This is why Paul Krugman may go down as one of the saviors of the US. Okay--I overstate the case, but only slightly. When you want lucid, well-written commentary about the state of the country and why we're in the mess we're in, Krugman is a great place to start.
He's reviewing two books in this article, Kevin Phillips' American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, and Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill, and suffice to say, Krugman makes me want to run out and buy both of them, even though I have neither the money to spend nor the time to read them.
I'm not going to go into Krugman's review with great depth--that's your job as readers--but I will highlight a couple of very interesting passages.
In the opening passage, Krugman gives us a little detail on the Halliburton gas overcharge mini-scandal in Kuwait, and connects the Kuwaiti gas supplier with the Saudi royal family and thence to the Bush family. Notice this passage:
In any previous administration—at least any administration of the past seventy years—this sort of incestuous relationship among foreign governments, private businesses, and the personal fortunes of people in or close to the US government would have been considered unusual and prima facie scandalous. What we learn from Kevin Phillips's new book, however, is that this kind of intertwining of public policy and personal self-interest has been standard operating procedure not just for George W. Bush, but for his entire family.
It gets better.
Phillips doesn't just bash the current President. He ties together the whole clan, from Jeb's S&L dealings in Florida before he becamse governor, to Neil's problems with Silverado S&L, to Marvin's Kuwaiti dealings with the Saudis, and back farther. He discusses Poppy's part in the Iran-Contra scandal, in the old whisperings that the CIA negotiated with Iranian mullahs in 1980 to doom Carter's presidency, and especially on the part that Bush played in the US backing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq during the Reagan administration.
Suskind's book got a lot of play in its revelation that Iraq was on the Bush administration's mind from day one and not as a result of the September 11 attacks. Krugman says that's unfortunate because there's a lot more to the book than just Iraq, and explains that "the main virtue of The Price of Loyalty is what it tells us about the administration's values and mode of operation."
O'Neill basically confirms what John DiIulio told us a while back--that no decision is made in the White House unless it helps politically. O'Neill adds that nothing is done that doesn't help corporations as well. He also goes into the vast gap between Bush's private and public personas.
I think Krugman really nails the Bush administration with this paragraph:
What emerges from Suskind's book is a picture of an entirely cynical administration—much more cynical than Nixon's, in which the corruption was localized, and large parts of the policy process continued to be run by serious, even idealistic people. (Old hands at the Environmental Protection Agency describe the Nixon administration as a golden age.) Under Bush, it seems, political rhetoric bears no relation to reality—what officials say has nothing in common with what they do, or what they think. And policy decisions are driven almost entirely by politics, by what the political arm thinks will play well with "the base."
and he follows it up with a comparison to Machiavelli, noting that The Prince was not a discussion of what to do with power once one has it--it's a treatise on how to gain and hold on to power in the first place.