Over the last half century, the Bush family has emerged as an American political dynasty. The family has produced Congressmen, Senators, Governors of two of our largest states and two Presidents. As the 2016 Presidential campaign starts to gear up, there is the possibility of yet another Bush candidacy and Presidency. So it is instructive to see how the family has operated in and out of office around questions economic.
Long before and well into when the Bush name was associated with public office holding, Bushes were involved in another great American institution of trust and development - banks. Indeed the Bush family made its fortune through involvement with banks and financial institutions.
The family, of course, grew their wealth through many endeavors, including oil and real estate. There was a joke that former President George W. Bush woke up on third base and thought that he had hit a triple. But that old canard is a disservice and an understatement since it doesn't take into account that the Bushes owned not only a baseball team, the Texas Rangers, but also the stadium, as well as much of the surrounding real estate. As Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times, summarizing the local law owners suit against the Bushes and their partners, "Essentially, Mr. Bush and the owners group he led bullied and misled the city into raising taxes to build a $200 million stadium that in effect would be handed over to the Rangers. As part of the deal, the city would even confiscate land from private owners so that the Rangers could engage in real estate speculation."
George Herbert Walker, one of the family fortune founders and President George W. Bush's great grandfather, came from a Maryland family of slave owners and traders. He became a businessman and international banker whose deep pockets and connections helped him organize the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, rebuild New York's Madison Square Garden and construct Baltimore's Belmont Race Track. Walker helped financier Averill Harriman build Brown Brothers investment banking firm and set up and direct the Union Banking Corporation, among other lucrative ventures.
Prescott Bush, son of Walker's daughter, father of 41st President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of 43rd President George W. Bush, succeeded as director of both Brown Brothers and Union Banking Corporation. It was these deep pockets that helped German steel magnate Fritz Thyssen plan and fund the rise of Adolph Hitler.
Prescott Bush was so industrious that he continued to assist Adolf Hitler through his Union Banking Corporation even after World War II had been declared and the U.S. had entered the war to fight the very country which the Bushes continued to do business with and helped fund.
Of course there were some sore winners and spoil sports who thought the Bushes should be prosecuted. In October of 1942, the United States government seized Bush's bank under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The assets were held until the war's conclusion. According to the U.S. Alien Property Custodian, since 1939 the steel and mining companies that Prescott Bush was involved with "have been in possession of and have been operated by the German government and have undoubtedly been of considerable assistance to that country's war effort. It seemed that UBC had been caught red-handed operating an American shell company for the Thyssen family, Hitler's financiers, 8 months after the U.S. had gone to war with Germany.
Like his father Prescott before him and his son George W after him, George Herbert Walker Bush used his father's financial industry connections to advance himself. He worked for a subsidiary of Brown Brothers Harriman. With these connections and this support, he then started up two Texas oil companies. George H.W. Bush soon shifted his drilling to Washington, D.C. He served in Congress, as an Ambassador and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency where he made further international connections.
After serving as Reagan's Vice President for two terms, G.H.W. Bush defeated Governor Michael Dukakis to become the 41st President of the U.S. His largely undistinguished Presidency was notable for invasions of Panama, Grenada and the First Gulf War and most importantly a crushing economic recession and the Savings and Loan Scandal in which another son Neil was heavily involved.
The U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision determined that Neil Bush had engaged in numerous breaches of fiduciary duties. Most troublesome was that he had been involved in multiple conflicts of interest, including approving of $100 million in bad loans to two of his business partners. A large donor to the Republican Party was able to help contribute funds to defray Neil's legal defense.
Fortunately, financial success turned for Neil during his brother George W.'s presidency when he received millions of dollars in consulting fees from companies ranging from high tech to toothpaste. Even Reverend Sun Myung Moon befriended Neil, taking him on his world peace wide tour where Neil endorsed Reverend Moon and his work. . . before Reverend Moon's indictment, conviction and imprisonment for income tax evasion.
The Presidency of George W. Bush, Neil's brother and George H.W. Bush's son, was more notorious than notable for its impact on the banks and financial markets. George W presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression eighty years before. Two questionable wars, two huge tax cuts which primarily benefited the rich and mismanagement of the budget and national economy produced dire results. Over three hundred banks closed, 2.6 million jobs were lost, over 1.5 homes were foreclosed, the stock markets lost 37% of their value and household incomes and the country's GDP plunged.
