First Family Tree
Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty
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
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.