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Tom's Bleating About Bush Goes Back A Way

February 15, 2003

Alan Ramsey - Sydney Morning Herald

[Tom] Schieffer returned to hospital in Canberra a few nights ago with complications from an emergency operation. He is a very sick man. So, of course, is Crean, politically. The Labor leader would wish it had been Schieffer's tongue rather than his appendix doctors removed a week ago. By then it was too late. A few days earlier, on Wednesday last week, in a chatty interview with The Bulletin's lunch columnist, Maxine McKew, Schieffer told her, "I have to be careful here because I don't want to intrude into Labor Party politics."

Then he did just that, saying: "A lot of what is going on now is all about internal Labor politics as opposed to any real anti-American feeling. It is disturbing, though, that for so many years the alliance has been considered an above-the-radar issue in both parties, but now it seems to be open to partisan debate. That's troubling because it hasn't happened in a long time. Bob Hawke was a great ally during the first Gulf War. And there were times during the last election campaign when it was obvious to me the alliance was not going to be debated from a Labor standpoint."

McKew: "You mean Kim Beazley considered it off limits?"

Schieffer: "Yeah, and you don't get the same feeling now. We certainly didn't get this rank appeal to anti-Americanism, to anti-George Bush feeling. It's all gotten very personal ... [But] you know, this is the best-briefed opposition in the world, bar none. Kim Beazley and Dick Cheney were both defence ministers at the same time. And Kevin Rudd, he knows lots of people in [the Bush Administration]. Sadly, Simon Crean doesn't have those kinds of relationships. Maybe that's part of what this is all about."

Maybe. There was much more in the interview published three days ago, a week after it took place. But Schieffer had it dead wrong - very deliberately, most likely. What is happening in Labor is not anti-Americanism. It is Bush who appals many Australians. The man, not the country he leads.

This wee, strutting caricature of an American president, with his cowboy boots and cowboy language, his persistent appeals to God in defence of "freedom-loving people" - rhetoric the rest of us ridiculed when the Soviets and China forever spouted it during the worst of the Cold War in the '50s and '60s - is, without doubt, the most frightening US leader any of us have experienced. So, too, the two most influential figures in his administration: Vice-President Cheney and the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Both are wealthy Republican retreads from the Nixon White House of almost 30 years ago. Both are the real powers in George jnr's Washington 29 years after the disgraced Nixon was driven from office.

All three scare the pants off most of us.

Even Colin (pronounced colon) Powell, Bush's Secretary of State, previously widely considered the only restraining influence in the Bush Administration, now eats from the same table. He has, as a former Australian minister of great wit describes him, become semi-colon.

But it is John Thomas (Tom) Schieffer, a 55-year-old lawyer and former three-term congressman in the Texas state legislature in the 1970s, that we're interested in here - the 22nd representative of the US president in 63 years, after the first, Clarence Gauss, a professional diplomat from Connecticut, presented his credentials to our very British governor-general of the time, Lord Gowrie, on January 12, 1940. And once you include Ed Clark, known as Ed the Talking Horse, a wonderful cartoon character and great friend of prime minister Harold Holt's in the mid-1960s, we've never had such a visible American envoy as Schieffer - nor one so accessible to the media.

Clark, too, was a Texan, just like Schieffer. Both were Democrats. But Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat president, sent Clark, while Bush, a Republican, sent Schieffer. And we should have known Schieffer would be different when we saw him on TV, tears running down his face, give that address (which he handwrote) at the memorial service in the Great Hall of the Parliament six days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. That was the speech that said, "We know this attack on America was an attack on all freedom-loving peoples everywhere," and concluded: "Australians and Americans march again as brothers and sisters in freedom."

That is Tom Schieffer. He'd been in Australia just a matter of weeks. He's been appearing on TV interview programs and writing articles in our newspapers ever since. He is his master's best advocate. But it is Schieffer the fast-footing businessman rather than Schieffer the diplomat to whom George jnr owes so much. As somebody who knew him a long time ago says, Schieffer wass a genuinely key figure in getting Bush the only the real job he ever had. And he means, of course, the presidency.

The magic pudding was baseball.

That's right - baseball, America's national pastime. Only it's not. Making money is America's national pastime, most preferably heaps of it, particularly if you come from well-connected families like the Bushes. This is possible even if your life is one long disaster - until, at age 42, you strike it rich in a baseball deal and, 12 years later, use it to ride into the White House as US President and "leader of the free world" on the votes of less than 25 per cent of the eligible US voting population.

There's some wonderful source material on the Bush/Schieffer relationship to be found, by the internet, in the files of American newspapers.. "When George W. Bush first embarked on a deal to buy the Texas Rangers professional baseball team in 1989, he already had his eye on the [Texas] governor's mansion in Austin [to which he was elected in 1994]. But he knew to have a shot at winning, he would need better credentials than a string of unsuccessful oil companies and a failed bid [for a federal seat in Congress in 1978]. In 1989 Bush told Time magazine, "My biggest liability in Texas is the question, 'What's the boy ever done?' He could be riding on Daddy's name.' "

.."His father's connections were instrumental. Back in 1973, when the senior George Bush was chairman of the Republican National Committee, Bush befriended one of father's assistants, Karl Rove [who] ... would run George W.'s [unsuccessful] 1978 bid for Congress and lay the groundwork for his [successful] 1994 run for governor. As the Rangers deal got under way in 1989, Rove told Bush that baseball was his ticket to the big time. 'It gives him exposure and give him something easily recalled by people,' Rove said."

Bush helped put together a team of investors that included Texas financiers Richard Rainwater and Edward "Rusty" Rose. It also included Schieffer, later president of the Texas Rangers and developer of the real estate around the club's new $US190 million ($319 million) Arlington stadium, financed 70 per cent by Texas taxpayers by a dedicated levy on state sales tax. Bush's total cash investment in the deal, financed by a $US500,000 bank loan, was $US606,302. In 1989 that bought him 1.8per cent stake in the club. His grateful partners later gave him another 10 per cent for the use of his name and his role in putting the deal together.

The partners paid $US90 million for the team in 1989.. "Usually parked in a front row seat by the dugout [in the new baseball stadium], with his feet up and a bag of peanuts in his lap, Bush put a congenial face on a crooked deal, at the heart of which lay a complicated land deal ...

"When confronted with the seamy details of the land grab [for the new stadium], Bush professed ignorance. But Schieffer has testified [in civil court proceedings by the original land owners] that he kept Bush aware of the land transfers ... Several landowners took the [local government] authority to court over the land seizures and won settlements totalling $US11 million. The Rangers, under new ownership [in 2000], finally agreed to pay up.. In 1998 [new owners] bought the Texas Rangers for $US250 million, three times what Bush and his partners paid 10 years earlier. Bush's cut from the proceeds of the sale was $14.9 million, a 25-fold return on his investment. In 1994, as Texas governor, when the new stadium had been opened, Bush had asked reporters: 'Am I going to benefit off it financially? I hope so."'

Tom Schieffer helped make it all possible.

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