"There ought to be limits to freedom. We're aware of this site, and this guy is just a garbage man, that's all he is." -- George Jr., discussing a web site that parodies him
"[Bush Jr. hired a private detective to] determine what his opponents or the press could find on him [and] isn't terribly thrilled [with the results.] We're not talking about anything that would get him a spot on Jerry Springer, no handcuffs or dwarf orgies, but he was a handsome, rich playboy and lived that life." -- unnamed insider, quoted on MSNBC.
"It's not the governor's role to decide who goes to heaven. I believe that God decides who goes to heaven, not George W. Bush." -- George W. Bush, in the Houston Chronicle.
"I didn't -- I swear I didn't -- get into politics to feather my nest or feather my friends' nests." -- Bush Jr., in the Houston Chronicle
"I propose that every city have a telephone number 119 -- for dyslexics who have an emergency." -- George Junior
"I hope to show Hispanics that Republicans do have a heart, but I also want to send a message to people from around the country as to how to pick up the Hispanic vote" -- George Junior
"He told me his brother (Texas Gov. George W. Bush) said he could kick my butt, and I said I haven't met a Texan yet that can shame me." -- Minnesota Governor, Navy Seal, and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, quoting Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
"When George moved back to Midland [after college], he bummed an office, he bummed golf clubs, bummed shoes. You were lucky if you saw him in a clean shirt." -- Tom Craddick, ranking Republican in the Texas House of Representatives and longtime friend of Bush's.
"It's hard to usher in the responsibility era if you behave irresponsibly." -- Junior, aiming at Clinton but backfiring.
"When it is all said and done, I will have made more money than I ever dreamed I would make." -- Bush, in the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, describing his Texas Rangers business deal.
1) grew up as a very rich child of powerful parents,
2) partied from high school until he was 40,
3) made millions off of sweet insider business deals from political allies of his dad, who happened to be the President,
and 4) got elected governor of Texas mostly because of his name.
Bush Junior has done some good work as governor of Texas. He has crossed the partisan divide, reached out to minorities, and tackled at least one tough, thankless issue (school financing; his plan was voted down in the legislature.)
But 4 years -- even 4 good ones -- is a pretty short resume for the leader of the free world. No one doubts Bill Clinton's ability to handle punishment and come back for more. But Bush Junior's stamina and attention span are very real concerns. Furthermore, Bush's term as governor has also been markedly corrupt, although possibly in legal ways. What we mean is, he has taken millions in campaign contributions from certain big businessmen -- many of whom were in on the insider business deals that made him rich -- and those same businessman have received billions in sweet deals from the Texas state government during Bush's term.
Specifics: Like Al Gore, Bush Jr. attended Eastern elitist schools, in this case Andover Prep, and Yale. According to a Newsweek profile, he "went to Yale but seems to have majored in drinking at the Deke House." He joined the secretive "Skull and Bones" club in 1968, as any good conspiracy buff can tell you.
His business career was marked by mediocrity or failure which nonetheless resulted in him getting lots of money from his father's political allies. And his political career has been handed to him on a platter by his famous name, and by his dad's cronies.
Bill Kristol, conservative pundit and Dan Quayle's former chief of staff, says "The Bush network is the only genuine network in the Republican Party. It is the establishment." Junior and Jeb Bush (recently elected in Florida) are first brothers to be simultaneous governors since the Rockefellers.
To give you an idea of how rarefied his upbringing was, George Junior had an argument with his mom at one point about whether non-Christians could go to Heaven. (Barbara Bush felt they could; George didn't.) To settle the dispute, they phoned up Billy Graham on the spot. (He sided with Junior, but warned him not to play God.).)
Bush can't blame this on his staff, either; when asked about one critical web site, he told the press "There ought to be limits to freedom. We're aware of this site, and this guy is just a garbage man, that's all he is."
As governor of Texas, for example, Bush Junior has sent the state police to arrest peaceful demonstrators outside the governors mansion. While previous governors allowed peaceful pickets on the public sidewalk outside the mansion, Bush has claimed that they are blocking public access, and had them arrested. Not all protestors, either -- just the ones he doesn't want the press to see.
Bush also can't stand criticism on the Internet. His campaign quietly -- and probably illegally -- bought up over 200 anti-Bush domain names including "bushsucks.com", "bushbites.com", and "bushblows.com" over a year ago. If you type in any of these URLs, you end up at Bush's official web site. His campaign refuses to say whether this means that they admit that he bites, blows and sucks. (Maybe he used to be a White House intern?)
If you wanted to set up one of those sites, breathe easy because many good names are still available. The Bush camp somehow neglected to purchase "bushisaprick.com", "bushisweak.com", or "bushsucksdonkeydicks.com", so $70 makes them yours.
Even worse, Bush and his high-priced lawyers have tried twice to shut down a web site -- www.gwbush.com -- that parodies the Bush campaign, in particular his "no comment" answers on drug use in his past. You will recall that Bush has said it doesn't matter what he did "in his youth," because the question is "have you grown up" and "have you learned from your mistakes." The parody site presents a new program called "Amnesty 2000", in which Bush "proposes" pardoning all drug convicts who have "grown up."
The Bush campaign filed one complaint about the site in April 1999, after which the parody site's owners changed it to look less like the real Bush site. That wasn't good enough though, and Bush lawyers filed against the site again in May 1999. So far, it remains in business. Sources
But SCI has very powerful friends. They gave governor Bush $35,000 in the last election and $10K in 1994, gave $100,000 to the George Bush, Sr. library, and hired the ex-president to give a speech last year for $70,000. They also spread money around the Texas legislature and the Texas Attorney General's office.
