DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY: The Life and Legacy of Prescott Bush

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The Life and Legacy of Prescott Bush. 
By Mickey Herskowitz. Rutledge Hill Press. 229 pp. $24.99

Despite having produced two presidents and a governor of Florida, the Bushes reject any suggestion that their family is a political dynasty. They insist, as George W. Bush told me in a 1995 interview, that public service is “just part of a strong family tradition” and “much more of an inherent trait.” Or, as he later told Mickey Herskowitz: “To talk about a Bush dynasty would be an act of conceit.”

A Houston-based sportswriter and celebrity ghostwriter and biographer, Herskowitz has written a useful overview of America’s premier political family. Though not a traditional chronological biography, it focuses principally on Senator Prescott Bush (1895–1972)—father of the first President Bush and grandfather of the current one. Herskowitz credits Prescott Bush with instilling the family’s sense of noblesse oblige, “persons of privilege behaving nobly, serving unselfishly for the greater good of humanity.” Venerated by his descendants, Prescott is Herskowitz’s “founding father.”

Prescott developed properties before attaining prominence with what became the Wall Street investment banking firm of Brown Brothers Harriman. A further financial lift came from his 1921 marriage to Dorothy Walker, heir to a midwestern business later known for its flagship holding, the G.H. Walker Investment Company of St. Louis. While working and raising five children, Prescott served for decades in the town government of Greenwich, Connecticut, a training ground for his subsequent legislative career.

He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1950, but tried again two years later and was elected to serve out the balance of a deceased incumbent’s term. In Washington he proved to be a quintessential northeastern, internationalist, moderate Republican. He embraced civil rights, abhorred Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and even, according to the author, quietly opposed a second term for Richard Nixon as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. Such positions put him at odds with party conservatives, and some Republican leaders opposed his bid for reelection in 1956. (His son’s presidency after 1990 provoked similar misgivings in the party, a lesson not lost on the current president.) Nonetheless, Senator Bush won reelection, served for six more years, and retired.

Herskowitz describes Prescott as central to the family’s political rise. Certainly the family’s endorsement of the book is unambiguous—the former president supplied a foreword and agreed to help promote it. The research, however, is thin, relying heavily on interviews with Bush family and friends and on a long oral history left by Prescott in 1966. For example, more intense work might have kept Herskowitz from saying merely that George H. W. Bush “gladly accepted” President Nixon’s offer of the United Nations ambassadorship in 1971. As now-public documents make clear, Bush lobbied for that appointment—Nixon had intended to make him just another White House assistant.

Though Herskowitz’s tribute to those dedicated to “duty, honor, country” pretty much confines itself to the official story, it constitutes a worthwhile guide to the world that helped create our 41st and 43rd presidents.


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