Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President

Overview

Upon winning the Governorship of Texas, Bush became known for a casual, friendly style, often spontaneously visiting his fellow lawmakers in Austin. However, this single baby-boomer-style element of his legacy is overshadowed by the results of "compassionate conservatism:" a ravaged environment, growing disparity between rich and poor, Texas style cronyism, property tax reform that benefitted landlords and ignored tenants, diminished popular rights to abortion, legalization of concealed handguns despite protest ...

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Overview

Upon winning the Governorship of Texas, Bush became known for a casual, friendly style, often spontaneously visiting his fellow lawmakers in Austin. However, this single baby-boomer-style element of his legacy is overshadowed by the results of "compassionate conservatism:" a ravaged environment, growing disparity between rich and poor, Texas style cronyism, property tax reform that benefitted landlords and ignored tenants, diminished popular rights to abortion, legalization of concealed handguns despite protest from law enforcement, and finally, a stubborn refusal to approve Hate Crimes laws even after the brutal murder of James Byrd by three Texas racists in Jasper.

Bush is described in Fortunate Son as being politically to the right of his father. His lack of real compassion planned a nuclear waste dump 5 miles away from the poor, Hispanic town of Sierra Blanca. Rather than grant clemency to born-again death-row inmate Karla Fay Tucker, Bush waited until the last possible moment before grand-standing in the media spotlight and again refusing to reconsider, despite the pleas of prominent religious leaders.

With 54 pages of source notes, Hatfield's book is a researched, precision-cut account. It balances Bush the likeable fellow with Bush the politician America needs to get to know better.

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Editorial Reviews

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It's back: the book that the Bush camp successfully stifled when it was first published in 1999. Bush's campaign lawyers went out of their way to personally discredit the author without necessarily denying any of the book's factual details. Now a new publisher, Soft Skull Press, has republished Fortunate Son, its text completely intact (indeed, it has been updated in light of Election 2000!).

Fortunate Son tells the truth about George W. Bush -- his draft-dodging, his less than stellar record at Yale, his largely unsuccessful attempts at "big business" (including an SEC investigation), and much, much more -- thereby reinforcing and amplifying the frustration and dissatisfaction felt by the 50 million people who voted for Al Gore.

Hatfield offers a revealing look at the man who many feel was "selected" president by a fiercely partisan conservative Supreme Court majority. It will be easy for the reader to understand why this book was attacked and slandered even before it was originally published.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781887128759
  • Publisher: Counterpoint LLC
  • Publication date: 6/18/2001
  • Edition description: 2ND
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 8.99 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Introduction

Milton said it best, in Areopagetica. It was 1643 and the British parliament had passed laws restricting the sale of pamphlets and newsbooks by allowing only licensed printers to publish. Criticism of the new ruling elite was eliminated under the rubric of preserving the propriety and religious beliefs of the Puritans . Milton brilliantly criticized this law, which stopped good reporting as well as "evil" publications, explaining, "Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter." Interestingly, the harsh licensing laws Milton came out against were written by a revolutionary government supposedly committed to liberty. The infamous Star Chamber, which had maimed and tortured printers and publishers for sedition and heresy, had been disbanded, but the authoritarian impulse towards censorship remained. It was Milton's argument that formed the basis for a free press.

In today's United States, putatively committed to liberty and freedom of speech, the book in your hands had to be reprinted after tens of thousands of copies were collected from bookstores all over America and burned. There were no licensing laws involved in the decision by St. Martin's Press, just a set of spurious principles that make such laws redundant. Publishing and journalism do a great job censoring themselves these days, thanks to the discipline provided by lawsuits and the threat of withdrawn access. Instead of truth and falsehood getting to wrestle in the minds of readers, the truth never makes it to the ring, while falsehood is freely told and repeated.

