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.