Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Bush's home is his castle: political family dynasties and dynamics

Hold the presses, I got a scoop from Pancho, who happens to hail from Midland, Texas, the home town of one George W. Bush. (Okay, maybe it's not exactly a scoop, since all this information is in the public domain--but it was news to me.)

After reading the recent discussion here of GW's life of "most extreme privilege," Pancho kindly e-mailed me a couple of photos, along with an explanation of what they represent.

Take a look:

Bush Mansion Posted by Hello

According to my expert informant:

This is the Bush home on Ohio St in Midland that George "Dubya" grew up in. Actually it was the second home that the Bush family lived in, here in Midland. The first being even smaller and less palatial than this. This one, I suppose is at best 1200 s.f.

In another letter, Pancho mentions that, when George first returned to Midland after going East to school, he lived for a while in a garage studio apartment (which I assume is a garage converted to a one-room apartment). When he and Laura were first married they lived in a small townhouse. Pancho kindly sent me that photo, also, and it isn't much, believe me (townhouse, not photo). I could use a tutorial on posting photos to my blog, however. Posting that first one took so much out of me, and was so headache-provoking, that I'm swearing off picture-posting for a while. So you'll just have to imagine the fairly modest establishment in which the newlyweds resided.

Now I don't for a moment think that this means George W. Bush hasn't had a life of privilege. His grandfather was a wealthy banker and Senator, his father was in the oil business and then rose in the Republican Party to finally become President. If you Google words like "Bush family wealth privilege," you will be led to a plethora of websites that describe the Bush family as its own little (or big) evil empire, a secret world power broker right up there with the Elders of the Protocols.

But even those writers who demonize the entire family tend to agree that, although wealthy and influential, the Bushes never possessed great and towering wealth like the Kennedys or Rockefellers. And certainly these photographs bear that out.

Clearly, the Bushes never had to worry about starving; there was definitely a family safety net of major proportions. But, as this article, written as part of the introduction to an admittedly sympathetic Bush family portrait, points out:

Prescott Bush [W's Senator grandfather] was also proud of the fact that the Bush boys, unlike the Kennedys, were expected to go out and earn a living in the marketplace. Work was the great democratizer, an experience unfamiliar to the Kennedys.

Yes indeed, it is easier to earn your way when you know you'll be bailed out if you fail. Not to mention how the fact of having deep and broad family connections among the powerful, and having the old-boy Yale/Harvard Business School network on which to draw, can help smooth the way.

But I don't quite see this process as the essence of evil. I do believe it is one of the things that those who hate Bush are angry at him about (although I wonder how many of them would have failed to use such connections if they'd had access to them--or even how many of them do use such means to further their own careers).

Here's a relevant quote from the same article (well worth reading in its entirety, by the way, particularly for some interesting family dynamics, although I'm sure many will see the article as a Bush puff piece):

The Bush hostility to the very notion of dynasty runs deep because it runs contrary to the myth that they are self-made. Although they are certainly more self-made than the Kennedys and have a strong drive to prove their worth, family members don’t think twice about going to family and friends in their climb to the top.

And the following seems to me to be a particularly telling passage. The contrast to the Kennedy clan is marked; although both families are wealthy political dynasties, the similarity stops there. The following depiction of the Bush family rings true with the photos of their Midland home and the descriptions of the other Bush residences there:

The young charges in the Bush clan are never told or pushed to run for office. George W. Bush is fundamentally, at his core, a rebel. His life before politics was guided in part by a deep vein of rebellion against his father and the expectations that he believed were weighing on him. Even during his rise to power, he often made decisions that his parents disagreed with. It is not too much to say that had George W. Bush followed the guidance of his parents, he might never have appeared on the national political stage. Once in the White House, he has continued in a manner to buck the family tradition. In a top-down dynasty, this political success would have been doubtful.

The Bushes are also unique in that, for this family, success needs to happen far from home in order to be seen as success. Fiercely and loudly competitive in sports, the family is also quietly competitive in the realm of business and career. Striking out on your own in a new land garners greater respect than staying close to home and inheriting the old man’s business. It is this impulse to establish themselves as self-made men that has led the last four generations of Bushes to stay clear of their father’s home and actively seek out opportunities elsewhere. Pres Bush left Ohio for Connecticut; George H. W. Bush left Connecticut for Texas; George W. and Jeb Bush stayed clear of Washington, D.C., where their father effectively lived from 1970 on.

This sense of individual accomplishments is motivated in part by the simple fact that the Bushes lack the fabulous wealth of dynasties such as the Du Ponts and Kennedys. Were future generations of Bushes to stay at home and try to live off the family wealth, it would dissipate rather quickly. While the Bushes have over the course of the past century run in the social circles of the super-rich, their own wealth has been comparatively limited. Criticism that they are “out of touch” and living in an insular world simply does not ring true; their level of wealth doesn’t make such insulation possible.

It also should be noted that GW's father's personal political power and influence (as opposed to family power and influence) did not begin until GW was grown. If you do the math, Bush the elder's first term in Congress began in 1966, when Dubya was twenty years old. Until then, GHW Bush had been a businessman, primarily in oil, as far as I can determine. His two terms in the House began in 1966, and were followed by an unsuccessful Senate run, and then a series of political appointments from Republican presidents: UN ambassador, head of Republican National Committee, head of CIA, and finally Vice President (and then, on his own, election as President). But all of this was not part of GW's growing up years, although the family influence, money, and ethos were.