For months now, George W. Bush has failed to deny allegations of cocaine use. Asked directly, time and again, Bush has demurred. He admits to drinking as a young man, but on cocaine, he has repeated a series of non-answers. He has even said that he does not want go into his past because that may give a young person an excuse to do what Bush had done in his past. Basic logic fills in the blanks of Bush's non-answer. To the question "Have you ever done cocaine?" there are two possible answers, "Yes" and "No." Only one of these two answers fulfills the condition of possibly giving a young person an excuse to engage in a variety of self-destructive behaviors like cocaine use, and that is the "Yes" answer. What conclusions can be drawn from logic? According to the practices of modern journalism, absolutely nothing. Whatever George W. Bush or other major public figures say enjoys life as a fact, thanks to the news media simply repeating press releases faithfully. Thus, George W. Bush is a "compassionate conservative" not because he is particularly compassionate or is even a principled conservative, but because he says he is, and the press repeats it as fact. Even though his own comments on drug use allow us to create a logical proof to show that he has done drugs, journalists like Nat Hentoff are content to ignore logic and claim that Bush's cocaine use is a rumor reported "without proof." Logic is similarly ignored when Bush's own claim of compassionate conservatism is accepted without being examined critically. In addition to implying that conservatives are not generally compassionate, neither compassionate nor conservative accurately describe George W. Bush.

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Foreword

—by Mark Crispin Miller

If there's any future for American democracy, the trashing of Fortunate Son and its author will eventually stand out as an important early episode in the history of the Bush reaction.

It happened all too fast back in the fall of 1999, and then people pretty much forgot about it (which is the way things generally happen in the culture of TV). However, in the history textbooks of tomorrow, the fate of Hatfield and his valuable biography will get the close attention it deserves, for what it says about America—our politics and culture—at the end of the millennium.

But right now, let's stop thinking about tomorrow, and take a good hard look at what it meant when Hatfield was hung out to dry, and Fortunate Son sent off for burning.1

First of all, the episode should have told us quite a lot about the Bushes' spooky way of doing business. We must not forget, especially not now, that the House of Bush has long been closely linked to the most anti-democratic movements of the last century—movements not just hierarchical and secretive (like Skull & Bones at Yale), but actively engaged in trying to subvert democracy. The President's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a managing partner of the great and dubious investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman, and made a fortune doing business with the Nazis, from 1934 right through the fall of 1942, when US troops were fighting in North Africa.

Then there was Prescott's ever-loyal son, George Herbert Walker Bush, who made his bones as a devoted younger member of the Texas oil cartel, and then went on to join the GOP. He was a dedicated Nixon man by 1968, sticking with Tricky Dick to the bitter end, and then served briefly—and protectively—as Gerald Ford's director of the CIA, when the Agency, post-Watergate, was reeling from the many revelations of its sordid actions all around the world. So indulgent was Director Bush towards the Company—a permissive attitude that he maintained as President—that the CIA's headquarters is today named after him. From there Bush soon proceeded to sign on as Ronald Reagan's understudy (getting mired up to his eyeballs in Iran-contra), and then to build some heavy-duty bridges to the Christian right, to get their help in capturing the Oval Office.

For a democratic leader, this is, let's face it, not the most attractive résumé. From the start—but especially from the Eisenhower years—the CIA specialized in thwarting the political desires of foreign populations, through propaganda, terrorism, censorship and careful slanders that would "neutralize" key leaders of the opposition. In such work the CIA was helped along immeasurably by countless Nazi and pro-Nazi émigrés, who were quietly recruited, after World War II, to help "us" fight the Soviets. This grand absorption of bad apples that would affect not just US intelligence, but our domestic politics, as Christopher Simpson made clear in his classic study Blowback2. Starting in the Fifties, the GOP likewise cultivated all that fascist talent, who knew a thing or two about the art of winning hearts and minds by using the appeal of anticommunism. That link briefly made the papers back in the summer of 1988, when it came out that the Coalition of American Nationalities, an "ethnic outreach" arm of the Bush/Quayle campaign, was dominated by a range of infamous pro-Nazi émigrés, including Laszlo Pasztor (a convicted Nazi collaborator, who had worked for Hungary's Arrow Cross regime), Florian Goldau, (who had recruited shock troops for Rumania's Iron Guard), and Holocaust denier Jerome Brentar, among other stand-up guys.

