Joe Conason's Journal

How George W. Bush lost a cushy job given him by political friends a decade ago. Plus: Pondering the meaning of "Bring 'em on."

By Salon Staff
Published July 2, 2003 8:59PM (EDT)

The meaning of character
"Bring 'em on"? I'm so glad that President Bush has "restored dignity" to the White House, and I have no doubt the families of servicemen and women in Iraq must feel the same way today.

No wonder some Republicans think Arnold Schwarzenegger should be running the state of California. The real question is why we don't elect an actual cartoon character to office instead of all these cheap imitations. The Hulk's movie may be mediocre, but he obviously possesses the cool temperament, precise diction and witty style of a great commander in chief.

How to succeed in business
Preferring to avoid public scrutiny for obvious reasons, executives at the Carlyle Group usually say nothing about their firm's connections with the Bush dynasty. But last April 23, Carlyle managing director David Rubenstein spoke quite frankly about the comfy sinecure he provided to George W. Bush more than a decade ago -- and how useless Bush turned out to be. Whether he knew it or not, Rubenstein's remarks to the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association were recorded. A copy of the tape was obtained by freelance reporter Suzan Mazur, who posted a partial transcript on the Progressive Review Web site.

In a brief introduction, Mazur notes that "LACERA has invested $95 million in Carlyle, now the 11th largest defense contractor in America as majority shareholder in United Defense. For ethical reasons, many in the association would like to see LACERA funds pulled and invested elsewhere."

Evidently Rubenstein appeared at the April meeting of LACERA members to defend his company's ethics. And at some point he explained how, after Carlyle had purchased an airline catering company from Marriott Corp., they assembled a new board of directors:

"But when we were putting the board together, somebody [former Nixon aide and Bush family retainer Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

"I said well we're not usually in that business. But OK, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don't think he adds that much value. We'll put him on the board because -- you know -- we'll do a favor for this guy; he's done a favor for us.

"We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years -- you know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.

"He said, well I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.

"And I said, thanks -- didn't think I'd ever see him again. His name is George W. Bush."

What Rubenstein neglected to mention was that in 1990, when he placed that hapless "guy" on the Caterair board, he happened to be the son of another guy who at the time was president of the United States. Now, of course, Dubya is president -- and his father is on the Carlyle payroll.

I haven't heard the tape, but it may be aired tomorrow morning on Pacifica radio's Democracy Now! news show.
[12:05 p.m. PDT, July 2, 2003]

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