So it seems that these rather modest homes were part of a family tradition of going it on one's own for a while, knowing that the connections and the back-up system were always available. Sounds fairly reasonable to me for a successful family, and not all that terribly unusual or extreme for the upper echelon of movers and shakers in this country. GW's early history of business failures and bailouts from his family are very much in this tradition, but so are his rather modest early homes.

Whether this constitutes "extreme privilege" is in the eye of the beholder. I'd eliminate the "extreme" part myself; others will differ on that. But I have very little doubt that at least some of the hatred of Bush comes from simple raw envy.

ADDENDUM: I finally managed to post the other photo here.


At 12:29 PM, June 22, 2005, Blogger Goesh said...

- very interesting

At 1:26 PM, June 22, 2005, Blogger WichitaBoy said...

Although they are certainly more self-made than the Kennedys and have a strong drive to prove their worth, family members don’t think twice about going to family and friends in their climb to the top.

Please. This is a criticism? Is there anyone, anywhere about whom this couldn't be said? If this is a crime then we're all guilty.

All people everywhere at all times, regardless of socio-economic background, rely heavily on family and friends and connections in order to make their way forward in life. In the business world, almost all deals are created through personal connections; in the academic world, jobs hinge almost entirely on one's advisor or his friends. We're social animals.

At 1:42 PM, June 22, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

So as not to cause the NeoNeo any more photo uploading consternation, here's the photo of George and Laura's home in Midland loaded onto my server.

Bush Townhome

At 8:56 AM, June 23, 2005, Anonymous Independent George said...

Hmmm... I'm embarassed to admit this, but as a Bush-Hater For Bush, this really does change my view of him (positively) quite a bit. I've never resented wealth the way many liberals do, but i do resent unearned wealth in a way that would make Trostsky proud. Bush wealth suddenly seems a lot less unearned.

I think there's a larger point buried somewhere in the contrast between the Bushes and the Kennedys. There seems to be a notion among the children of the very wealthy that fortune is determined by luck and circumstance rather than effort. It's not an irrational conclusion - if you grow up with privilege utterly alienated from the labors that produced it (damn, I sound like Marx), it's natural to assume that all wealth in the world is attained this way. Once you reach this conclusion, it's perfectly rational - indeed, I would even argue moral - to seek redistribution.

A few years in the private sector might disabuse them of that assumption (very, very few of the executives at my rather large firm, or at any of my clients, were born wealthy), except: (1) core ideals are very, very hard to change as you grow older, and (2) once you start on the assumption that all wealth is unearned, a good-hearted person is likely to favor public sector/academic work over the private sector.

#2 seems especially important, because it becomes mutually reinforcing. Pay in the public sector is usually on seniority rather than productivity (inherited privilege vs earned wealth), and success in academia is largely (though not primarily) determined by social contacts (this changes depending on the field; moreso in the arts, demonstrably false in engineering). The private sector is utterly merciless in this regard; you will be thrown on your arse in a nanosecond if you can't produce, no matter what your wealth and connections (though wealth and connections influence how softly you land, and how often you can get back up).

Ok, I've rambled a bit too much. Speaking of getting thown on your arse: if I don't stop wasting bandwidth and get back to work, I'm going to get thrown on mine.

At 10:45 AM, June 23, 2005, Blogger kcom said...

I'm frankly not at all surprised. As I said on the previous thread the term "most extreme privilege" struck me as pure hyperbole that really didn't mean anything. It seems to me that it would be pretty hard in general to make the argument that someone who grew up in Midland, Texas in the 1950s was living in the lap of extreme privilege. Where were the five star restuarants, and private academies, and penthouse apartments that that term implies? Certainly not in Midland. Maybe in Kennedy country, though.

When I read that term and thought about Midland, Texas I couldn't help thinking of the movie "Animal House". Maybe Bush grew up in "double secret" "most extreme privilege".

At 3:30 PM, June 23, 2005, Blogger Jeff said...

While developing a story about the numerous Bush homes in Odessa and Midland, we found a couple of other rental properties in Midland where George the Younger lived when he came back to the Tall City for a little while after school.

The story didn't go anywhere ... they were briefly occupied, and he had to move out pretty quickly ... so I don't know if they really qualified as 'homes.'

At 1:51 PM, June 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one thing I'd like to see mentioned is the fact that the Kennedy fortune was made from bootlegging during prohibition. Yes, they are a family of criminals, as if everyone didn't already know that.

At 11:16 PM, June 26, 2005, Anonymous Will Franklin said...

I have been meaning to make this post for months.

I am adding you to Tuesday's Carnival of Classiness.

At 11:17 PM, June 26, 2005, Anonymous Will Franklin said...

By the way, I lived in Midland for a while, which is why I was planning to make this post.

At 1:30 AM, January 07, 2006, Blogger Mary said...

As a psych nurse, might I suggest, Ms. Neo-neo con, that you find yourself another therapist? No one grounded in reality could possibly view this cabal through the rosy glasses you do. You do have a med back-up I presume?

Thankfully, most of the professionals I know are a & o x 3. I certainly hope you keep your politics off the couch.

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At 5:09 PM, February 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bushes are very good at appearing to be something that they're not, i.e. dubya as a good 'ol boy. AND I do give them credit ( prescott especially)for not spoiling their children. But ,your post clearly makes the Bushes look middle class at best, as that is clearly not the case. Prescott, who accumaulated wealth was quoted as regretting not running for Pres.. well now his son and grandson have both done it. Being discrete about their wealth and influence was definitely part of it.
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