The commission continued its investigation. So SCI's boss, Robert Waltrip, called the funeral commission's chairman and told him to "back off." If not, Waltrip said, "I'm going to take this to the governor."
Still, the investigation continued. So Waltrip and his lawyer/lobbyist, Johnnie B. Rogers, went to the governor's office and dropped off a letter demanding a halt to the investigation. Rogers told Newsweek that he and Waltrip were ushered in to see Joe Allbaugh, Bush's chief of staff (who is now Bush's campaign manager.) Rogers goes on to say that Bush Jr. popped his head in and said to Waltrip, "Hey, Bobby, are those people still messing with you?" Waltrip said yeah. Then the governor turned to Rogers and said, "Hey, Johnnie B. Are you taking care of him?" Rogers said "I'm doing my best, Governor."
The problem for Bush is that he swore under oath, in a July 20th 1999 affidavit, that he "had no conversations with [SCI] officials, agents, or representatives concerning the investigation or any dispute arising from it." If Rogers is telling the truth, than Bush Jr. lied directly under oath. He filed the affidavit in an attempt to avoid testifying in a whistleblower lawsuit concerning this investigation and it's alleged squashing by Bush's administration.
In the latest development, Bush himself has admitted that he spoke with Waltrip and Rogers, but denies that it was anything substantial. Bush told the Associated Press that ``Itīs a 20-second conversation. I had no substantive conversation with the guy. Twenty seconds. Thatīs hardly enough time to even say hello, much less sit down and have a substantive discussion. All I know is it lasted no time. And that hardly constitutes a serious discussion. I did not have any knowledge at all of Waltrip's problem with this case.''
Of course, nothing Bush says here contradicts what Rogers said. In fact, his careful construction of this and other phrases for reporters -- such as "When I was young and irresponsible, I was really young and irresponsible.", and his evasion about whether Jews can go to heaven -- are incredibly similar to Bill Clinton's weaseling about dope, the draft, what "is" is, etc.
Whatever Bush said out loud, Waltrip's complaints to the governor got quick results. Eliza May -- the investigator for the funeral services commission -- says that after Waltrip visited the governor, she received phone calls from three senior Bush aides asking if she could wrap up her proble quickly. She says she was also summoned to another meeting in Allbaugh's office, one month after the first one, and found Waltrip already there. The governor's top aide, she says, demanded that she turn over a list of all of the documents that she needed "to close the SCI investigation."
Since then, investigator Eliza May has been fired, 6 or 10 staff members on the commission have been fired or resigned and not been replaced, and the Texas legislature -- led by members receiving substantial contributions from SCI -- passed a bill to reorganize the agency and remove it's head. On August 16, 199, Bush ordered his Comptroller to take over the agency and run it. May -- who, it should be noted, is a Democrat and was even state Democratic Treasurer at one point -- has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging she was fired because she persisted with the investigation.
Bush simply didn't show up for his scheduled deposition on July 1st in the case. (He isn't a defendant in the case, because Governors are immune from lawsuits in Texas, but is being called as a material witness.) He filed his affidavit on July 20th to indicate that he had nothing to add. A hearing is scheduled on August 30th to determine if that is the case. Since he admitted in the press that he did meet with Waltrip and Rogers, May has filed a contempt of court motion with the court as well.
sweet insider business deals, or both.
For example, the University of Texas' Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) invests $1.7 billion of state money. Bush's cronies dominate this board, and in return investment funds controlled by these very cronies or their friends have received $457 million of that investment pool. There may even be more, but this obscure group -- created under Bush -- cloaks its operations in a thick veil of secrecy.
UTIMCO's chairman, Tom Hicks, now owns the Texas Rangers; his purchase of the team made Governor Bush a very rich man. Furthermore, Hicks and his brother gave $146,000 to the Bush campaign. In return, $252 million of the invested money went to funds run by Hicks' business associates or friends, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hicks even insisted that UTIMCO increase by $10 million an investment with a fund that he had an indirect financial interest in, but UTIMCO staff halted funding after they discovered the conflict.
In another example, Larry Paul Manley, Bush's director of the Department of Housing until he resigned in January 1999, is under police investigation for steering federal tax credits to cronies. Texas' top auditor discovered in 1997 that 60% of department contracts went to Manley's former colleagues at local savings and loans, but refused to make the findings public until long after the criminal probes began.
Another key player in the Bush world is Richard Rainwater, the billionaire Texas investor who made Bush Jr.'s original involvement in the Texas Rangers deal possible. That's the deal that made Jr. rich, of course. Bush had several other personal investments in Rainwater controlled companies. But Rainwater has received much from Bush and the state of Texas' treasury, too.
For example, the state teacher retirement fund sold three office buildings to Rainwater's real estate company at bargain prices, and without bids in 2 of the cases. The fund invested $90 million in the Frost Bank Plaza in Austin, and sold it to Rainwater's Crescent Real Estate for $35 million. Bush signed a law that will give his former baseball team co-owners -- including Rainwater -- a $10 million bonus payment when a new Dallas arena is built. Bush also proposed a cap on business real estate taxes that would have saved Rainwater millions on his various properties (but it lost in the legislature). And UTIMCO, described above, has invested $20 million in Rainwater companies.
Bush may or may not have violated state ethics laws with all of this big money backscratching, but there is no doubt that he and these businessman are operating corruptly -- funneling large amounts of state money to the businessmen's companies, and large amounts of their personal and business money into George Bush Jr.'s pocket and political campaigns.
Just like Dan Quayle and Steve Forbes, two other politically-connected rich kids, Bush Junior joined his home state's National Guard. It's not clear how he got past the waiting list, but his dad was a U.S. Congressman at the time, and his grandfather was a famous U.S. Senator.
Instead of going to Vietnam, he flew cool jet planes around Texas, valiantly defending us against the Mexican air force. His political connections got him a sweet deal -- they not only got him into the National Guard, and got him the last (rare) training slot for pilots despite the fact that he scored the lowest allowable score - 25/100 - on a pilot's aptitude test, but he was assigned to fly an older plane (the F102) which was being phased out at the time, which meant that he had no chance at all of going to Vietnam.
On this issue, too, Bush has weaseled in a manner eerily reminiscent of Bill Clinton. He claims that he joined the guard to fly planes, just like his dad. But George Bush, Senior, a genuine war hero, joined the Navy, not the National Guard. Both the Navy and Air Force had plenty of openings when Bush Jr. joined, but he chose the stateside Guard. Furthermore, his enlistment form had a check box to indicate whether you volunteered to go the Vietnam or not. His was checked NO, but now he claims that the clerks there often filled that part out and checked NO for you. Once he joined, Bush was promoted to First Lieutenant in just 4 months, a very short time, and was given several months off to work on a political campaign. He was also released 6 months early to work on another campaign.
1. the sale of Junior's struggling oil company,
2. Junior's sale of oil stock just before the Gulf War, and
3. getting a cheap slice of the Texas Rangers baseball team, which he recently sold for a huge profit (he paid $600,000, and sold for $14 million).
The general pattern here is just as important as the details. Bush did no work in his business career that can clearly be called "excellent" or even "solid." The money he made is tangential to his efforts at best -- the oil companies lost a great deal of money during his tenure, and the Rangers cut a lot of corners -- which makes the cronyism that much more suspicious.
It's not just that one or two of Bush's deals look funky; every major business deal he has been involved with included wealthy supporters of his father, and many of those investors later received favorable treatment from either the federal government under Bush, Sr. or the current Texas administration of Junior.
The 50 investors, who were "mainly friends of my uncle" in Junior's own words, put in $4.7 million and lost most of it. Junior claims that investors "did pretty good," but Bush family friend Russell Reynolds told the Dallas Morning News: "The bottom line was there were problems, and it didn't work out very well. I think we got maybe 20 cents on the dollar."
As Arbusto neared collapse, Spectrum 7 Energy Corporation bought it in September 1984. Despite his poor track record, the owners made Bush, Jr. the president and gave him 13.6% of the parent company's stock.
Spectrum 7 was a small oil firm owned by two staunch Reagan/Bush Sr. supporters -- William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds. These two were also owners of the Texas Rangers and allowed Bush Jr. to purchase a chunk of the team cheaply; he later sold it for over 24 times what he paid.
Within two years of purchasing Arbusto and making Bush Jr. president, Spectrum 7 was itself in trouble; it lost $400,000 in its last 6 months of operation. That ended in 1986, when Harken Energy Corporation bought Spectrum 7's 180-well operation.
Junior got $227,000 worth of Harken stock, and a lot more. He was named to the board of directors, made $80,000 to $100,000 a year well into the 1990s as a "consultant" to Harken, and was allowed to buy Harken stock at 40% below face value.
He also borrowed $180,375 from Harken at very low rates; the company's 1989 and 1990 SEC filings said it "forgave" $341,000 in loans to unspecified executives.
So what did Junior do for all this money?
It's hard to say exactly, but things happened for Harken after Junior came
Easy Money From Odd Sources
The firm's $25 million stock offering was underwritten by Stephens, Inc., an Arkansas bank whose head, Jackson Stephens, was on President Bush's "Team 100." (That was a group of 249 rich persons who gave at least $100,000 each to his presidential campaign committee). Stephens placed the offering with the London subsidiary of Union Bank of Switzerland, which (according to the Wall Street Journal) was not known as an investor in small American companies.
Union Bank did have other connections; it was a joint-venture partner with the notorious BCCI in a Geneva-based bank, and was involved in a scandal surrounding the Nugan Hand Bank, a CIA operation in Australia whose executives were advised by William Quasha, the father of Harken's chairman (Alan Quasha.) Union Bank was also involved in scandals surrounding Panamanian money laundering by BCCI, and Ferdinand Marcos' movement of 325 tons of gold out of the Phillipines.
That wasn't the only financing connection Junior brought; after the company won its Bahrain deal (see next item), the billionaire Bass brothers of Texas offered to underwrite the drilling operation. Robert Bass is also a member of Bush's Team 100, and he and his kin gave $226,000 to Bush Senior between 1988 and 1992.
In January 1990, Harken was chosen out of the blue by the small Mideast country Bahrain for an exclusive offshore oil drilling contract. They beat out Amoco, an experienced and major international conglomerate, despite having no offshore oil drilling experience at all. As of March 1995, the most recent report we could find, they had found no oil.
Junior has denied that he was involved in the deal, and even told the Wall Street Journal that he opposed it. But a company insider told Mother Jones Magazine "Like any member of the board, he was thrilled. His attitude was 'Holy shit, what a great deal!'"
