A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
I am very careful not to speculate. What I do is begin with the curious fact that G.H.W. Bush has said he could not remember where he was on November 22, 1963. That makes him just about the only adult alive at the time who has that memory defect.
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BuzzFlash has often said that "conspiracy theories" exist because a threshold of people believe that the official version of an event or personal history does not pass the believability test. But then the fun begins, because theories are just that, so you become an advocate of one perspective or the other, hopefully based on the strength of the argument and the backing of documentation. But that becomes more difficult as time passes and access to the unofficial version of events becomes more difficult.
Russ Baker has assembled the case to be made for the dark underside of the Bush dynasty, sort of a corrupt patrician elitist mob that relocated from New England to Texas (and Florida).
Choose what you want to believe from Baker's book, but he's a credible journalist who has a case to make, and he's got a lot of tasty Bush family morsels to chew upon.
We interviewed him about his just published, Family of Secrets -- The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America
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BuzzFlash: These are the last days of Bush dynastic rule, unless Jeb -- running for Florida Senator in 2010 -- makes a run for the presidency in 2012 or 2016. Why did you release this expose on the Bush dynasty now?Russ Baker: There was so much disinformation out there, and so many layers of secrecy and obfuscation, that it took me five years to complete my reporting. As for relevance, there is no better time than now to try and comprehend what we have just been through--and how it is likely to affect us as Barack Obama takes over. Some countries have convened “truth commissions” to come to terms with their own tragic epochs. But here in the U.S., we tend to want to shut the door and move on. As I discovered, there was an entire hidden stratum of truth underlying the rise of the Bushes -- a truth that, if not reckoned with, threatens to derail the reforms we all hope are on the horizon.
BuzzFlash: Over the years, one of the most discussed allegations about George Herbert Walker Bush was that he was a CIA operative back in the later '50s and early '60s and was lurking around the periphery of the Kennedy assassination. You discuss this in your book, of course. What, in summary, do you suggest was “Poppy” Bush's role with the Kennedy assassination and the CIA at the time?
Russ Baker: I am very careful not to speculate. What I do is begin with the curious fact that G.H.W. Bush has said he could not remember where he was on November 22, 1963. That makes him just about the only adult alive at the time who has that memory defect. Seeking to understand why he would not want to answer that question, I discovered that, in fact, he had been in Dallas that day. After that, he traveled to a nearby city, and then placed an odd phone call that established in FBI files a record of his being outside Dallas at the time of the call.
As intriguingly, it turns out that G.H.W. Bush was a friend of the intelligence operative who befriended and guided Lee Harvey Oswald after his return to Dallas from the Soviet Union. I also provide much evidence that Bush Sr. had a connection to the CIA long before his short period as CIA director. There is much more, covering chapter after chapter of Family Secrets. Let's just say for now that there is enough to raise the eyebrows to the ceiling.
BuzzFlash: Obviously it is more than just irony, according to your book, that George Herbert Walker Bush became head of the CIA, and that the Langley headquarters was named after him.Russ Baker: Taking into account that George H.W. Bush was head of the Agency for just a single year, it cannot be considered inconsequential that he was selected over far longer-serving directors for this honor. It does seem to suggest that his contributions to the agency went beyond that one year -- and that these were both highly valued and never publicly acknowledged.
BuzzFlash: From my perspective, one of the most controversial sections of your book deals with “Poppy” Bush's alleged role in getting Nixon out of office. I don't think that BuzzFlash's friend, John Dean, is probably too happy with your conclusions, although I haven't had a chance to ask him. So why was Bush the Father involved in booting Nixon out of office?
Russ Baker: The Watergate revelations in Family of Secrets surprised me as much as they will surprise readers. I had, frankly, taken the conventional story for granted until I started doing my own investigative work. I was trying to understand the nature of the relationship between Nixon and the Bush family, which has never been properly explored elsewhere. The reasons for ousting Nixon? It appears that certain elements closely tied to Bush Sr. -- parts of the national security apparatus, the military, industrialists and oilmen -- got fed up with Nixon's surprising degree of independence early in his administration, and considered his initiatives a real threat. As with other aspects of the book, the public would be well advised not to conclude anything from summaries such as this, but to read the facts and decide for themselves.
As for John Dean, I began with the conventional-wisdom assumptions about Watergate. I thought of him as the reborn liberal, the regular on BuzzFlash, MSNBC and the like. But my research kept leading me to a story that is more complicated, to say the least. The facts suggest someone much more implicated in the events that led to Nixon's downfall, and in a way I did not expect. There are some little-understood relationships to consider, some phone records, some little-known Nixon tapes to review.