The Bush/Quayle team was quick to dump those agents named (and soon quietly took a few of them back in). That swift purge notwithstanding, the scandal shed a bit of light on how the Bush team worked. George Bush Sr. never got the hang of democratic practice—as Iran-contra made all too clear, and as his own term in office reconfirmed, from the kidnapping of Manuel Noriega to the propaganda coup of Operation Desert Storm, and then the indefensible appointment of the undistinguished ultra-rightist Clarence Thomas to the nation's highest court. Every one of Bush's most remarkable achievements was a victory for propaganda, censorship and slander, and only for the sake of the defense contractors, US oil cartel, and other subgroups of the privileged few.

And this brings us to George W. Bush. Poppy's eldest son was never CIA material. On the other hand, he makes up in vindictiveness what he has lacked in formal training, and has the crucial instincts for a dirty fight—as Hatfield, alone among biographers, has taken pains to show. It was W. who, working closely with Lee Atwater, urged his Dad to counter-blast Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, when the anchor tried to get that unindicted co-conspirator to come clean on Iran-contra. It was also W. who got the elder Bush to do the Willie Horton thing—and W. who engineered the smear that sidelined Jimmy Swaggart, whose loud support for presidential aspirant Pat Robertson was interfering with the Bush family's program. (See pp. 80-1.) W. was not, and is not, the hapless imbecile derided by the late-night wits and cable clowns. He is, of course, completely ignorant, often incoherent and, on abstract matters, perfectly illogical. But he is also very, very shrewd—a highly gifted "political campaign terrorist," as his comrade Mary Matalin has noted with affection.

In his own bid for the White House, and in the daily propaganda drive that his cabal has been conducting since he was inaugurated, Bush has been abetted by some veteran dirty tricksters, such as the old ex-Nixonite Karl Rove, the true believer Karen Hughes, the rabid Matalin, and others. These are people who, like Nixon, have no qualms about whatever action it might take to win—which is, in their wild eyes, the only thing that matters. Thus they did not hesitate to kill this book when it came out in 1999, which they accomplished by discrediting the author. The ad hominem approach was, throughout the Cold War, standard practice for the CIA (and for the KGB), just as it was standard practice for the Bush/Quayle operation in its drive to take the White House: Jimmy Swaggart's fate foretold Jim Hatfield's.

Such a step was necessary to maintain the all-important fiction that George W. Bush is not a lazy and immoral child of privilege, not an utter hypocrite who sticks it to the poor for doing things that he did without penalty. To launder Bush's past, the campaign had to dirty Hatfield—not because the charges in that afterword were false: on the contrary. Just like the CIA in (say) Chile and Ecuador, and like the Nazis (and the Stalinists) before the Agency was born, Bush/Cheney shot down an inconvenient truth by slandering the reporter, treating him as the transgressor, so that the real perp could get off scot-free.

Ironically enough, the truth of Hatfield's charge has been all but confirmed by Bush himself, who, like his father, often gives the game away by saying just a bit too much. In a long interview with Brill's Content in September, 2000, the Governor was asked by the reporter, Seth Mnookin, if he didn't think that there should be some legal "recourse" for those candidates who are smeared as Bush, presumably, was smeared in Fortunate Son.

Bush replied as follows (emphasis added):


Well, I don't know that, I don't know that question. You know, I would hope there would—to save—to protect the innocent, but the problem is I'm a public figure, and the question is, where do you draw the line? I think there ought to be some—I think the press corps ought to self-police, and I think there ought to be—in order to enhance the integrity of the press corps, it seems like to me that when they catch, when they catch these fraudulent acts, these scurrilous attacks, they ought to rise up in indignation, and I don't know if that—you know, I think that maybe might have occurred when they started condemning this guy for writing the story.