If he did oppose it, he wasn't much of a consultant. Charles Strain, an energy company analyst in Houston, told Mother Jones: "Harken is not hard to understand -- it's easy. The company has only one real asset -- its Bahrain contract. If that field turns out to be dry, Harken's stock is worth, at the most, 25 cents a share. If they hit it big over there, the stock could be worth $30 to $40 dollars a share." As of December 1998, Harken Energy Corp. (HEC on Amex) is trading at $2.69 a share.
Access to the President For Bush's Foreign Business Partner
The most troubling thing that happened to Harken after it bought George Bush Junior in, was that one of its Board of Directors members was suddenly admitted to the highest levels of United States foreign policy meetings. These were not Clintonesque meet-and-greet fundraisers, but actual working policy meetings during a critical period.
After the Harken-Bahrain deal was signed, Talat Othman was added to a group of Arabs who met with George Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft three times in 1990 -- once just two days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Othman was the representative of Sheikh Abdullah Bakhsh, who purchased 10% of Harken stock and had several ties to the infamous BCCI bank. Bakhsh was a co-investor in Saudi Arabia with alleged BCCI front man Ghaith Pharaon. Bakhsh's banker, Khalid bin Mahfouz, was another BCCI figure and head of the largest bank in Saudi Arabia. Sheikh Kalifah, the prime minister of Bahrain, was a BCCI shareholder and played the key role in selecting Harken for the oil contract.
This is the crowd that gained entry to the President and the National Security Adviser of the United States after George Junior made his deal with Harken.
A secret State Deparment memo in May of that year had warned that Saddam was out of control, and listed options for responding to him, including an oil ban that might affect US oil prices.
We can't be sure that the President or an aide mentioned these developments to his son, or that Harken's representative who was admitted to meetings with the President picked up something and reported back to Junior. But it is the simplest and most logical explanation. The Bushes acknowledge that George Senior and his sons consult on political strategy and other matters constantly.
Furthermore, Harken's internal financial advisers at Smith Barney had issued a report in May warning of the company's deteriorating finances. Harken owed more than $150 million to banks and other creditors at the time. George Bush, Jr. was a member of the board and also of Harken's restructuring committee, which met in May and worked directly with the Smith Barney consultants. He must have known of these warnings.
These are pretty clear-cut indications of illegal insider trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission, controlled at the time by President George Bush, investigated but chose not to press charges.
Junior also violated another SEC rule explicitly. He was required to register his sale as an insider trade by July 10, 1990, but didn't until March 1991, after the Gulf War was over. He was not punished or cited.
The third unusually easy deal for George Bush Junior was his involvement in the Texas Rangers baseball team. In a nutshell, he was offered a piece of this valuable franchise for only $600,000, by supporters of his dad who also bailed out his failing oil company. He recently sold his stake for $14 million to a Texas millionaire with lots of businesses regulated by Bush Junior's administration. "When all it is all said and done, I will have made more money than I ever dreamed I would make," Bush told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.
Bush was allowed to buy 1.8% of the team for $600,000 of borrowed money, and was even made one of the two general managers. His qualifications for partial ownership? Several years working at failing oil companies, and his political connections through his father. It's hard to be sure, but we're guessing that latter was probably more important.Junior tripled his investment, like the other owners, with the help of massive government intervention and subsidies. But his real wealth came from simply being given 10% of the team as a "bonus" for "putting together the investment team."
Even if he really had done that work, it's an absurd bonus ($12.2 million), but the fact is that he didn't add much. Cincinatti financier William DeWitt brought Bush in, not vice versa, shortly after George Bush Sr. was elected president. (DeWitt had also invested in Junior's oil companies.). The only investor Bush actually brought in was Roland Betts, a Yale fraternity brother, and that wasn't good enough.
Under Junior's management, the deal was about to fall apart until baseball commissioner Peter Uebberoth brought in another investment group led by Fort Worth Billionaire Richard Rainwater and Dallas investor "Rusty" Rose. Since the deal, both men have profited greatly from business with the Texas administration of George Bush, Jr. Rose personally invested $3.2 million and became the other general manager of the team. Under the team partnership agreement, Bush Junior couldn't take any "material actions" wihtout Rose's prior approval. There was also a method for removing Junior as a general partner, but no way to remove Rose. Yet Rose's "bonus" for his role in setting up the deal was less than half of Junior's.
What kind of owners would approve such a big payoff to Bush? In addition to Rose and Rainwater, men with business pending before Texas government, the owners included William DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds, major contributors to President Bush who had also purchased Junior's failing oil company through their Spectrum 7 Energy company.
If this deal doesn't smell bad enough already, consider Bush's blatant hypocrisy. The main value of the team is its new stadium (ranked by Financial World as the most profitable in baseball) and 300 acres of vacant land the team owns between the stadium and 6 Flags of Texas, which is next door.
Putting Tax Money
into Bush's Pocket
The agency foreclosed the land and paid the owners a very low price, later judged by a jury to be only 1/6th of its actual value. The agency also floated bonds, guaranteed and repaid by taxpayers, to finance the purchase. This amounted to a $135 million subsidy for Bush and partners, compared with the $80 million they paid for the franchise. Since they recently sold the entire franchise for $250 million, it's easy to see whose money Bush and friends pocketed.
The next time Junior talks about tax cuts, remember this: Arlinton had to impose a new 1/2 cent sales tax just to pay for the subsidy Bush and his partners received.