BuzzFlash: Stepping back from the specifics of your book, you basically are contending that we have had a shadow government for most of at least 50 years. Who decides who is in such a shadow government?
Russ Baker: It certainly isn't you or me. My guess, based on years of reporting and observation, is that oligarchies in this country function much as they do elsewhere. They are better hidden, however, in part -- paradoxically -- because we think our society is so open, such that hidden centers of power could not exist. We deride those who seek more thorough explanations as “conspiracy nuts” and the rest. We are dealing with some sophisticated operators, moreover -- who know that Americans feel their country could not possibly harbor the same sorts of tendencies we see everywhere else. Coups, oligarchies, sure -- somewhere else.
BuzzFlash: A few years back, many of our readers purchased the Kevin Philips book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. I remember interviewing Philips, and amidst his loathing of the Bush dynasty, he was quite forceful in describing them as basic “crooks.” Do you agree?
Russ Baker: I am a fan of Kevin, and consider Family of Secrets an effort to build upon his important work. In this case though, I think he understates what is going on. I believe that the Bushes, and the people who back them, view themselves as operating on another plane, and they think that they are better than the rest of us. Essentially, they see themselves as saviors of civilization -- their idea of civilization -- and this sense of entitlement and self-justification, which runs deep, gives them license to do things that are inimical to freedom and truth.
Some of these are now commonly known -- from widespread spying on Americans to imprisonment without charges. Others, it appears, are more personal, more ruthless, and more venal. The stuff we assume only happens on foreign soil, or in Hollywood films. The sense of moral entitlement, of knowing what is right, meshes, by the way, with the certitude of their odd bedfellows in the Religious Right. The two came together in the person of George W. Bush.
BuzzFlash: Is George “W” Bush smart enough to know what larceny he is up to? Or does it just come instinctively? I don't think that you'll get many arguments from BuzzFlash readers that he is the runt of the litter.
Russ Baker: I think George W. Bush is much smarter than many people realize. His well-known limitations with regard to attention span, communication and the like do not negate his talents in other respects. In Family of Secrets, I provide many examples of his practical skills: cultivating a highly misleading personal resume, keeping and burying family secrets, memorizing large amounts of data, and so on. George W. was a key tactician for his father's presidential campaign; he designed his own strategy for corralling the religious right. He once explained to an aide how to plant stories deep in order to let reporters think they were discovering them. No dummy.
BuzzFlash: How does the shadow financial government of Texas gas and oil work as a unit with the riverboat gamblers and frauds on Wall Street?
Russ Baker: I think I will leave that for my next book.
BuzzFlash: There's a basic assumption in your findings that the U.S. government serves corporate and the personal financial interests of elected officials. Please explain how this relates to the Bushes.
Russ Baker: I don't know that the government serves the personal financial interests of elected officials so much as the interests of corporations and the wealthy. Those in turn take care of elected officials who serve them, when the latter leave government. The old revolving door. What distinguishes the Bushes is the extent to which they view government as existing almost solely to advance the interests of their own narrow swath of society.
BuzzFlash: Before we finish up, we just have to ask about your take on the documentation of Senator Prescott Bush's financial relationship to dealings with the Nazis.
Russ Baker: I have looked at some of the documentation. I don't know that Prescott was particularly trying to help the Nazis -- he and his firm had a long-standing relationship with powerful German industrialists, and when Hitler came to power, well, business was business. Horrifying and amoral, if not immoral, to be sure, but consider the sorts of regimes Wall Street has dealt with over the years.
BuzzFlash: What is the biggest “bombshell” in Family of Secrets?
Russ Baker: Based on early feedback, I'd say there are a number of contenders. Could be the four chapters of never-before-revealed facts surrounding the JFK assassination. Or the evidence I have uncovered suggesting a new interpretation of Watergate. Some are most intrigued by the new examples of George W. as a naughty fellow and moral hypocrite -- including on the matter of abortion. And some say that my examination of W.'s military service record is especially effective in settling the dispute over whether this eager-beaver “warrior king” skipped out on his own military obligations. Finally, some are most struck by the new evidence of a cynical calculation behind George W's so-called religious rebirth.
For me, the big story is simply the cumulative sense, based on hundreds and hundreds of fresh facts, of the extent to which elites write our history. And the realization that, as we flee the Bush years, we remain utterly in the dark about so much.
BuzzFlash interview by Mark Karlin.
Family of Secrets -- The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America (Hardcover), by Russ Baker, available from the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW