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Following Junior's lead, Bush biographers call the period between his Yale undergraduate years and his Harvard Business School years, the early 70's, his "lost years," or as George more poetically puts it, "my nomadic years." But given the lack of in-depth overviews dealing with his time as governor of Texas, the late '90's have become another lost period, to a certain extent. True, there have been treatments of aspects of Bush's activities as governor in newspapers and magazines, most recently Joe Conason's excellent piece on how he got rich in the February issue of Harper's, but the only single, extended source of information on the subject is in pieces on the Texas Observer web site. As far as books are concerned, Minutaglio and Mitchell pretty much avoid the subject in their full-length biographies, and both the Hatfield biography and the Hughes ghostography are under clouds. If you feel comfortable with Hatfield's lack of verifiable documentation, his book is the most complete study of the subject to date. Now comes Rolling Stone's Paul Alexander, who has some very interesting things to say about Bush as governor within his lengthy profile of Dubya's life. With Bush claiming worthiness to be president on the basis of his Texas record, let's hope that Alexander's commentary stimulates many in-depth overviews of that "lost" period in Dubya's life, and lets hope they're published before the election season gets much further along.
Alexander believes Bush decided to run for governor when he resumed his job with the Texas Rangers after the defeat of his father in the '92 elections. At that point he called upon political strategist Karl Rove. According to one Republican observer, "With Rove, you're either on the team or you're on the enemy list. It's very Nixonian. He's a control freak who runs roughshod over anyone in his way." When Bush ran for governor against Ann Richards in '94, " Rove put together a winning strategy: Bush would campaign on four issues -- reform of the education, welfare, tort and juvenile-justice systems -- and nothing else." Bush won, but the real legislative power in Texas is with the lieutenant governor and, to a certain extent, the speaker of the house. However, the governor can appoint friends and contributors to administrative positions, he can vetoe bills, and he can jawbone. Also, the governor has the high profile job, the mansion across the street from the capitol and the ability to hold press conferences and the like and get his picture taken. Bush played the front man, the man with the name, the man who smiles and waves while others with more money and more power carry out their own agendas in the shadows offstage. This is what Bush did all of his life, first as the figurehead money man in various oil ventures that worked out as tax shelters for Poppy's wealthy friends and then as the figurehead general manager of the Texas Rangers who made it a point to appear in his front row box at all the home games, waving and smiling to the crowd. Now he was waving and smiling to all the citizens of Texas. But he needed a record to run for president.
"In the days following his victory, Bush made a concerted effort to become friends with Pete Laney, the speaker of the House, and Bob Bullock, the lieutenant governor -- both Democrats. (Bullock died this June.) 'Mr. Bush, we can make you a good governor,' Laney said at the trio's very first meeting, 'if you let us.' Bush did," writes Alexander. "While Bush politicked, he let Laney and Bullock push through previously proposed reform bills on education, crime, welfare and tort -- Bush's 'four little issues.' Rove had picked those issues, as it turned out, because he knew bills on each were already in the legislature's pipeline. Now Bush could take credit for the bills, even though he had nothing to do with creating them." Dubya's done the same thing with taxes: "'Bush fought against the billion-dollar cut, but eventually he took credit for it.' Says Senfronia Thompson, a Democratic state representative from Houston, 'The governor has been able to benefit greatly from the hard work of the Texas legislature.'... 'Bullock was really the governor during Bush's first term,' says Tom Pauken, the former Texas Republican Party chair. Columnist Molly Ivins agrees: Most of the time, 'W. was bright enough to do what Bullock told him to do for four years, but as a result we have no evidence W. really knows how to govern.'"
Alexander's thesis is what Bush knows is how to get money to get power to get more money. He has a vision, but it's self-serving. For example, the Texas legislature passed a bill in both houses that would reign in the power of the HMO's in a number of specific ways that would benefit the average man on the street. Bush vetoed the bill because it "imposes too much government regulation and unfairly impacts some health-care providers." Alexander notes, "The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association released a statement applauding Bush's veto. In the coming years, Bush would receive some $1 million in campaign contributions from insurance companies for his re-election bid." Alexander goes on to give instances of "how Bush made money off the public." For example, "during much of his first term, he held interest in Crescent Real Estate Equities, a company owned by Richard Rainwater. As governor, Bush approved Crescent Equities' purchase of two office buildings from the state's Teachers Retirement System. The state lost $44 million on one building, and wrote off $7 million in principal and $19.4 million in interest on the other, while Crescent profited handsomely."
Alexander concludes that "George W. Bush seems less like a moral visionary and more like a man who, above all else, knows how to work the inside game -- a consummate opportunist. His entire life has been the pursuit of accommodating himself to power -- to his father, to his father's wealthy and influential friends.... In the end, what Bush really seems to stand for is business as usual. His greatest achievements all seem to involve an almost magical ability to position himself in the channels where the money flows." He "wants to be president because it will bring him not just more power and prestige but also personal vindication. Should he achieve this goal, he will finally be able to say that he is just as successful as his father." In the end, Bush's desire to become president appears to have little to do with any wish on his part to better the life of the average citizen, despite what he says in his speeches and in his interviews. After the talk, it's the money that walks. --Politex 1/30/00