To add insult to injury, Bush and his partners continue to stiff the taxpayers for $7.5 million they owe under the terms of the agreement. It held that the team would pay all expenses over $135 million. The original owners of just 13 of the acres sued the City of Arlington, saying that the ASFDA had not paid a fair price for the land. The jury awarded them $7.5 million, but even though the project exceeded the $135 million limit, the partners have refused to pay. Given their huge taxpayer subsidy and $170 million profits, it seems absurdly selfish.
George Bush, Jr. has said in campaign speeches "I will do everything I can to defend the power of private property and private property rights when I am the governor of this state." Apparently this deal was not covered by that statement, since he wasn't governor yet.
He claims that he "wasn't aware of the details" of the land condemnations, even though he was the team's managing general partner and has bragged about personally getting the stadium built. But he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in October 1990 that "The idea of making a land play, absolutely, to plunk the field down in the middle of a big piece of land, that's kind of always been the strategy."
And the key to their land play was always the strong arm of government. A memo from Arlington real estate broker Mike Reilly to Rangers President Tom Schieffer dated October 26, 1990 - the day before Bush's comment about the land play - said "In this particular situation our first offer should be our final offer ... If this fails, we will probably have to initiate condemnation proceedings after the bond election passes."
On the first day of the 1993 campaign, Bush said "The best way to allocate resources in our society is through the marketplace. Not through a governing elite." Not through a private sports team buying in the President's son cheap, and then getting the government to hand them extremely valuable land.
The Bush family spin is that the governor quit drinking cold turkey on his 40th birthday, straightened out by the love of a good woman (his wife, Laura.) They even pull out their secret weapon, lovable Barbara Bush, with anecdotes about what a rascal little George Junior was.
But the explosive element here is not booze. It's sex, drugs and hypocrisy. Frankly, it doesn't bother us if candidates have partied, even a lot. Who wants a bunch of namby-pamby boy scouts running the country? But George Bush Jr. makes a big point of travelling around the country and lecturing students on staying celibate, sober and drug free. He does not permit the option of partying hard until you're 40 and then stopping.
No Handcuffs or Dwarf OrgiesJunior is so worried about his past that he hired a private detective to investigate himself. (I guess he can't remember what he did at those parties, which tells you something right there.)
According to an unnamed insider quoted on MSNBC, Bush "isn't terribly thrilled" about what they found, though no one is spilling the details (yet). "No handcuffs or dwarf orgies, but he was a handsome, rich playboy and lived that life," the insider said.
Sex: Bush volunteers to reporters that he has been faithful to his wife. However, he was married at 31 and makes no claim of virginity before that point, even as he lectures the youth of today to remain celibate. A Clinton aide who was in Bush's class at Yale has already warned him that "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
Drugs: No one is speaking for the record, and there is no solid proof that we know of, but there are consistent rumors of Bush not only smoking pot but snorting cocaine during his partying heyday in the 1970s. Bush does not deny any of this. When Newsweek asked "If you're asked specifically about marijuana or cocaine, what's the answer?" and Bush replied "I will say what I did as a youth is irrelevant to this campaign. What is relevant is, have you grown up, and I have."
Bush has continued to repeat this line, and his other catch phrase "When I was young and irresponsible, I was really young and irresponsible." But increasingly voters and his opponents are not accepting these evasions. So, under persistent questioning, Bush has now given a little detail. Junior was asked by the Dallas Morning News about the standard FBI background check, used in the Clinton administration, which asks whether potential White House employees have used drugs in the last 7 years. He said "As I understand it, the current form asks the question, 'Did somebody use drugs within the last seven years?' and I will be glad to answer that question, and the answer is 'No.' " That's a relief, however it totally undercuts his reason for not answering the general question, that he was going to avoid any details. How about 7-10 years ago? How about 10-15? There are many people in Texas jails currently serving jail time for possession of drugs 10 years ago. Does Bush think he is better than these people? Or just luckier? Or just richer?
Rock and Roll: Bush keeps a picture of himself with two members of ZZ Top, but does not play the song "Tube Steak Boogie" during his celibacy lectures. We have found no evidence to support the the most explosive allegation so far; that Bush played air guitar to a Foghat record at a party in the late 1970s. But he won't deny it, either.
When pressed on the hypocrisy issue, he speaks to hypocritical baby boomer parents everywhere: "If I were you, I wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want 'em to smoke pot. I think it's important for leaders, and parents, not to send mixed signals. I don't want some kid saying, 'Well, Governor Bush tried it.'"
It's amazing enough that he openly defends hypocrisy, but his own signals are very mixed. When allowed to imply that he is just another manly, hard-drinking rapscallion, Bush seizes the opportunity. "When I was young and irresponsible, I was really young and irresponsible," he often says. He even hints at pot smoking, as in the above quote, and why not? Everyone from his likely opponent Al Gore to Newt Gingrich has admitted smoking pot.
But Junior wants it both ways. When the deadly rumor of cocaine use surfaces, he retreats to his high-minded rhetoric about not giving mixed messages. If he thinks he can skate to the presidency without either his right-wing foes or embittered Clintonistas pushing his past into the limelight, then he really IS on drugs.
The woman behind George W.'s iron bubble.
