Part Two: Mark His Words
Sex and politics often seem to conflate in George W. Bush’s mind. In 1975, young George, fresh out of Harvard Business School, followed his father to China, where he was keen testing the receptiveness of the Chinese to infusions of Texas capital. Soon bored by detailed discussions of international finance, Bush began hitting on his translators and other Chinese women. One Yale coed who came into Bush’s orbit recalled: “He was always one of the fastest guys on campus in trying to get his hands in your pants.” This friskiness didn’t set well with the decorous crowd then running China and he was discreetly directed to evacuate the country in order to save his father, the new ambassador to Peking, further embarrassment.
During the 1988 Republican convention, David Fink, a reporter with the Hartford Courant, asked Bush what he talked about with his father when they weren’t jawing about politics. “Pussy,” George W. quipped. Take that mom.
In 1992, W. famously offered his services to his father’s moribund re-election campaign. The younger Bush counseled the president to hire private investigators to rummage through the bedtrails of Clinton’s sex life, hoping to ignite “bimbo eruptions.” This advice coming from a man who, according to one of his friends, spent the 1970s “sleeping with every bimbo in West Texas, married or not.” George Sr. (who was himself desperately trying to suppress talk of an affair with a State Department employee) demurred, patted Jr. on the head and followed the more tactful advice of Robert Teeter, with fatal results.
George W. vowed not to make the same political miscalculations as his father in his own 1994 run for governor of Texas. With the sepulchural Karl Rove as his political Svengali, Bush set his sights on Ann Richards, the gruff Democrat who ridiculed Bush’s sense of privilege, “Little George was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” It was a campaign marked by unbridled viciousness, backroom slanders and outright lies. Bush didn’t attack frontally; he sent surrogates to hurl the mud for him. Naturally, he won in a romp.
Bush’s six-year tenure as governor of Texas was unremarkable by almost any standard. He was kept on a short leash by his handlers, Rove and Karen Hughes, and generally turned over policy-making to the yahoos in the Texas legislature. His resume of those days is familiar by now: he slashed taxes for the rich, injected religion into public schools and social welfare programs, signed a law permitting the carrying of concealed weapons in public buildings and churches, privatized public parks, turned Texas into the nation’s most toxic state, sent children to adult prisons and supervised the execution of 152 death row inmates. During an interview with Larry King, Bush chortled about sending Karla Faye Tucker to her fatal encounter with death’s needle, saying he had no regrets. Later he joked about the execution with his CNN doppleganger Tucker Carlson. Bush mimiced Karla Faye’s pleas for mercy, whining in a shrill falsetto: “Oh please don’t kill me.” Somebody give Bushtail a shot of Jack Daniels before he kills again.
The big change in Bush was his dramatic conversion to a messianic form of Christian fundamentalism. The happy-go-lucky cad of the 60s and 70s had withered away, replaced by a doltish and vindictive votary. His rebirth as a Christian zealot was famously midwifed by Billy Graham, who considered young George “almost like a son.” According to Bush during a walk on the beach at Kinnebunkport, “Billy planted a mustard seed in my soul.” The man has a felicity with metaphor.
The seed sprouted a few months later. In the notorious scene in the bathroom of a Colorado resort, Bush, head pounding from a night of drinking in celebration of his 40th birthday, plunged to his knees before the mirror and pleaded with the Almighty for a heavenly intervention. Lightning struck that morning. Bush, so the family legend goes, kicked the bottle and emerged as a fanatical believer in what he called “the intercessory power of prayer.”
A few years later Bush, by then governor of Texas, offered readers of the Houston Chronicle a peek into the stern nature of his faith. “Only those who have accepted Jesus as their personal savoir will be permitted entry into heaven,” Bush prophesied. Ten years down the road, Bush would do his best to send thousands of heathens to eternal damnation. Of course, Bush, having been granted the moral amnesty of being born-again, rarely attends formal church services.
* * *
Bush wasn’t the early favorite of the Texas king makers to retake the presidency for the Republicans. That role fell to the newt-faced senator Phil Gramm, who had amassed a majestic campaign warchest. But no amount of money could soften Gramm’s grotesque image and foul tongue. He was the hissing personification of the Republican ultras, an unrepentant whore for industry who seemed to take delight in savaging the poor, blacks and gays. Here’s a taste of the Gramm technique: “Has anyone ever noticed that we live in a country where all of the poor people are fat?”
Gramm’s dismal showing in 1996 told the Republican powerbrokers that they needed an image makeover, a candidate with Christian sex appeal coating a hard core philosophy. John McCain was too grouchy, carried the whiff of scandal and might prove uncontrollable. Jack Kemp was perceived as soft on blacks and perhaps even was a real libertarian at heart. So they settled on Bush, the smirking governor with the lofty Q-rating among white middle-aged women who’d been devoted watchers of Dallas and Knots Landing.
As for Bush, he didn’t recall being coaxed to run by the RNC power elite. Instead, the green light fell upon him from a celestial source. “I feel like God wants me to run for president,” Bush confided to James Robison, the Texas evangelist. “I can’t explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. I know it won’t be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.”
