Kelley's Heroes


Slate has a handy roundup of juicy bits from Kitty Kelley's The Family: the real story of the Bush dynasty. As a zealous Kelley acolyte who reads His Way with all the reverence and credulity a fundamentalist Christian pays to the Holy Bible, I must sadly concur with Nick: If this is the best there is (I'm reserving full judgment until I can read the book in the original Aramaic), the Duchess of Defamation has come in with a rare disappointment. There are some surprises, among them that George H.W. Bush, whom I never considered much of wisecrack artist, nearly ties with master insult comic Lyndon Johnson for best putdown on the list:

Page 279: George H.W. makes a secret trip to Lyndon Johnson's ranch to ask the ex-president if he should give up his House seat for a 1970 Senate run. Johnson says the "difference between being a member of the Senate and a member of the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit." Bush runs and gets clobbered.

Page 350: As CIA director, H.W. despises Henry Kissinger and instructs his staff to refer to him as "Mister," not "Doctor." "The fucker doesn't perform surgery or make house calls, does he?" Bush says.

Bush supporters who are currently fuming (or pretending to fume) at Kelley are, I believe, missing an important dynamic. Despite her reputation for ruining lives and reputations, Kelley has only burnished the reputations of her subjects. In fact, a Kell-all biography is generally a sign that you've reached the bottom in terms of public opprobrium and will soon be soaring to new heights of adoration. Let's go to the tape:

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: Jackie Oh! published 1978, just as Jackie begins successful late-career stint as Doubleday editor. In same year, her tormentor Larry Flynt is paralyzed in an assassination attempt. Quietly shacks up with Maurice Tempelsman, to no public scandal. Stays out of the headlines in final decade. Dies peacefully; misses tragic death of John John by five years.

Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star published in 1981, when Taylor's movie career and marriage to John Warner have already hit the skids. Thereafter, she fully embraces her status as a camp icon in various TV walk-ons; gains public respect for AIDS awareness campaign and public sympathy after surviving brain surgery. Receives Kennedy Center honor, is made a Dame by Queen Elizabeth, stands by Michael Jackson through thick and thin. Role as Pearl Slaghoople in 1994's The Flintstones is Liz's best part since Reflections In A Golden Eye.

Frank Sinatra: His Way published 1986. Shortly afterward, New Jersey officials persuade Sinatra to end his exile from Atlantic City. Sinatra is venerated as subject of horrible 1992 miniseries. Wins back hearts of Mia Farrow and all other Americans with threat to break Woody Allen's legs. Awarded 1997 lifetime achievement Oscar. Outlives hated foe Dean Martin. Cleverly dies during last episode of Seinfeld, allowing America to laugh and cry one more time. Named entertainer of the century two years later.

Nancy Reagan: Unauthorized Biography published 1991, as public is already consigning the former first couple's sometimes-flaky reputation to the dustbin. Book's Sinatra revelations help America heal after first Gulf War, but otherwise fail to catch on. Onset of Reagan alzheimer's melts even the stoniest bosoms, and by decade's end Reagan naysayers are as rare as bison. Reagan's death in June an unprecedented outpouring of public adoration. Nancy now second-place contender to replace FDR on the dime.

The House of Windsor: The Royals published 1997, just days after MI5 plot to exterminate El-Fayed family bears unexpected fruit: Death of Diana generates enough public sympathy to get Kelley's book banned in the United Kingdom. (Ban has remained in effect to this day.) With the Princess of Wales out of the way, Charles begins long, slow climb from tampon-fetishizing ghoul to somewhat sympathetic single dad. Former butler's gay rape charges fall apart faster than Bush National Guard memos. Prince Harry antics still mild enough to elicit only boys-will-be-boys clucking. Even Camilla Parker-Bowles gradually gains acceptance from public and family. Batman marks royal family's return to respectability with surprise visit to Buckingham Palace.

So in honor of Kelley's new book, I'm going to go out on a limb with a fresh prediction: George W Bush's unlucky year, predicted by me in January, has come to an early end. From here on out it's near-beer and skittles at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

NEXT: They Work Hard For the Money

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    Actually, it was happening a while ago, ever since the Swift
    Boat Vets got off the issue of his medals and onto the issue of
    what he did when he got back/went-to-Paris.

  2. I’ve always hated the term “Beer and skittles.”

    Eating those things with beer would be nauseating.

  3. Isn’t Kitty Kelley just Barbara Cartland with a mean streak?

  4. “People are poor because they’re lazy.”

  5. Calling Kitty Kelly an untalented hack would be an unnecessary insult to untalented hacks everywhere. Only the late, non-lamented Albert Goldman can match her for the blend of mean-spiritness, cheap-shot-as-high-art and just plain godawful writing (not that I’m a Bush fan mind you). I recall a comment Truman Capote once made about one of his contemporaries: “That’s not writing, it’s just typing…”

  6. Those “new heights” sound like a basement ceiling.

  7. As CIA director, H.W. despises Henry Kissinger and instructs his staff to refer to him as “Mister,” not “Doctor.” “The fucker doesn’t perform surgery or make house calls, does he?” Bush says.

    And to think for all these years I thought nothing would ever make me like George H.W. Bush.

  8. And to think for all these years I thought nothing would ever make me like George H.W. Bush.

    If the Slate selections are any guide, George H.W. emerges from this book as the Oscar Wildean wit of the Bush family. He and Prescott get almost all the good lines.

  9. LBJ giving political advice to GHWB? I was listening the the LBJ Tapes on the radio one afternoon, and was amused to hear LBJ bad-mouth GHWB as a sleazebag to one of his (LBJ’s) Texas cronies. (Of course, being called a sleazebag by LBJ is a little like being called ugly by a horned toad.) I’d say either Kelly’s story wasn’t true, or else LBJ mellowed on Bush after leaving the White House–or perhaps GHWB had no idea how much the former president despised him, and walked right into a trap that LBJ laid for him.

  10. “That’s not writing, it’s just typing…”

    Capote said that about Jack Kerouac, you boob.

    It’s used to plink Truman Capote.

  11. “It’s used to plink Truman Capote.”

    Depends who you’re talking too.

  12. Or “talking to.” Pick

  13. It depends on whether you’re exploding into a watery sky of earth dog earth karmic gravity whistles as corn corn corn flies by and Cody is talking about a diner he passed out in on a magic dharma Alabama Friday…

  14. “Capote said that about Jack Kerouac, you boob.”

    Hey…I resemble that remark!

  15. That ain’t writing, that’s blogging.

  16. joe:

    You drink the beer, while playing skittles. The candy was named after the pub game. If you are peckish, stick to “cakes and ale.”


    (So, who’s writing the KK tell-all?)

  17. Seamus: The LBJ chicken salad/chicken shit story was told by G.H.W. himself in his 1988 campaign biography, so if it is false, it isn’t Kelly who made it up.

  18. Everything Kitty Kelly says is lawsuit proof. Maybe not true, but their legal ass is totally covered. It’s beautiful harmony with the Karl Rove approach to campaign/governance.

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