The High Prophet is kneeling on the carpet. Karen Hughes, communications director for Texas Governor George W. Bush, is hunkered down in the library of the Bancroft Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, a few feet from where her boss is participating in a roundtable with local educators. Two minutes earlier, Hughes had been working the room, meeting and greeting the media, her bulky, five-foot-ten-inch frame overshadowing most of the men in the place. But, as Bush settled in to take questions from the assembled teachers and PTA moms, Hughes made her way to the front of the media pack and crouched low, placing herself squarely in the seated governor's line of sight. As he talks, she scribbles on the back of a business card--snippets of his responses, for possible use in later press releases and speeches. In her gray cardigan, brown pants, and black shoes, a worn Southwestern-print handbag at her feet, Hughes looks a bit like a PTA mom herself. But her gaze is too intense. She chews constantly on her fingernails. As the governor takes the final question, Hughes is up again, patrolling the area. But, when Bush sits down for a too-cute interview with one of the school's sixth-graders, Hughes promptly resumes the position: front of the pack, low, on eye level with the candidate.
Bush, who delights in assigning nicknames, has dubbed Hughes "the High Prophet." She claims the moniker is simply a play on her maiden name, Parfitt. But there's more to it than that. Hughes is responsible for maintaining the central fiction underlying candidate Bush's astonishing success: that the governor's presidential campaign is laid-back. While Al Gore is mocked for his stick-like persona (and his strained attempts to overcome it), George W. has charmed voters and the media with his easygoing, "what, me care?" style. The governor doesn't need Naomi Wolf to tell him who to be. The campaign is loose, confident, and unstaged--an authentic representation of the man.
That, at least, is the perception. The reality is that Bush 2000 is one of the most tightly managed campaigns in political memory, thanks in large part to the fiercely protective Hughes. There is little leaking of inside info, Bush hews rigidly to a handful of stock speeches, and great care is taken to keep him from spontaneously interacting with the press and other candidates. Instead of debates, probing interviews, and lengthy Q&As, Team Bush schedules quickie news conferences (six or seven questions a pop), numerous speeches on warm and fuzzy broad themes, and periodic opportunities for journalists to talk policy details with campaign advisers. It's not that the governor is inaccessible; access is simply strictly controlled.
To some degree, this is typical front-runner caution. Don't bleed until you have to, as one senior Bushie explained to the press. But, in Bush's case, the aim is somewhat more involved. Whatever his overarching philosophy of government, George W. lacks much of the basic knowledge and experience expected in a presidential contender--especially a front-runner. By carefully controlling the circumstances under which Bush meets the press and public, Hughes allows her candidate to peddle his backslapping bonhomie without getting roped into discussing the specifics of why he wants to be president and how he plans to do the job. She has created for Bush a bubble so seamlessly artificial that it looks real.
But for how long? After months of adulation, the press's mood has recently begun to shift. The New York Times noted that the candidate's oft-repeated basic messages are growing tiresome. Pockets of the media--along with Bush's political opponents--are grumbling about the campaign's arrogance in picking and choosing how it engages them. "There's a reservoir of ill will building up," says one Washington journalist. "And their strategy looks like it's about to turn around and bite them on the ass." Recently, a Boston TV reporter surprised Bush during an interview with a couple of name-that-leader foreign affairs questions. Expect more such episodes as the media and the political competition push Bush to move beyond generalities and bromides. When that happens, the governor may come to regret the protective bubble that Hughes has provided. By not allowing Bush to sharpen his skills and make his mistakes early on, when few voters were paying attention, her success in shielding her candidate from the ugliness of the political fray may ultimately backfire. And Team Bush may come to find that Karen Hughes has done her job just a little too well.
Ask two dozen people their thoughts on the High Prophet, and 23 will come back with variations of the same mantra: Karen Hughes is professional, disciplined, tough, straightforward, and loyal. (From Texans, expect to hear the phrase "straight shooter.") After a while, you get that creepy Manchurian Candidate feeling, as though people have undergone some systematic mental programming where Hughes is concerned.
You also hear a lot about what an imposing figure Hughes presents--perhaps not surprising when you're talking about a woman who wears a size twelve shoe. She has a Texas-size voice--a booming foghorn that can easily slice through the nattering of a room of journalists and frequently does, when Hughes decides to cut short a "press availability" that's getting out of hand. Moreover, Hughes is well-known for her willingness to get in your face and tell you what's what--particularly if she thinks you're being too tough on her boss. "I don't know how many times I'll say something and she'll come right at me hard and strong and loud," says Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News. You absolutely cannot bully Hughes, says CNN's Charles Zewe: "She is someone not diminutive in any sense of the word." Candidate Bush can afford to be chummy with reporters because he knows Hughes is not afraid to play the heavy.
Hughes's aura helps her control a media beast constantly pushing for access to her boss. "She treats the media like a covey of quail that can be rounded up," says Zewe. In First Son, one of the recent biographies of George W., Texas journalist Bill Minutaglio paints a telling picture of Hughes in action. Election Day, 1998: A media mob has staked out the governor's mansion, hoping to talk with Bush as he walks down to vote. Hughes has other plans. "She's herding the sheep, trying to trap them in old Sam Houston's barnyard. `No, no!ī she booms. `Only pool reporters are allowed out of the gate!ī Hughes, whose father trained at West Point, spreads her arms out. She is wielding a legal pad as the governor of Texas pauses to watch. Heīs grinning, his eyes look like blue Sweet Tarts ... reporters trapped inside the gates of the Mansion." As Bush ambles down the street, Hughes holds the beast at bay: "[She] is still frantically waving her arms as she blocks anyone from leaving. She has a long reach. She has slightly angled the top half of her body over, a good offensive linemanīs trick, giving her more power and stability. No one can edge around the High Prophet.... She takes one last hard look at the press pool. She freezes the pool with a glare, spins, and wobbles into the street."