What is most significant here is Bush's final phrase: the press attacked Hatfield for "writing the story"—not for "making that stuff up," or "telling those lies," or whatever other phrase he would have used if he were innocent of Hatfield's charges. (Similarly: "That woman who knew I had dyslexia—I never interviewed her," Bush said dyslexically about Gail Sheehy, who did interview the candidate for her profile in Vanity Fair—and, note well, who, Bush admitted, did not "claim" or "say" but knew I had dyslexia.") What Bush began to say is also as revealing as what he finally said: "to save—to protect the innocent." An innocent party has no need of being "saved" from a destructive allegation. It is the true report that you're in need of being saved from—whereas "the innocent" might need to be protected from a smear. Throughout the controversy, Bush himself never actually came out and said that Hatfield's charge per se was false, but just that it was "scurrilous," and that the author was himself "a convicted felon," as if that alone proved anything. It was—typically—a deft way to dodge the whole messy question of whether Hatfield's charge was true. Although transparent in his stammerings and "misstatements," Bush was sharp enough to kill the story, and go on (with lots of help) to steal the presidency from the Democrats.3

The Hatfield episode would be historically important if it pointed only to the tricky methods of Bush/Cheney and the GOP. The overt installation of an unelected President—let's call it the Rehnquist Putsch—is no mean feat; and the campaign's sharp handling of the Hatfield threat anticipated their achievement down in Florida. First of all, they managed to impugn the standard process of a manual vote recount, and so buy time to let the Supreme Court (long since corrupted by the Reagan/Bush regime) subvert democracy. The propagandists then worked hard to change the subject after Florida: by playing up the President-select's "bipartisan" intentions and fictitious "charm," by making earnest noises about the great need (now) for electoral reform, and by turning up the heat on the departed Clinton, for his dubious pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich and for hauling gifts out of the White House. As if exonerating a rich con-man, whose wife gave money to the Democrats, were a greater sin than clearing all the principals in Iran-contra (as George Bush did—on Christmas Eve of 1992—to save himself from prosecution). As if taking a dinette set were a greater sin than stealing an election. It is also likely that the smearing of the Rev. Jesse Jackson was a Karl Rove operation, the news of Jackson's love child coming just in time to shut him up, since he was certainly the most outspoken champion of a post-inaugural reckoning in Florida.

The fact that Pres. Bush was not elected President is the truth most dangerous to his regime, and so his team behaves accordingly: dealing with reminders of it just as ruthlessly as they once dealt with Hatfield, whose story threatened the Republican campaign with (what might have been) an equally destructive truth.

And yet, as hard and canny as they are, this Bush and his operatives could not have done the job they did—both on Hatfield's book and on the national electorate—if they were not abetted all the way by the editors and producers, anchors, pundits and reporters of the so-called "liberal media." As the Brookings Institution demonstrated in a study published soon after Election Day, the coverage of the race was overwhelmingly pro-Bush.4 Al Gore's whole campaign was handled only as a faulty exercise in style, with much sarcastic commentary on his clothes and sighs and make-up, while Bush's patent inexperience, his abysmal record down in Texas (including his disastrous impact on the environment), his dubious military history, his several crooked business deals and his tight links to the Christian ultra-right were all ignored—as, for that matter, were his severe stylistic lapses, which included a strong tendency to zone out right on camera, and (of course) an inability to speak his native language. In short, the media—for various reasons of its own—was complicit in the Rehnquist Putsch; and that complicity was evident in their all-but-unanimous participation in the GOP attack on Fortunate Son.

As Bush himself told Brill's Content, the mainstream press responded to the book's important charges by doing the job that he thinks they should always do (at least when dealing with his own affairs): i.e., "self-police." Without even bothering to look into it, the members of the Fourth Estate piled on, as if they were not unaffiliated journalists but Karl Rove's deputies. The media's participation started with Pete Slover of the Dallas Morning News, who broke the story of Hatfield's criminal past—a distracting (and irrelevant) fact that had to come to Slover from a source inside the Bush campaign (unless Slover was a fiercely zealous advocate for the Republicans).

