No 1 Must-Read: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips.
Paraphrasing a passage from Machiavelli’s The Prince, Kevin Phillips writes, “a ruler can ignore the mob and devote himself to the interests of the ruling class, gulling the inert majority who constitute the ruled.” He then says, “Borgia references aside, 21st-century American readers of The Prince may feel that they have stumbled on a thinly disguised Bush White House political memo.” These pointed words would sting regardless of who uttered them, but coming from Phillips, a former Republican strategist, they have an added piquancy. In American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, Phillips traces the rise of the Bush family from investment banking elites to political power brokers, using their Ivy League network, vast wealth, and questionable political maneuvering to obtain the White House and consequently, shake the foundation of constitutional American democracy. Citing the Bush family mainstays of finance, energy (oil), the military industrial complex, and national security and intelligence (the CIA), Phillips uses copious examples to show the dangerous alliance between the Bushes’ business interests (huge corporations such as Enron and Haliburton) and the formation of national policy. No other family, Phillips says, that has fulfilled its presidential aspirations has been so involved in the ascendancy of the arms industry and of the 21st-century American imperium–often at the expense of regional and world peace and for their personal gain. It is hard to tell what offends Phillips the most: the Bushes’ systematic deceit and secrecy, their shady business dealings, their cronyism, or their family philosophy that privileges the very wealthy and utterly dismisses all the rest. It is clearly all of these things combined. But at the top of Phillips’ list is the dynastic nature of their family power, for it is that concentration of power and influence that strikes at the heart of our democracy. Past administrations have transgressed, albeit not so egregiously, and other political families have had dynastic ambitions. But none have succeeded as thoroughly as the Bushes. Jefferson and Madison would be horrified, and according to Phillips, we should be too. —Silvana Tropea