The Bush Tapes: Hitting the Erase Button

Doug Wead, for once, is speechless. But his career speaks volumes.

Doug Wead poses for a publicity shot within earshot of the White House—if you yell really loud.

NO WONDER THE religious right has seized control of America's political machinery and launched a crusade to go medieval on the rest of the world.

The media are asleep at their typewriters.

Doug Wead's career, most of which has never been studied by the mainstream media—even now, when he's in the bright glare of publicity—perfectly traces the religious right's successful infiltration of the GOP during the past two decades, culminating in the rise to power of religious capitalism.

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It's mostly by geographical accident that I think I know this. I dove deep into this stuff in 1992, when I covered Wead's ill-fated Congressional campaign in Arizona for Phoenix New Times. Then, by another happenstance, I moved to Denver, just a short drive from Colorado Springs, the Vatican City of America's religious right, and a truly strange place, I tell you what. I used to go there to spy on top national Republicans secretly huddling with His Evangelical Eminence James Dobson. Click on this Bush Beat item from yesterday for links to my earlier Wead stories, including two of my '92 pieces.

Incidentally, I've put in a request to Wead to hand the tapes over to me, instead of giving them to George W. Bush. He had replied to my e-mails earlier. Haven't heard back from him about my request.

I've never underestimated the power of religious conservatives to seize control and try to force us all to assume the missionary position. That's the Great Commission in a nutshell.

And I certainly gained a great respect for the political acumen of the religious right when I started studying Wead's career more than a decade ago. As a White House aide to George Bush Sr. in the late '80s, Amway evangelist Wead brokered bonds between the religious right and a decidedly non-religious-right White House. He placated the evangelicals, helping cement the bonds between them and the GOP—bonds that now have left the religious conservatives with a stranglehold on the Republican Party.

When this fusion was taking place, preacher, peddler, and Beltway meddler Wead was extremely useful to the fabulously wealthy religious-right Amway empire as a motivational speaker. Amway, of course, has been extremely useful to the GOP, lavishing money by the millions on its candidates.

Not only that, Wead, by some accounts, helped teach the callow George W. how speak the code words to get the lockstep religious right voters to march to GOP glory.

But all that news isn't fit to print, apparently. Yes, others are doing fine with some aspects of this story. Howard Kurtz's column yesterday in the Washington Post makes for good reading about how the focus is on Wead, not Bush. And the Post's Jefferson Morley has a lively sample of global opinion in his "Bush Gets Stoned by the World Media."

But witness the New York Times' latest story on Wead and his furtively recorded tapes of George W. Bush. Reporting a day after I did that Wead has now decided to give the tapes to Bush instead of preserving them for posterity, reporter David D. Kirkpatrick notes this morning that the firestorm has even engulfed Laura Bush. He quotes Dubya's wife as saying to the Today show's talking heads:

    "I think it's very odd and awkward, to be perfectly frank, to tape someone while you're talking to them on the phone, and they don't know it, and then come out with the tapes later. I don't know if I'd use the word 'betrayed,' but I think it's a little bit awkward for sure."

OK, Kirkpatrick did just fine in recording that very, very recent history—Laura Bush's comments. But when he and the Times reach back into the past, forget about it. No wonder Americans are so ignorant about the texture of their political landscape.

What I'm talking about is Kirkpatrick's next paragraph:

    Mr. Wead's decision may be the coda to an unlikely 15-year-friendship, begun when Mr. Bush was the born-again son of a well-known political family and Mr. Wead was a former evangelist who made his living turning out quickly written books and speaking at Amway conventions.

"Unlikely"? Hoo-ha! And a note to Howard Kurtz, as well: Back in 1988, Doug Wead was better known—though not to the media—than George W. Bush.

During Daddy Bush's reign, George W. was a nonentity, a nothing, barely a public figure, unlike his up-and-coming brother Jeb and his down-and-falling, scandal-plagued brother Neil. Wead, on the other hand, was a veritable Elmer Gantry of Christian capitalism. He was renowned among hundreds of thousands of Americans who heard him speak at packed Amway rallies in domed stadiums—rallies that were never, ever covered by the mainstream media.

Doug Wead once had great timing. In 1979, he started something called the National Charity Awards Dinner, a beautiful scheme in which he invited celebrities to D.C. to hand out awards to other celebrities (and a few other do-gooders). The next year, Ronald Reagan won the presidency, and suddenly, D.C. became a much more hospitable place for conservatives of all types, but especially the evangelicals. Wead's dinners often honored Reagan, and you know that a sitting president draws celebrities and wannabes like bugs to flypaper. Wead's most recent $1,000-a-plate dinner was held in December 2001, using 9/11 as the promotional hook.

Almost like an Amway pump-up-the-volume-of-sales rally, a Wead charity dinner gets barely any notice in the press and is a feel-good, cheer-everyone, do-nothing event—just the kind of thing that celebrities, industrialists, and their sycophants like: smiling at one another, without being disturbed. (More on this topic in a future Bush Beat item.)

The fact is that until just a few years ago, Wead was better known to power brokers and celebrities than George W. was. Even during George Bush Sr.'s term, many more Americans were transfixed by Doug Wead's oratory than had ever heard George W. Bush say one single word.

But Kirkpatrick does that typical Times thing of assigning importance and celebrity on the basis of class.

There's nothing unlikely about Wead's relationship with George W. Hell, the Times and everyone else admits that George W. Bush is enamored of the concept of personal loyalty, in fact hung up on it to the extent that he's molded his second-term team to promote his most loyal minions, like Condi Rice. Yet the Times doesn't even note that when Neil Bush got into trouble in the savings & loan debacle of the '80s, it was Doug Wead who helped put him on his feet by getting speaking opportunities for him on the Amway circuit and in Europe for Wead's pal John Godzich. Now that is loyalty. And the Bush family never forgot that.

Does the Times somehow think that George W. hangs out only with other Yalies? One of Dubya's other key evangelical advisers came to be Marvin Olasky, a New York Jew and Commie who became an evangelical Christian and Texan. Is Bush's embrace of Olasky "unlikely" as well? Not for Dubya, who's a born-again guy himself.

Incidentally, both Wead and Olasky have claimed to be the originator of the term "compassionate conservative."

In that controversy, call me bored again.


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