From there, the media reaction was, at best, mere sheepish acquiescence, as all accepted, at face value, the candidate's indignant self-defense. Soon St. Martins, quickly knuckling under to whatever pressure was exerted on them, pulled the book—promising to turn it into "furnace fodder"—and dumped the author, leaving him with nothing but humiliation. Even such First Amendment champions as Nat Hentoff shrugged off that unprecedented act of corporate censorship. Burning, God help us, is not how we deal with problematic books here in the USA; and yet the stalwarts of the media were unimpressed, and simply let it go.

The Hatfield episode, then, tells us something not only about the power and influence of one rich right-wing family, but about the cynicism that pervades the culture of TV, particularly toward the top. Hatfield's treatment by St. Martins was exemplary of how the media corporations all too often treat their hardest-working people. It was Hatfield's editors who had insisted that he play up the cocaine bust in the first place—instructing him to put the story in a special Afterword for maximum effect, pushing him to make the prose more lurid, (and inserting over-heated touches of their own), and refusing to allow him a few extra days to go down to Texas for some on-the-record confirmation.5 But when the shit hit the fan, those editors all ran for cover, cutting Hatfield loose and promising to turn the book to cinders. The episode recalled the very similar treatment meted out by CNN to Producers April Oliver and Jack Smith for their the CNN report "Valley of Death." The network caved into Defense Department and other government pressure and pulled their controversial documentary on Operation Tailwind—a secret U.S. military mission in Vietnam to track down and gas American deserters fighting on the other side. Like St. Martins, CNN hyped the shocker heavily beforehand, and then—also like St. Martins—killed the product, and swiftly axed its authors: Oliver and Smith were fired for having made the documentary. They were let go to placate those (Henry Kissinger among them) who roared in outrage at the very thought of such a show. Whether the documentary was sound or spurious, the hasty burial of the offending work and the dismissal of its authors, bespeak a grave new turn in the corporate practice of the culture industries.

No longer is the journalist automatically protected by the company—as, for example, CBS producer George Crile was when the network was sued over his documentary on Gen. William Westmoreland's body counts in Vietnam. (Crile was suspended for ethical lapses, but not fired.) Now that the news media are wholly owned by multinational corporations, whose managers have everything to gain from catering to the government (and vice versa), it is a very risky business to go after those in power.

And so Fortunate Son is a most important book—and not just for its many revelations. (Readers should pay special heed to Hatfield's prescient outline of the Bush plan to secure the presidency: see p. 303.) The book is just as edifying for the painful history of its publication as it is for all that it reveals to us about our unelected President. It is a volume to keep close at hand throughout these next four years, whatever happens next, and whatever they may tell us on TV.



1. In fact, St. Martins didn't burn the book, as they had vowed to do. The publisher remaindered many of the unsold copies of Fortunate Son, to recoup a few extra bucks. Hatfield and Soft Skull received reports that cases of them had appeared in the Half Price Books chain throughout Texas.

2. Blowback: America's Recruitment Of Nazis And Its Effects On The Cold War (New York: Wiedenfeld and Nicholson, 1988).

3. Still more interesting than Bush's recent verbal slips is his long public silence on the subject of his stint at Project P.U.L.L. in inner-city Houston. (see below, pp. 47, 309-10) Such an altruistic episode-a period of youthful service to the poor-would seem to offer any politician, especially a "compassionate conservative," material for endless public reminiscences: e.g., "When I was working with those fine young men in inner-city Houston," etc. But Bush, whether running for the Austin Statehouse or the White House, seldom mentioned Project P.U.L.L. If, as the official story has it, he briefly worked at that non-profit just because his father thought it might be good for him, such reticence seems odd. If, on the other hand, he had to work there as a form of punishment, his failure to exploit the episode is fully understandable.