Hughes also refuses to play the usual flack-journalist game of leaking information. "She's surgically attached to message," says Jay Root, Austin bureau chief of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "You cannot knock her off-message. There are some people you run into and they sort of let their hair down and go, `I know, that was me the spokeswoman, but this is just me and you having a beer and we know all this is bullshit.ī I donīt think she thinks this is bullshit," says Root. "I think sheīs a true believer."
"Early in the campaign I got the sense that if you burst into Karen's room in the middle of the night, woke her up, and asked her questions about Bush, she would immediately give you the campaign line, because it was real to her," agrees Tucker Carlson, who wrote a controversial profile of George W. for Talk magazine (controversial in part because Hughes went around denying that the governor had used the word "fuck" when talking with Carlson). Hughes, in turn, sets the tone for the rest of the team. "The Bush operation is not perceived as being very fast and loose with information," says Root. "You can tell a lot of times when talking to them that they're reading from notes that probably Karen prepared."
"I don't get the sense that the subordinate press secretaries are very free to say things until they've been cleared with Karen," says R.G. Ratcliffe, of the Houston Chronicle. "The system over there seems to be that everyone takes the message about your questions, then they get back to you in the late afternoon. I'm assuming they gather the questions, run them all past Karen, get an answer, then come back and give you blah blah blah."
Staffers who don't abide by the rules get spanked--hard. One of the main reasons communications deputy David Beckwith, a veteran of handling Washington's temperamental press corps, was "let go" from the campaign this summer was his openness with the media. (Hughes says Beckwith had a different "tone" than the governor wanted. Others say Beckwith lost an ugly power struggle with Hughes.) Recently, in an effort to smooth the media feathers ruffled by Beckwith's untimely departure, the campaign enlisted Ari Fleischer, Elizabeth Dole's former flack, to serve as Hughes's deputy. Like Beckwith, Fleischer is a pro at tending to the Washington press corps--but is unlikely to repeat Beckwith's mistake of forgetting who's top dog in the message department. Even Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist, is rumored to have felt Hughes's wrath (though Hughes denies any past squabbling). As Wayne Slater tells it, after the governor's speech at the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Indianapolis in 1997, reporters began gathering around Rove for comment. "Karen was visibly upset with the fact that Rove was the person dealing on communications issues," Slater says. Afterward, the two senior staffers had a territorial clash, prompting the governor to talk to both about their areas of responsibility. "Karl was admonished," chuckles Slater. Hughes, and rigid control, won out.
Though she's not a native Texan, the High Prophet's Lone Star roots run deep. Hughes was born in Paris (France, not Texas), the first child of a full-time mom and a career military dad, Major General H.R. Parfitt, who later served as the last governor of the Panama Canal Zone. A couple of Army brats, Karen and her younger sister, Beverly, moved from place to place until 1969, when their father was stationed in Dallas.
More than ready for a bit of stability, Karen stayed in Dallas through high school (her parents moved again right before her senior year) and college. She studied English and journalism at Southern Methodist University--from which she graduated summa cum laude--then went to work at a local TV station.
Hughes says that, although her family was always interested (but never active) in politics, it wasn't until she started reporting on the political scene that she caught the bug. In 1980, she was assigned to cover the elder Bush's first run for the White House, which gave her a glimpse of life on the presidential trail. Four years later (shortly after she wed attorney Jerry Hughes), a friend asked Karen if she would be interested in working for the Reagan-Bush campaign. Soon thereafter, Hughes signed on as the campaign's Texas press coordinator and later did presswork for a string of local races.
In 1991, Texas GOP chairman Fred Meyer recruited Hughes to be the state party's executive director. Hughes was responsible not only for making the trains run on time but also for getting the party's message to the public. Back then, the GOP boasted only two statewide officeholders. Meyer believed that the party's fortunes depended upon electing a Republican governor, and Hughes devoted herself to making that happen. Two years out from the 1994 election, she set up a rapid-response system for smacking Governor Ann Richards that even Democrats now admit was brutally effective. According to Ed Martin, then executive director of the state Democratic party, Hughes's unrelenting assault on Richards "earned Karen her spurs from the Republican leadership."
Hughes's efforts also impressed gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush. In 1994, Meyer, under pressure from more conservative elements of the party, chose not to run for reelection as state chairman. Hughes followed him out the door and joined up with the Bush campaign. Five years later, say campaign insiders, Hughes has emerged as George W.'s alter ego.
It's widely recognized that Bush trusts Hughes implicitly and seeks her advice on anything involving message or political positioning. "My sense of Karen is that she is one of the few people who is able to interrupt, contradict, and in other ways speak as an adult and a peer to Bush," says Carlson. In the message department, Hughes's primacy is absolute. For instance, although several members of Team Bush--including Rove--felt the governor should come out early with multiple policy prescriptions, Hughes favored focusing on two or three broad themes. The governor apparently agreed with her.
Hughes's role, however, goes beyond that of a trusted adviser. "She can be a bit of a mother hen, and you can tell he wants her to do that. He kind of relies on her to do that," says David Yepsen, a veteran political reporter with The Des Moines Register. "I've never seen her argue with him, but she'll prompt, she'll flesh out--things like that." (At the risk of waxing Freudian, you can't help but notice the similarities, in both physique and character, between Hughes and George W.'s mama, Barbara.) At press conferences, notes Wayne Slater, "when somebody asks something or says something and Bush isn't responding well enough, she'll be off to the side; Bush will instinctively stop--this has gone on for years--and all heads will turn to her as she explains something real loud. It happens so often that he instinctively falls back and lets her do it."
