GEORGE BUSH by Herbert S. Parmet


The Life of a Lone Star Yankee
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 Bred in New England reticence and transplanted to rambunctious Texas, acclaimed as a war hero and scorned as a political wimp, George Bush remains the walking contradiction who puzzled Americans, in this dispassionate biography by Parmet (History/City Univ. of New York; JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy, 1983, etc.). Not unlike JFK, Bush came from wealth, served with distinction in WW II's Pacific theater, and became the all-important link in a political dynasty (father Prescott was US senator from Connecticut; son George W. is now governor of Texas). But the differences between the two men loom even larger. Bush's career was shaped by gale-force changes within the Republican Party. He made his way in Texas by allying himself with three new strains of conservatives: oil plutocrats who longed for laissez-faire economics, evangelical Protestants (many suspicious of civil-rights initiatives), and anti-communist zealots of the John Birch variety. Nationally, he made his first run for the presidency just as the New Right became ascendant with the election of Ronald Reagan. As a result, this fiercely driven politician had to wait until he was 64 to achieve the presidency, and to endure humiliations and act in ways he would not ordinarily have desired. Described as decent and loyal by most who knew him well, Bush also felt compelled sometimes to campaign with few scruples (he confessed to his minister that he regretted taking far-right positions in a failed run against Senator Ralph Yarborough in 1964). Parmet uses Bush's diaries and interviews with him and his GOP associates to flesh out this story. Still, he unearths few revelations, other than the Bushes' suspicion that a jealous Nancy Reagan spread false rumors of George's affair with the widow of a congressman. Unlike Parmet's two-volume JFK biography, this suffers from lack of greater access to still-secret materials and to aides with enough distance from the political wars to speak with unbuttoned candor about their boss. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-19452-X
Page count: 554pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997


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