4. This judgement was confirmed by the Brookings Institution, which, on 11/13/00, released a useful overview: "How the Television Networks Covered the 2000 Presidential Campaign." (Parts of the report are available on-line.)

5. The editors also allowed no time to do an index, which made the book seem less serious.

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2007

    A Call To Action

    One thing that this author does is tell you about the interconnection between a beholden government, avarice corporatism and namesake in time for you to make a conscious voting decision at the polls. Moreover, the author explains how there's a double-standard between the elite in government and the working-class in government pertaining to drug standards of employment. This book is very well researched and its probably the closest people can get to the truth who are outside of the loop of the belt-way.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    Fact as Opposed to Fiction

    I found this title well-researched and documented. It really gets to the bottom (or tries to) about George W. Bush and the Eric Clapton hit single: 'Cocaine.' In addition, in reference to fellow-reviewer, Mr. Garwood's commentary--after suffering personal and financial ruination, at the hands of varied Bush supporters, author James Hatfield killed himself--is this the 'gotcha!' you were looking for?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2003

    The Truth Must Be Heard!

    I am surprised that the author did not have an 'accident' prior to publication due to the breadth of what he is attacking. Have no doubts, Bush is the pawn and frontman to a much greater evil. I would like to say that the American people would be smart enough to vote him out of office in '04 but I'm not so sure the way the public is eating up the propaganda. Even if we did vote him out it doesn't mean he would leave. There are some very powerful people that will go to great extents to keep him in power which would include ridding America of democracy if given a chance!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2003

    A solid biography

    I just finished the book today. It is a very well done book. In response to the reviewer who was looking for the 'gotcha', I am not sure what you are looking for. In regards to his business dealings, there is nothing completely illegal, but a pattern that suggests wrong doing. I have a feeling that the reviewer was looking at the President's alleged 'youthful indescretions'. The allegation involving his 1972 drug arrest does seem plausable. I think that the most disturbing thing about Bush is who backs him. He is clearly indebted to big business and it is no surprise that most of his tax cuts, while claiming to be helping everyday Americans, are geared to helping them. Hopefully the United States rights a mistake and shows W. the door in 2004!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2003

    The truth hurts

    There's more damning evidence (aka gotchas) in this single book than in all the volumnous output of Ken Starr's office. Written dispassionately and factually, it shows him for the hypocrite he is, detailing his shady business dealings and willingness to sacrifice what few ideals he has for expediency's sake. Electing him President was the worst mistake the American public didn't actually make.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2001

    This is an important book-it should be read by everyone

    This is not a Bush bashing expose of George W. Bush. It does contain a lot of information about the man who sits in the White House and how he got there. After reading the book my opinion of George actually improved. It was so feared that people would get to know 'W' that the original publisher was pressured to recall and burn most of the original printing. The author was threatened, harrassed, bankrupted and finally hounded to death (literally) for writing this book by the deep pockets behind the scenes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    Fact or Fiction

    I keep looking for the 'gotcha' while reading. Where the author really proved some misdeed or confirmed some unfortunate vices. Readig and reading, even going back, there was no 'gotcha'. This book should be listed under gossip.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2000

    Top-Notch Journalism

    After you read this book, you'll no longer wonder why George W. Bush did not want it to be published: it exposes him for what he is--a pawn bought by congromerate cash. A must-read for anyone who is considering voting for Bush; I think you will be surprised by what you will find out about the so-called 'compassionate conservative.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2000

    Politics In America

    On a macro level Hatfield's book provided a good resume of George W. Bush. The micro details were perhaps too skewed. This book brings out the strong trait of George W. as a leader in private business and politics. The drug issue was perhaps played out too far.I am sure that The 60's and 70's college generation readers will scan this part and will go on far there. Afterall, nobody inhaled. I would have enjoyed more details regarding the family tree and the cast of family members.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2000

    '..the UNmaking of a presidential canidate...'

    Soft Skull Press will be taking some hard knocks with this controversial re-issue,but high possibility this bio may be highwater mark..of his (gov't) career

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