Fortunate Son: George Bush and the Making of an American President
Reviewed by Nathan Keene
Thursday, February 1 2001, 12:11 PM
Every so often a book comes along which becomes at least as significant for its public reception as for its content. Joyce's novel, Ulysses, is a clear example. Less memorably, there's Newt Gingrich's ill-fated memoir, which became a serious political problem for him without even being written. Edmund Morris's fictionalized biography of Ronald Reagan, Dutch, generated as much interest through the objections of historians to its narrative mode as through its subject matter, and Joe Klein's thinly-veiled satire of the Clinton campaign, Primary Colors, became far more famous for its author's attempts to conceal his identity than on the merits of its story. No doubt J.H. Hatfield's campaign biography of our new President is already dated. It will probably vanish from the screen even more quickly than the former Speaker's abortive reminiscence did, but in this case the issue of the book itself and the issues within it may be strongly linked.
The suppression of Hatfield's book is chilling alone, but what makes it really remarkable is that it was carried out by the original publishers themselves, after the book had already become a New York Times best seller. Hatfield relates, in his Forward to Soft Skull Press's 2000 edition, how St. Martin's Press waffled in their support after releasing the first 90,000 copies in the fall of 1999, first panicking and asking him to publicly reveal confidential sources because their promotional efforts had come to naught, then recalling the book as 'furnace fodder,' even as it finally vaulted best-seller lists, when questions were raised about Hatfield's connection to a 1987 Texas murder contract. Despite the fact that St. Martin's had originally insisted on its meticulous fact-checking of the book, and that journalistic fact is not altered by its author's history, St. Martin's backed down in the face of pressure from the Bush campaign and ruthless exposure by the Dallas Morning News. The problem? Hatfield's allegation in his Afterword that Bush had almost certainly been arrested for cocaine possession in 1972 and had his record expunged as a favor to the family.
Of course the allegation could have blown a hole in Bush's campaign, but it's hardly the most disturbing one in the book. Ironically, the portrait Hatfield paints of Bush the politician is both clearer and more frightening than the one of Bush the man. America may not want a coke-tooting party boy at its helm (possibly why the Reagan Court was called in), but would we want the namesake heir of die-hard Hitler-boosters Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker at all? These two magnates funded the Nazis through Union Banking Corporation and other enterprises until their assets were finally seized in 1942, almost a year after Pearl Harbor.
Hopefully the family's bullishness for genocidal fascism has diminished, but W's own business activities have hardly been illustrious so far. From engineering the seizure of other people's property under eminent domain laws for use by his Texas Rangers baseball team, to the millions he made in dubious insider stock swaps off the series of ever-larger failing oil companies he owned or directed over the years, to his peripheral connections to the BCCI scandal, young George has consistently found his way into the wrong place at the right time to make bundle. Hatfield strongly demonstrates Junior's pattern of using his superb political connections to further his business interests, and using his business connections to further a political career whose greatest achievements seem to be memorable strategems, whose driving issues have largely been swiped from his opponents, and whose sole guiding principle thus appears to be the win.
Media drones are no different from the other enterprising souls who inhabit the business world: they seek powerful contacts above all else. It's therefore not very shocking that they would gladly censor themselves when it came to telling the truth about a man so crucial to their product cycle. If anyone knew this it was that master of access, George W. Bush, whose network nationally is formidable, and in Texas is particularly sprawling and dense. Indeed, the book's initially poor publicity may have had something to do with the threat reporters allegedly received from the Bush campaign that, should they cover it, they would be "sitting in folding chairs" outside the pressroom in a Bush Whitehouse. Nor is it without note that the story of Hatfield's checkered past broke first and was pursued most aggressively in the Dallas press. Allegations of hidden drug use by a conservative icon are certainly grave. Even more serious are aspersions of tampering with legal records to cover it up. They pale, however, in comparison to the real lengths our newly-selected President will go to achieve his hollow idea of success. Fortunate Son, with its unfortunate fate, is one more piece of chilling proof.
Fortunate Son is available from Soft Skull Books