Indeed, it's Hughes's message discipline that gives Bush the freedom to be the friendly good old boy that voters (and the media) embrace. "Bush is a chatty guy who loves an audience," says Carlson. "He's very good at bullshitting with the guys. That's very appealing." But it can also be dangerous, and Bush counts on Hughes to keep him on track. Jay Root recalls one interview in which Bush was being slightly more talkative than usual. "He said a couple of things that might have gone farther than she might have said," says Root. Hughes didn't stop the governor, but at one point she commented, "My, isn't he being expansive today."
Other times Hughes simply shuts down the conversation. Just after the governor's reelection in 1998, Slater pressed Bush about whether he had ever been arrested. "He said, `After 1968? No.ī I said, `What about before 1968?ī He said, `Well ...ī and at that moment Karen stepped in and said, `Wait a minute, Iīve not heard this.ī She clearly wasnīt prepared for whatever it was he was about to say, and he shut up." Slater argued that it was better for the governor to deal with any revelations sooner rather than later, and Bush agreed to get back to him on the matter. "To this day I have no idea what he was going to say," says Slater. "After she got to him, he shut up."
Democrats clearly envy Hughes's success is controlling the candidate and his message. "Karen is a great marketing director," says Mike Hailey, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, who worked informally with Hughes when he was communications director for recently deceased Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. "`George W. Bush, Republican front-runnerī is pretty much a marketing creation. Without Karenīs packaging, heīs just another Republican with a big name and family connections and a record thatīs lackluster at best." "Bush is the boy in the bubble of infotainment," snipes an Austin-based Democratic consultant. "They have swaddled him in cotton-candy, fluffy pieces: Mom, Dad, compassionate conservatism, and all the rest. Most of that is to conceal the fact that there's just not a lot of substance to George W. Bush."
But Democrats are no longer the only ones questioning whether George W. has much there there. Conservative critics from Marilyn Quayle to George Will have taken swipes at Bush's intelligence, and, following Boston reporter Andy Hiller's televised pop quiz the media smell blood. Granted, the public may not take kindly to snotty reporters who zing the amiable George W. with esoteric questions that few voters could answer themselves.
(Hughes cleverly notes, "The person who is running for president is seeking to be the leader of the free world, not a "Jeopardy!" contestant.") But, spin aside, Bush's handling of the Hiller confrontation was mediocre. He didn't head the questions off, he grew visibly peeved, and (most obviously) he didn't know the answers. All this despite the fact that the campaign must have known that a Hiller-style ambush would occur sooner or later. The governor's grace period, it appears, is ending, and the smooth ride Hughes has provided Bush till now may have left him ill-prepared for what is to come.
"Somewhere along the line the campaign will stumble, and, until they do, we won't know if they're ready," says the Houston Chronicle's Ratcliffe. The worst hit the candidate has taken so far occurred when Sam Attlesey of The Dallas Morning News asked Bush at a campaign stop in New Orleans whether he could pass the drug-use litmus test given to many federal job applicants.
The governor's stutter step on this question is considered one of the campaign's few bobbles. (Hughes, notably, was not along on that trip, having gone home to write a biography of Bush that's due out this month. Reporters, including Attlesey, speculate that, had Hughes been present, she would never have allowed the question to be asked.)
With John McCain nipping at Bush's heels in New Hampshire, pundits are clamoring for the governor to mix it up. Hughes says Bush will participate in four debates and a number of TV sit-downs in December and January. But Hughes's instinct for cocooning her man runs deep. In each of his gubernatorial campaigns, George W. consented to only one debate. During last year's race, Bush (i.e., Hughes) insisted on strictly controlled conditions: the debate was held in El Paso (difficult to get to) on a Friday night during high school football season (practically a religion in Texas), and no network correspondents were allowed into the hall. Bush's presidential debates won't be so hermetically sealed, but the press and public shouldn't expect much spontaneity. Bush will likely push the same basic themes of which the national press corps is so weary.
"The reasons the governor's running for president don't change from day to day," says Hughes. "He's going to use that same speech until he's elected, and he should, because that speech speaks to the fundamental reasons he's seeking the presidency. That's what people want to hear. When he goes to a little chamber of commerce in New Hampshire, that's what they want to hear."
It's not hard to see why Hughes would stick with a strategy that has brought her man from relative obscurity to the brink of the presidential nomination in one blazingly successful year. But it's a strategy that presumes a level of control over interactions with the press and the public that no previous candidate has been able to maintain. All of which raises a question that hovers over the Bush campaign: What happens if the bubble bursts? Does anybody, even the High Prophet, really know how Bush will fare? And has Hughes made a terrible mistake by not using these early months to find out?
At the brief "press availability" following Bush's tour of Bancroft Academy, Hughes stands silently, chewing her nails and fidgeting like an anxious parent at her son's first piano recital. At this particular event, the questioning never gets heated and Hughes--standing off to the governor's right, in his direct line of vision--never bothers to enter the fray. It's another easy, sweet, shallow stop on the Bush juggernaut.
They won't all be like this. In fact, they probably won't be like this for much longer. But for Karen Hughes--who is staring intently at her candidate, periodically mouthing his answers, word for word, a half-beat before he speaks them--that is a matter for another day.
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