If this were the turn of the 20th century instead of the 21st, Texas Governor George W. Bush already would be assured of the Republican presidential nomination for the year 2000. Back then, Republican organization men met in smoke-filled rooms where such things were decided for the good of the party. The process worked well enough, with a little bit of luck. The back-room boys, for example, picked Ohio Senator Warren Harding in 1920, a man we now would call an empty suit. Harding had thrust upon him Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge as his running mate, and after a landslide victory, chose Pittsburgh financier Andrew Mellon as his Treasury Secretary. Harding quickly got his administration involved in a scandal but had the good grace to expire, leaving Coolidge -- my hero and Ronald Reagan's -- in charge. The smoke-filled room broke down when the boys picked Herbert Hoover in 1928, producing the Great Depression and WWII, and leaving the GOP out in the cold until 1952, the first year of the New Hampshire primary. The event closed down the old process by giving ordinary folk a say in the party nominating process. The Establishment did pick the winner, Dwight Eisenhower, who promised a tax cut and won the New Hampshire primary. As soon as he was inaugurated, Ike told the nation it could not afford a tax cut after all. This is the way the Establishment works. It was 40 years before the voters gave the GOP both houses of Congress. They still do not trust the GOP with both branches of government.
At this turn of the 21st century, the problem Governor Bush will have is that while the big boys have picked him as the standard bearer, he has to go through the primary process. That's where I suspect the voters will discover that his suit is as empty as Harding's. Bush and Harding were both business flops, Bush in the Texas oilfields, Harding running a newspaper. Harding served in the state legislature and as lieutenant governor of Ohio before his election to the Senate in 1914. He was the compromise candidate in 1920 when the other GOP candidates deadlocked in that smoke-filled room. He campaigned from his front-porch and did not say much more than the country was due for a "return to normalcy," by which he meant a return to pre-war tax rates. He won 60.3% of the vote and the GOP took Congress in an across-the-board landslide.
If he could avoid having to stump, Bush would prefer the front porch, as he has thus far. He has less than five years under his belt as governor, during a period of national economic expansion that has made life and tax revenues easy for almost all governors. I don't know him well enough to render an opinion on what he really is like. A man I respect who knows him, and does not support him, wrote me that he is "Very impatient, a shallow thinker, [who] surrounds himself with smart folks and listens to them. [He] has no real convictions about most things... but has good instincts, is naturally more of an entrepreneur than his dad, and has more common sense; is likeable, and a stand-up guy, will figure out how to present your good idea, but he'll never have his [own] good idea."
The summary, which I assume is accurate, is not so bad, the worst being the point that he "has no real convictions." In this case, though, the smart folks with whom he has surrounded himself in preparation for the campaign -- those to whom he would listen in the Oval Office, define him as his father's son. People I know who have visited him in his Austin office report that he is "a good listener," but cannot remember anything substantive he said after being so attentive. One political acquaintance spent more than an hour alone with him in Austin recently, arguing the case against NATO's bombing campaign. He thought he made great headway until Bush subsequently announced a week ago that if he were President, he would be prosecuting the war "ferociously." I was not surprised a bit, as we learned three months ago that he had come under the influence of Richard Perle, the brains behind NATO's adventure in Yugoslavia. (See my "Presidential Line-Up" 2/22/99). Perle, who was known as the Pentagon's "Prince of Darkness" when he served as an assistant secretary for strategic planning, also is the brains behind the bombing in Iraq, the campaign to promote hostility between Beijing and Washington, and almost any idea that helps show the world we are the Boss, whether it likes it or not.
In that same February 22 review, I noted that George W. also has chosen as chief advisors his daddy's old friends in the GOP economic establishment. Pay no mind that former Fed Governor Larry Lindsey usually is described as a "supply-sider." He is as much an Establishment figure as Martin Feldstein, another advisor to Bush. (Remember, it was Vice President Bush who, in an evil moment, foisted Feldstein on Ronald Reagan as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors.) Pulling the strings in the background is Michael Boskin, who was CEA chairman to President Bush and now hangs out at the American Enterprise Institute, the Establishment's think tank. It was Boskin who recommended Bush appoint Larry Summers as chief economist to the World Bank, a stepping stone to Summers' nomination last week as the new Treasury Secretary. (I hope nobody thinks I am kidding about any of this. It goes to the larger point that the Ruling Class -- the American aristocracy -- always has an entry in both political parties, so it wins either way.
The most astonishing aspect of this occurred last Friday when Governor Bush issued a statement from his office in Austin that he has changed his mind and now sees merit in the Global Warming arguments being made by Vice President Al Gore. Global warming of course is a metaphor for a policy of very, very slow economic growth around the world. If the United States (and our junior partner, the U.K.) can persuade the industrial world that we have to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, we will be able to keep China and Russia from developing at a rate fast enough to be a threat to our economic and military dominance. If the Establishment is about anything, of course, it is about the status quo. We have ours and that's the way we would like it to be. The Texas governor is the anti-growth candidate, just as his father was. He is the candidate of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderburg Society, the Atlanticists generally, representing the monied interests of New York and Europe and their control of the economies of the world through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Conspiracy? No, just a bandwagon of the elite.
The Establishment of course can succeed, but only if it can keep the populist candidates divided. So what if the other candidates denounce Bush for joining the greenies on Global Warming. He will triangulate, saying he is not as extreme as Gore on the environment, not as extreme as Steve Forbes on the flat tax, not as extreme on trade as Pat Buchanan, not as extreme as Gary Bauer or Dan Quayle on cultural issues, and more ferocious than any of them -- including McCain -- in fighting to win our wars, like his Dad did in the Persian Gulf. Believe me, George W. Bush is a modern Warren G. Harding, an empty suit, but with the wise men of the American aristocracy guiding him, he could wind up in the Oval Office, signing (without reading) the papers they prepare for him. He may not be the last man who should be President as we begin a new century and millennium, but he may be when his tutors finish with him.