The Austin Chronicle

Bush: The Book

May 28, 1999, News

"Why," Bill Minutaglio wants to know, "do people think I'm writing an authorized book on George Bush? I've had Rolling Stone and alternative weeklies from all over calling to ask me if it's true."

Oh, those vicious rumors. Minutaglio knows a thing or two about them. He is, as he stresses with some frustration, writing an unauthorized book on Bush, and he has the dirt to prove it. But Minutaglio, a Dallas Morning News writer for 16 years, knows that by the time Random House's Times Books releases his book later this year, most of the Bush sex-and-drugs babble will have already petered out on the pages of the mainstream papers. Which is just as well, because Minutaglio, who last covered welfare issues from DMN's Austin bureau before taking a leave of absence, is devoting more ink to Bush's psyche than he is to the juicy stuff anyway. "The Random House editors wanted to avoid a deep, inside, tell-all-from-Texas book," he says. "They thought he was an interesting guy in his own right."

Minutaglio began his investigation, with assistance from researcher Jordan Smith (who writes for the Chronicle), in New Haven, Conn., Bush's birthplace. He worked forward from there. "In shaping the book, I studied the characteristics of Bush's grandfather, Sen. Prescott Bush, and explored what brought [George W.'s] parents to Texas," Minutaglio says. "I, like many other people, have heard all the rumors and I tried to explore them, with varying degrees of cooperation from people. I also tried to measure these rumors in some way and found them to be an interesting media phenomenon. But I think Clinton has set the bar so high -- or so low -- we now have the Wall Street Journal writing, on page one, about the [Bush] rumors and how they got started. I think what I ended up with overall, apart from the rumors, is an actual portrayal of George Bush's life."

More intriguing than the rumors, Minutaglio found, were the stylistic differences between Bush and his father. "The son is actually a better politician for this era than his father was. He's a much more fully evolved politician. Like him or not, you have to admire his political skills. He operates at a higher level than most people. He has an engaging personality to the point of disarming political foes -- even some members of the media who are extremely liberal."

This is the point where one might expect Minutaglio to enthuse that, while Bush is a nice guy, he's a bit of a clod. But noooo. "People mistake that gregariousness for lack of political sophistication," Minutaglio goes on to say, "but he didn't emerge in a vacuum. It's a mistake to look at him as someone who's being carried along by some wave, with no input. He's a lot savvier than that."

Then, Minutaglio changes his tune. "His biggest weakness right now, while it's not a big revelation, is that perhaps he is more like his father than people realize. He's not an ideological politician. He's no Al Gore, certainly. He's not a policy wonk. It's become a real cliché that Bush lacks the vision thing."

Nor is it a secret, Minutaglio adds, that Bush, the able student, is now preparing a vision, or at least brushing up on how to present that vision.

"To be honest, I don't really know if lacking vision is enough to keep people from voting for him," Minutaglio says. "He is extraordinarily popular in Texas and a pretty effective governor. But he didn't get to be governor by being a nice guy."

Bush, in fact, used to refer to himself as the "loyalty monitor" when he worked on his father's presidential campaigns. "He's been known to chew out reporters and admonish them on behalf of his father. He can be as tough and mean as he can be nice. That's been a hallmark throughout his life."

How hard was it to research a book on Bush? Not surprisingly, the difficulties grew larger as the Bush camp's interest in the book grew keener. And just as every investigative reporter experiences varying degrees of paranoia when snooping into someone else's business, Minutaglio, too, underwent periods of excessive wariness and distrust. "It was just a general feeling I'd get every once in a while," he says. "There were a lot of previously helpful people who would suddenly become unhelpful. Or there would be some documents I would seek through open records, and I'd be told they would be available to me -- suddenly they became unavailable. They would just disappear. Things like that made the process all the more laborious." --Amy Smith

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