made friends during his political ascent. Now the sons of those friends do business with another Bush scion, Neil, the dyslexic poster boy of the failed Silverado Savings & Loan.

Like the Harrimans, the Rockefellers, the crown prince of Dubai and the Fahd family of Saudi Arabia, the Bushes enjoy the privilege that accrues to money and power. They seem to view the world from the vantage point of a club room. Not surprisingly, the view is rosy, and that club must be defended. Perhaps that explains why Neil travels to Saudi Arabia to help its leaders buff the image of Muslims in the United States even as W. wages his perpetual anti-terrorism campaign.

The Schweizers also detail the involvement of the Bush men in the secretive Yale society Skull & Bones, touch on W.’s Air National Guard career, probe his conversion from alcoholic to believer and suggest one reason Bush Sr. lost to Bill Clinton in 1992 was that George H.W. Bush suffered from a thyroid malfunction.

Also covered: W.’s connection to Tony Blair, the British prime minister, and the surprising fact that in the mid-’80s, W. and billionaire industrialist George Soros were both members of the board of Harken Energy, an energy investment business. (Soros is spending millions to defeat a second W. presidential term.)

Just in time for this year’s presidential election comes this highly detailed look at America’s premier Republican clan. The Schweizers have succeeded in humanizing what can be a curiously detached family by ferreting out fascinating and not always flattering detail, relying on numerous Bushes eager to talk up the brood.

The Schweizers rarely editorialize politically. Their book is resolutely neutral, and in no way could the Bushes take offense at it. At the same time, the nation’s first Republican family may regret its candor.

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