In a flashy feat of political transvestitism, Bush marketed himself as a “compassionate conservative,” a feathery reprise of his father’s kinder and gentler Reaganism. It was a ploy to distance himself from the foamy rhetoric of the Republican pit bulls who had nearly self-destructed in their manic pursuit of Clinton. Bush was tight with Tom DeLay, Trent Lott and Phil Gramm, but he didn’t want to be tarred with their radioactive baggage while he courted soccer moms. During the 2000 campaign, this grand hoax was rivaled only by Al Gore’s outlandish masquerade as an economic populist.
Still Bush, under the lash of Karl Rove, didn’t shirk from playing mean, particularly in the bruising inter-squad battle for the Republican nomination. During the crucial South Carolina primary, Bush’s campaign goons intimated that his chief rival, John McCain, had fathered an illegitimate child with a black woman. Of course, a more dexterous politician than McCain could have turned this slur to his advantage. After all, Strom Thurmond ruled the Palmetto State for decades and he was widely known to have sired at least one child with his black mistress. The Bush attack dogs also made ungentlemanly whispers about McCain’s wife, Cindy, suggesting that she might be a neurotic and a drug addict. Of course, it was McCain himself who was slightly unhinged and he wilted under the fire of the Bush sniper teams, which also included an attack on McCain’s war record by the same by claque of mad dog vets who would later fling mud at Max Cleland and John Kerry.
The 2000 campaign itself was unremittingly dull until the final debate, when Gore sealed his fate as he stalked Bush across the stage like he had overdosed on testosterone. As Gore glowered over the governor badgering him with the names of obscure pieces of legislation, Bush merely turned his head to the camera and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, “What’s this guy’s problem?” It was the first real moment of the campaign and probably kept Bush close enough so that the Supremes could hand him the presidency.
Bush’s 534-vote triumph in Florida is an old and tiresome story by now, but it’s worth recalling some of the low points. The stolen election was an inside job, although greatly abetted by Gore’s incompetence. The state may very well have been secured before a single vote was cast. That’s because Jeb, the Bush who always wanted to be president, ordered Katherine Harris to purge the voter rolls of more than 90,000 registered voters, mostly in Democratic precincts.
Then, with the recount underway, the Bush junta sprang into action. Using $13.8 million in campaign funds, they recuited an A-list of Republican fixers, tough guys and lawyers. Roger Stone, the former Republican fixer and body builder of Reagan time who fled to Florida following a DC sex scandal, was summoned to orchestrate gangs of rightwing Cubans to harass election officials in Dade and Palm Beach counties. Marc Racicot, later to be elevated by Bush to chair of the RNC, staged similar white-collar riots, all designed to impede the counting of ballots. Jeb and the haughty Harris did their parts as institutional monkeywrenchers.
Meanwhile, the legal strategy designed by Theodore Olson to fast track the case to the Supreme Court. When Scalia and Thomas refused to recuse themselves from the case despite glaring conflicts of interest (family members worked for the Bush campaign), the electoral theft was legitimized.
The ringmaster of this affair was Bush Sr.’s old hand, James Baker. Baker later boasted to a group of Russian tycoons mustered in London, “I fixed the election in Florida for George Bush.” And Gore laid down and took it like a dazed Sonny Liston. He didn’t raise a peep about the disenfranchisement of thousands of black voters, as if to say, “If have to be elected by blacks, I don’t want the job.”
Bush, the Selected One, was anxious to consolidate his power. “If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier– just so long as I’m the dictator,” Bush snickered on December 18, 2000, as the Supreme Court prepared to deliver the presidency to his sweaty hands.
Mark those words.
* * *
The contours of the Bush agenda were established by his transition team. This shadowy group picked the cabinet, outlined the budget, sketched the foreign policy, dreamed up the size of the tax cuts and scouted across the sprawl of the bureaucracy for opportunities for self-dealing contracts.
None had a sharper nose for scenting opportunities to cash in on federal contracts than Dick Cheney, the man who recruited himself as Bush’s running mate. Although Cheney flunked out of Yale (he was a working class kid without the academic passes afforded the legacy admittees), he shares several other traits with Bush. Twice Cheney has been arrested for drunk driving. And, although he fervantly supported the war, he had no desire to actually go to Vietnam and do battle. Saying he “had other priorities,” Cheney sought and received five draft deferments. See Dick run. And so it came to pass: others died so that he might prosper. Don’t tell Cheney he doesn’t understand the meaning of sacrifice.
As a congressman from Wyoming, Cheney established himself as a hardcore rightwinger, gnashing away at everything from abortion to Head Start. Bush Sr. picked this top-flight chickenhawk as Defense Secretary in 1989. He managed the first Gulf War, amassing through bribery and bullying international support like a CEO on a consolidation binge, and later rationalized the decision not to depose Saddam or support uprisings by Iraqi and Kurdish rebels, predicting that the fall of the Ba’athists would destabilize the entire region. How right you were, Dick.
