What does it say about the American political system that someone like George W. Bush was able to ascend to the highest office in the land, despite his meager and ambiguous record?
In pursuit of an answer to that question, investigative journalist Russ Baker has constructed a full-fledged counterhistory of the last half-century as it pertains to the Bush family. He writes in his new book “Family of Secrets” that he discovered a “dimension of power” that conditions and distorts the American political process. It lies at the intersection of corporate oil interests, finance and intelligence, and the Bushes have been at the heart of it.
With a brief apology to the reader, Baker revisits the JFK assassination (and George H.W. Bush’s peculiar response to it) and he embraces a radical reinterpretation of Watergate in which President Nixon is the target and victim of the conspiracy rather than its instigator.
“Family of Secrets” postulates a network of politically and financially powerful individuals working behind the scenes to advance their interests at the expense of the nation. Because the book consciously challenges the generally accepted record of several decades of public events, it assumes a burden of proof that it cannot fully discharge. It relies heavily on insinuation based on isolated facts, it emphasizes “relationships” as a primary manifestation of political allegiance and influence, and in the end it does not clearly state a significant hypothesis that could be corroborated or refuted by further investigation.
But Baker is an energetic reporter and a good storyteller. He has conducted prodigious research and interviewed both familiar and unfamiliar sources to produce riveting (if occasionally appalling) revisions of the JFK assassination and Watergate stories. Even readers who find his methodology unsound may profit from the fruits of his research. It is astonishing to learn, for example, that ousted CIA Director Allen Dulles was a contributor to the 1963 Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook entry on the Bay of Pigs. And I had forgotten, or never knew, that the Central Intelligence Agency refused a direct request from President Nixon to provide documents concerning the Bay of Pigs and other topics.
Baker makes a cogent case for a “deep” interpretation of the JFK assassination, Watergate and other events. He stresses the fact that Kennedy and Nixon each had real personal and political enemies who benefitted when these presidents were removed from office. In each case, he says, the Bush family was among the beneficiaries.
Because of its undisciplined use of historical data and the absence of rebuttal (the Bush family did not agree to be interviewed), “Family of Secrets” should not be the only book of recent history that anyone reads. But at its best, it provides a reader with an arsenal of new questions with which to interrogate and rethink the historical record.