Governor George Walker Bush of Texas is the son of President George Herbert Walker Bush, grandson of Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, direct descendant of President Franklin Pierce, and a thirteenth cousin, once removed, of Queen Elizabeth of England. Uncles and great-uncles were or are powers on Wall Street. As a child, he vacationed at a family compound in an enclave north of Palm Beach, Florida, along with families named Mellon, Doubleday, Ford, Roosevelt, Whitney, Vanderbilt, and Harriman.
His family’s seaside estate at Walker’s Point, near Kennebunkport, Maine, tempts the thought that the Bushes, in addition to more traditional properties, own a rather nice piece of the Atlantic Ocean. This pedigree is not mere background information; it is central to Bush’s life and his achievements. On his own, as three of the four recent biographies clearly tell us, he has achieved little. With the help of family and friends and an unparalleled network of loyal financial backers, he has led a prosperous life in the oil business, helped to run a baseball team, won the governorship of Texas, and become the leading contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency, all without much effort.
Bush’s spectacular career rebuts the notion that America has become a meritocracy, in which we are all born equal and then judged upon our intelligence, talent, creativity, or aggressiveness. Bush is an aristocrat. His successes are in one way or another a direct consequence of his name and family, and he has been exempt from the normal competition—academic, financial, professional, political—that confronts most Americans and sorts them on life’s ladder. He comes from that powerful and half-hidden world whose most important question is not “What do you know?” but “Who are your people?” On the basis of his own performance, he is more qualified to be King of England, through his father’s kinship with the Queen, than president.
Bush was a mediocre freshman in high school and yet won admission to Phillips Academy, Andover, one of the country’s most exclusive preparatory schools, because his father had gone there before him. He was a mediocre student at Andover, and yet won admission to his father’s alma mater, Yale, again as a “legacy.” He was a mediocre student at Yale and yet won admission to the Harvard Business School. When he decided to fulfill his military obligation during the Vietnam War by entering the Texas Air National Guard, he was promptly accepted and granted a lieutenant’s commission after a mere five weeks of basic training.
He entered the oil business with between $13,000 and $20,000 of a family trust fund and failed at it—only to be bailed out repeatedly by friendly investors who were willing to lose money in exchange for association with the name Bush. He was invited to join a partnership of investors who needed him as a front man for their purchase of the Texas Rangers baseball team. He had to …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.