Even the most dramatic tragedy of George W. Bush's Presidency, 9/11, sheds light on the Bush family's unique economic experience. The Bush family's business ties to the Saudis, primarily through oil, are quite well known. George H.W. Bush through his succession of offices built relationships and investments with the Royal House.
The Saudis even invested in George W's first business venture the oil company Arbusto. In his book "House of Bush, House of Saudi: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynastie," Carl Unger traced $1.4 billion in Saudi investments and contracts into companies which the Bush Family and their allies held prominent positions, including the high profile Carlyle Group and Halliburton, the chief beneficiaries of Afghan and Iraq War military contracts. Chief Saudi financial operative and long term Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, famously pictured exchanging kisses with George W. Bush was such a close friend that Bush joked that he was actually a Bush Family member.
So it was no wonder, though still unsettling, that immediately after the 9/11 attack, with the Twin Towers still smoldering and all air traffic in the US grounded, George W. Bush authorized the special air evacuation from the US to Saudi Arabia of 140 Saudi high ranking members of the Royal House of Saud, including 24 members of the bin Laden Family. The bin Ladins, as relations to Osama bin Ladin, may have provided useful information on the attack and its perpetrator. US government investigators were critical of Bush's unilateral actions. Given the closeness and mutual interests of the two families, perhaps this favorite treatment is one of the lesser surprises of George W. Bush's failed Presidency.
Now, after a slow, uneven national economic recovery, another Bush is contemplating running for the Presidency. Jeb Bush, son of President George H.W.Bush and brother of President George W. Bush, has formed a committee to explore the possibility of his candidacy.
Jeb's qualifications for the highest office in U.S. are quite diverse. Like other Bushes, he has experience both direct and indirect in financial industries and related fields. As someone who proclaimed at his career's outset I want to be very wealthy, he had concrete ideas on how to actualize his goals. He worked in the international division of Texas Commerce Bank for which he was sent to Venezula to manage a branch and became a Vice President. His many jobs in sales included work for a mobile phone company, being minority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, selling fire equipment to Alaska oil pipelines and water pumps in Nigeria, and serving as a lobbying the Reagan-Bush Administration for his various companies.
When it was time for him to enter politics, it was appropriate that he did so with his appointment as Secretary of Commerce for the State of Florida. As Governor of Florida, he reduced the size of the state government by 6.6%, vetoed $2 billion in new spending, refused to raise taxes to improve education, ended affirmative action admissions at state universities and cut such education projects as homework help and web-based high school texts.
After two terms as governor, Bush stepped down. But his interest in the financial industry persisted. In August of 2007, he joined the investment bank Lehman Brothers as an adviser in its private equity group. Unfortunately, that very month, the bank was hit hard by the failures in the real estate market. It had to close its subprime lender BNC Mortgage, lay off 1200 financial workers and take millions in after tax charges. The very next year Lehman Brothers collapsed, filing for bankruptcy and being acquired by Barclays another bank where Jeb Bush served as advisor. His intimate knowledge of these problems led him to be a strong supporter of the much criticized, poorly regulated Wall Street bailout (Troubled Asset Relief Program) hastily conceived by his brother the President.
Certainly Jeb Bush's Presidential Exploratory Committee will want to consider these experiences as he embarks down the road toward nomination. They may also want to draw on the rich, complex history of his predecessors . . . men who honed their economic fortunes even as they worked in public office. For generations, Bush family members have gained valuable experience in these industries. Whether it was from Slavery, WWII, the Savings and Loan Scandals, the Afghan and Iraqi Wars or the Great Recession . . . through war and peace, conflicts and conflicts of interest, the Bush family has always prospered.
But through time, at every turn, where family fortunes and national well being led in different directions, Bush family values prevailed. Do we really want to turn to this dynasty once again to lead our country?
Michael Berkowitz has worked on various political and social movements from Civil Rights in the South to the recent Recall in Wisconsin. He was a senior manager in San Francisco's Planning Department and a Planning Consultant for 12 years to the Government of China (PRC). He was a Planning Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and a Business Agent and Organizer for Service Employees International. He holds Masters degrees in History from both Stanford and Yale.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS