In his best seller “The Selling of the President 1968,” author Joe McGinniss poked fun at a youthful, nerdy, number-crunching Richard Nixon aide who predicted an emerging Republican majority in the United States.
The laugh was on McGinniss. The Age of Aquarius fizzled, and Kevin Phillips was correct in his forecast that political power would take a right turn and flow to the South and Sun Belt.
Phillips has since devoted himself to mapping his country’s political, economic and social trends. He has done so with startling accuracy and unsparing intellectual honesty.
Phillips is out with a provocative book about a family of blue bloods and its retainers who have accomplished a restoration and are now asking voters for unchecked power.
It is called “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” (Viking Press, $25.95).
As Phillips explained on the phone, there is “an enormous similarity” between the United States under Bush II and the country that was beginning to throw off 35 years of Democratic domination in 1968.
“Go back to the 1960s,” he said, “and what you saw was an enormous cockiness — the intervention in Vietnam, the arrogant liberal establishment, its feeling that any social problem could be solved.
“They muffed it on three levels. The war went bad. You had Lyndon Johnson’s talk about ‘nailing a coonskin to the wall’ in Vietnam. The deficit got out of hand, trying to have guns and butter. And they tried too much social engineering.”
A sweeping Democratic triumph in 1964 over a shoot-from-the-lip Republican — Barry Goldwater — unleashed a hubris that would prove the liberals’ undoing just four years later.
Cut to today’s America under the restored Bush dynasty.
“You have a geopolitical hubris coupled with an overseas war in Iraq, which I am not sure can be controlled and brought to a clear successful conclusion,” Phillips said. “You have ideological excess on the right in the same way liberals were carried away in the 1960s. You have a juggling act with the economy: The dollar is hemorrhaging in value, the deficit is out of control, and inflation may again rear its ugly head.”
The other similarity will bring chills to liberals. Phillips sees a 21st-century parallel to Goldwater in what is a largely maladroit and ineffective opposition to Bush.
“I vividly remember the ineptness of Republicans in the 1960s,” he said. “It may be that the Democrats will have to go through their equivalent of the Goldwater experience.
“They may go down the path of offering an alternative too extreme for the American people. If George W. has a second term, however, I believe his shortcomings will be on display in living color — every bit as much as Lyndon Johnson’s.”
Phillips is looking ahead. What “American Dynasty” does best, however, is look back at how the Bush dynasty was shaped.
A pretty story it is not, of two future Bush presidents making their money by playing on family connections and government contracts — and being in tight with a military-industrial complex far more powerful than what the Republican president to whom Phillips dedicates this book — Dwight Eisenhower — warned against in 1960.
The network of connections and alliances, begun by patrician patriarchs 75 years ago, has helped the Bushes trump the Kennedys as the United States’ reigning political dynasty.
“The first generation of this family — George Herbert Walker and Samuel Bush — were entrepreneurs. They were like Joseph P. Kennedy,” Phillips said. “The big difference is the Bushes built themselves into the establishment.
“Joe Kennedy was a thumb in the eye of the establishment. He wasn’t in any sense an establishment type, and he never thought he was. The Kennedys have never been part of the national security establishment.”
As is proving out in Iraq, we now have war by Halliburton — Dick Cheney’s former company — and how sweet its deals.
“The national security establishment is more powerful than it was back when Eisenhower spoke for the simple reason that profit is far greater,” Phillips said.
“Forty years ago, military contracts were for big heavy equipment. Companies would earn 2 or 3 percent. Now, an enormous amount of the budget is not for steel and soldiers, but for technology and quick deployment. At the zenith of the system, with Halliburton, you don’t even have to give an estimate.”
One more stanchion supports the Bush dynasty — religion.
A family of staid Episcopalians has produced — in George W. Bush — a politician whom Phillips characterizes as leader of the religious right in the United States.
How so? Phillips sees a tide toward fundamentalism running across the world’s religious landscape, from Islam to Hinduism to Christianity. In the United States, cosmopolitan mainline churches have “been totally overshadowed by the rise of fundamentalism, Pentecostalism and the Southern Baptists.”
In this equation, George W. Bush is “the prodigal son,” brought back to God after waywardness. Once again, a family friend was there when needed: The Rev. Billy Graham helped plant the mustard seed in Dubya’s heart.
The future president also learned the culture, serving as his father’s political liaison with the religious right, the man who set up the elder Bush’s dinner with evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
“The religious aspect to the Bush restoration can be explained in that it is led by the South, the most intensely traditional and churchgoing part of the country,” Phillips said.
It’s fascinating stuff, from the 43rd president’s scriptural references to the 41st president’s profitable post-White House association with the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-styled “Lord of the Second Advent.”
Kevin Phillips, the man who originally mapped the Republican Party’s path to power, now fears for the country’s republican traditions. Not surprisingly, he is no longer on the Bushes’ Christmas card list.
He’ll be here Jan. 16 to talk about “American Dynasty” at Town Hall Seattle. Call 206-325-3554 or visit www.foolproof.org for information.
We appreciate your support
One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at Amazon.com.
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.