A thoughtful political biography of two dynasts of a now-receding generation of politicians.
The title of historian/journalist Updegrove’s (Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency, 2012, etc.) latest comes from George W. Bush’s well-documented lament that the rise of Donald Trump meant that he and his father would be the last “real” Republicans to hold the White House. That worry, suggests the author, is well-founded; by his account, the Bushes are definitively establishment figures who, while of much different styles, represented the virtues of prudence, civility, and bipartisanship as leaders of a party that has lately “placed ideological purity over pragmatism and compromise in governance.” George W. claims that his brother Jeb’s primary defeat at Trump’s hands was the result of anger stemming from “a moribund economy.” If the anger seems more free-floating and less directed than all that, it certainly would seem that disdain marked Jeb’s trouncing in an arena that by all rights he should have dominated. Updegrove discusses the advantages and disadvantages of being a member of a political dynasty in a time when voters seem mistrustful of them—and Trump, he observes, upended two of them, the Bushes and the Clintons—noting that still other Bushes are waiting in the wings for their turns. In the main, this is a solid examination of how the Bushes behaved while in office, the one patrician and the other homespun, the latter much more certain of the righteousness of his cause even after being told by his own mother that he would not prevail in his first run for public office. (“True story,” he shrugged, though Barb proved to be wrong.) In the end, George H.W. emerges as a bit warmer and less wooden than he might have seemed during his term as president, while George W. emerges as somewhat more substantial than he is often depicted as being.
Capably written and argued, though only the future will tell whether the elegy for the Republican establishment is premature.