After Clinton steamrolled Bush, Cheney cashed in, landing a top executive position at Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services and military construction giant. Cheney knew all about Halliburton and they knew Dick. In fact, as Defense Secretary, Cheney had devised the privatization scheme which turned over much of the Pentagon’s logistical programs (base construction, food and fuel services, infrastructure, mortuaries) to corporations. He also steered some of the biggest early contracts to Halliburton, including lucrative deals for reconstructing Kuwait’s oil fields and logistical support for the doomed venture into Somalia.
At Halliburton, Cheney exploited his government and international contacts to boost Halliburton’s government-guaranteed loans from $100 million to $1.5 billion in less than five years. He also created 35 off-shore tax free subsidiaries, a feat of accounting prestitigidation that would soon be aped by Kenny Boy Lay and the corporate highwaymen at Enron. The grateful board of Halliburton soon rewarded Cheney by making him CEO and compensating him to the tune of $25 million a year in salary and lavish stock options. By the time he left Halliburton for the White House, he owned $45 million in the company’s stock.
Of course, the question presents itself as to whether Cheney ever really left Halliburton. The company had been bruised a bit in Clinton. In 1997, it lost a multi-billion dollar logistics contract with the Army. Yet, soon after Cheney ascended to the Veep’s office Halliburton seized the contract back and stood poised to become the prime provisioner for the Pentagon as it embarked on operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Korea, and the Philippines. Within two short years under Cheney, Halliburton cashed in on $1.7 billion in Pentagon contracts. Then, naturally, Halliburton decided to gouge the government, overcharging for everything from gas deliveries to food services.
Then came the big reward: a two-year contract worth $7 billion for rebulding Iraq’s oil infrastructure, bombed to smithereens by the Pentagon. The no bid contract was awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers, who apparently never even considered another company. No surprise here. Halliburton had drafted the Corps’ reconstruction plan for Iraq. “They were the company best positioned to execute the oil field work because of their involvement in the planning,” explained Lt. Col. Gene Pawlick, a PR flack for the Army.
All the while, Cheney continues to personally benefit from Halliburton’s government contracts. He still holds options for 400,000 shares of Halliburton stock and continues to receive $150,000 a year in deferred compensation from his former company.
* * *
Cheney was not a lone emissary from crude cartel. Of the 41 members of that Bush transition team, 34 came from the oil industry. The mask had slipped off the beast. Not since the days of Warren Harding has big oil enjoyed a firmer stranglehold on the controls of the federal government. Bush’s inner circle is dominated by oil men, starting with Bush and Cheney and including 6 cabinet members and 28 top political appointees. Recall that Condoleezza Rice has an oil tanker named after her and that Stephen Griles, the number two man at the Interior Department, was the oil industry’s top lobbyist and continued to be paid $285,000 a year by his former firm as he handed out oil leases to his former clients. Griles is the Albert Fall of our time. Fall, the architect of the Teapot Dome scandal, where his crony’s oil company was quitely handed the rights to drill in on federal lands in Wyoming, pronounced: “All natural resources should be made as easy of access as possible to the present generation . Man cannot exhaust the resources of nature and never will.” More than 80 years later, this wreckless nonsense could serve as a motto for the Bush administration. But see how times have change. Fall went to jail for his self-dealing; Griles got a bonus.
Then came the neo-cons: Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, Douglas Feith, Donald Wurmser, Stephen Cambone and John Bolton. This coterie of hawks, many of them veterans of Reagan/Bush I, were deeply marinated in the writings of the darkly iconic Leo Strauss and schooled in the art of political terror by Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic senator from Boeing. After eight years on the outside, they came in febrile for war from the get-go and charged with an implacable loyalty to Israel, nation of the apartheid wall and the 82 nukes. The neo-cons’s devotion to Israel was so profound that several of them hired themselves out as consultants to the Israeli government. At the close of Bush’s first term, this same nest of neo-cons finds itself under investigation for leaking top secret documents to Israel.
To complete the starting lineup, Bush and Cheney also dredged up from the obscurity of far right think tanks some of the most malodorous scoundrels of the Iran/contra era: Eliot Abrams, John Poindexter, Otto Reich and John Negroponte. Soon enough this merry band of brigands were up to their old tricks. Poindexter, from his den at DARPA, devised a big brother program under the name Total Information Awareness, branded with an Illuminati logo, which sought to keep track of the movements and credit card purchases of all Americans. Later Poindexter, convicted of lying to congress in the 1980s, opened up a futures market for terrorist attacks, where traders would be financially rewarded by the Pentagon for accurately predicting suicide bombings. Meanwhile, Abrams, another Iran/contra felon, was put in charge of human rights in the Middle East-a curious brief for the man who backed the butchers of Guatemala and El Salvador. Even Hunter S. Thompson blazing away on blotter acid couldn’t dream this stuff up.
Tomorrow: Jesus Told Me Who to Bomb
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and, with Alexander Cockburn, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils.