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Dot Com Fever.

Linguist Geoff Nunberg on the dot com craze started by the Internet.

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Other segments from the episode on October 14, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 14, 1999: Interview with Bill Minutaglio; Commentary on the suffix "dot com."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101401np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "First Son": A Profile of George W. Bush
Sect: entertainment
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

On today's FRESH AIR, we discuss presidential hopeful George W. Bush with journalist Bill Minutaglio, the author of the new biography "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty." Minutaglio is a reporter for the "Dallas Morning News." We'll examine the controversies that have surrounded George W. Bush from his college days as head of his fraternity to his work in his father's presidential campaigns and his track record as governor of Texas.

Also, linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the .com craze started by the Internet.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First the news.

(NEWS BREAK)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Now that Texas Governor George W. Bush wants to be our next president, there's a lot of curiosity about him, his past and his track record. My guest, Bill Minutaglio, has written a new biography called "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty." Minutaglio met with George W. Bush twice to convey his intentions for the book. Although Bush himself did not grant further interviews, Minutaglio did talk to brother Jeb Bush, now governor of Florida, as well as George W.'s uncles and cousins. The 300 people Minutaglio interviewed for the book range from George W.'s Little League coach to high-ranking officials in his father's presidential campaigns.

Minutaglio is a reporter for the "Dallas Morning News." He points out that since the early 1950s, there have been only rare, random interludes when a Bush hasn't been in a prominent political office -- governor, senator, congressman or president. I asked if the family expected George W. to go into politics.

BILL MINUTAGLIO, AUTHOR, "FIRST SON": I think the level of expectation on him was incredible and really almost onerous, in my final estimation. And it -- you know, the Bushes like to say "Don't lay us out on the couch." It's kind of become one of their favorite public slogans, I think. In other words, "Don't try to psychoanalyze us. Don't try to read into," oh, you know, interior motivations, if you will.

And I think that's well and fine for them to say that, but at the same time, I think that there are a lot of interior motivations that go into being the next son, or the first son, as my book suggests in the title. In this particular family, the grandfather was an adviser to President Eisenhower, a confidant of President Eisenhower, and obviously, George W.'s father, you know, was the leader of the free world, first and foremost. I think maybe more importantly, on some levels, he was the director of the CIA and held a lot of, you know, pretty important jobs in his life.

And then beyond that, as I researched the family's history, the great-grandfathers in the family also had incredible access to presidential authority and power and served as advisers to different presidents, Presidents Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I think that George W. really is just inheriting that legacy, that dynasty, if you will, and simply being named George Walker Bush, had a lot of expectations placed on him. I think it was understood that he was going into politics.

GROSS: How close do you think he was to his father when he was growing up?

MINUTAGLIO: Interestingly, I thought initially that they would be very close, and in fact, after a lot of interviews, especially out in the Midland, West Texas area, which was a really interesting place, I think, in the 1950s, when George W. was growing up there -- he was born in New Haven, Connecticut. And at the age of 2, with his parents, they relocated from the Northeast, really, from a -- kind of a -- almost a gilded, aristocratic environment, you know, a well-heeled environment, they picked up and decided to move down to Texas and immerse themselves in, frankly, capitalizing on the latest Texas oil boom.

And interestingly, they joined dozens and dozens of people from the Northeast, from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, some of the -- you know, the finer academic settings, and folks from Wall Street, who were investing out in this really desolate, dusty outback out in West Texas.

I thought that in an environment like that that young George W. Bush would, you know, gravitate to his dad, be, you know, kind of under his dad's direct shadow. What I discovered was that the father was, in the words of George W.'s -- one of George W.'s uncles, the father, George Herbert Walker Bush, was so, quote, "hard-running" at the time -- he was really trying to capitalize on this oil boom and essentially become a -- really, one of the overnight Texas millionaires -- that, really, George W. almost fell under the spell, if you will. He spent more time with his mom.

And compounding the fact that the father was away from home a lot, just really chasing after this oil dream, the Bush family suffered, really, what in my estimation is really one of their true, outstanding tragedies, the -- George W.'s younger sister, Robin, passed away at the age of 4 from leukemia. George W. was 7 years old at that time. What happened as an outgrowth of that situation was that Barbara Bush began really enveloping and embracing and almost smothering George W. Bush. He was essentially almost raised as an only child, but in essence, under his mom's wing, so to speak.

GROSS: Describe a little bit the type of business that George Bush, Sr., set up in Texas, how he tried to capitalize on the oil boom.

MINUTAGLIO: Sure. Yeah. He started out almost on a low-level capacity, learning, I think. He had been dispatched there. The -- his father, Prescott Bush, had enormous ties all through the highest levels of American industry. He was really a kind of a profound industrialist.

And the Bush family, I think, unbeknownst to me, really, until I started working on this book, had incredible roots into late 19th century industrial power and always seemed to be at the right place at the right time, which I think is almost a political hallmark, ultimately, of the first son, George W. Bush. He seems often to be in the right place at the right time.

But essentially, what happened is that the Bush family began taking note of the fact that post-World War II, there was an incredible thirst and hunger for oil, as we were rebuilding and helping the world rebuild after World War II. And they were in some new oil discoveries. People were beginning to drill a little bit deeper out in West Texas.

And this was really -- in the post-war period, in the 1940s, a really desolate, dusty outback. Some people had described it as the Saudi Arabia of the Southwest. And -- but they carefully analyzed the possibilities out there, and with, frankly, some enormous funding from the Bushes' extensive holdings on Wall Street and the -- again, the upper echelons of industry around the country, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W.'s father, was almost really dispatched by the Bush family out to West Texas to kind of just get in on the action, frankly.

And again, that didn't really distinguish him from maybe a lot of other people who were doing the same thing. But he came at it with a little bit more funding, a little bit more clout and a little more oomph in his wallet than maybe some other people did.

And what he started out doing was really just kind of taking the lay of the land and looking for good entry points. In the mid-'50s, he began more actively drilling and taking more active interests and actually purchasing land and just punching a hole in the ground, in almost a mythic kind of Texas way, and hoping that something comes out of it.

And it was really something out of your best dream, if you're a Texas wildcatter. Almost every hole that they punched in the ground had begun to spurt with oil. And that was, you know, kind of the bedrock of the elder George Bush's personal fortune.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bill Minutaglio, and he's the author of the new book, "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

George W. went to Yale, where he was the head of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, which was also his father's fraternity. And as you point out in the book, this was a time in the late '60s when fraternities were starting to be seen as really anachronistic. They were seen as, you know, the macho beer-party atmosphere in an era when marijuana and the women's movement and the anti-war movement were having such a big impact on culture and politics.

You quote a fellow Yale student as saying about George W. being head of the fraternity at Yale, "Bush put himself somewhat off in a corner. It was an extremely liberal campus."

What do you think the impact of being, you know, the head of DKE was on George Bush during his college years, George W. Bush?

MINUTAGLIO: Sure. The ultimate impact -- I think the impact here and now -- is that it's left him with a very bitter taste in his mouth for the 1960s. I think he's really almost, in some ways, a professional derider of the '60s, if you will, when you really speak to him and listen to what he says.

GROSS: You mean because the youth culture of the time was so opposed to what he was doing, the fraternity life.

MINUTAGLIO: That's exactly right. And even beyond that, I think that he saw -- and it's not so much narrowly focused on the fraternity life, but also what that symbolized.

For him, his experience at Yale, following in his father's footsteps and then his grandfather's footsteps and, frankly speaking, dozens of other members of the Bush family that had all gone to Yale and all belonged to the same fraternity and the same secret societies at Yale -- George W. I think felt that he was, you know, taking his place in line and almost carrying the mantel for this older kind of, you know, gilded, again, really, almost the last, dying days of a certain way, certain Ivy League way back at Yale in that time period.

And some of his other friends called it "the cusp years." Things were really changing. It was a halcyon period in American history. And in a way, George W. got whipsawed by it all. I don't think he saw it coming. And when he saw it coming, he didn't like it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bill Minutaglio, and he's the author of a new book called "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: My guest is Bill Minutaglio, and we're talking about his new book, "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

The first time his name appeared in "The New York Times," to your knowledge, was in an article about this controversial ritual at the fraternity of branding the insignia of the fraternity on the backs of pledges. This is in November of 1968, this article. Tell us more about the article and the controversy.

MINUTAGLIO: Sure. You know, it seems -- I guess we've often heard the word "hazing" these days. We kind of, you know, blur over it. It might not seem like a big deal, but on -- you know, to make the -- to make it as a news item in "The New York Times" in that period, in, you know, the late '60s, when there's a lot going on in the world, you could probably guess that it was considered to be a little more dramatic event on campus than usual.

And in a way, it kind of symbolizes George W.'s distaste for what he saw or was feeling at campus. Basically, what happened, the "Yale Daily News" conducted an extensive investigation into the fraternity system.

And it came away believing that a lot of kids at the school who were applying for the particular fraternities, including and especially Delta Kappa Epsilon, the one that George W. Bush had been president of, were -- you know, were, quote, "guilty" of some pretty onerous hazing, including a form of branding, if you will, as the paper described it.

And this set in motion a lot of things. There were some emergency meetings on campus. There were newspaper stories in "The New York Times" and the front page of the "Hartford Courant," the leading paper in the state of Connecticut and thus for the Yale campus, in a way. There was just a lot of combustion about it, and I found it kind of interesting.

And in the middle of a time period when people are discussing the events that have been unfolding in Watts, in the deep South, and obviously, the war in Vietnam and the other, you know, really defining, gigantic issues of the moment, George W.'s defining moment on campus at Yale, anyway, really revolved around a hazing episode.

GROSS: So he really didn't participate in a larger political life on campus, outside of, like, the politics of fraternities.

MINUTAGLIO: No. I theorize in my book that, you know, he was very apolitical, but in the sense that he almost was operating on an entirely different strata and level of political behavior. There were umpteen opportunities on campus to express your political opinion, especially at a place like Yale.

There were all kinds of forums, debate societies. There were speakers coming on. There were protests both pro and con on almost any issue that you could jump in and join and really express an opinion. And he really virtually completely ignored all of those.

But beyond that, at home, almost, or away from campus, George W. was -- was dealing with almost, quote, "real" politics, in the sense that he was in service to his father and other members of the Bush family who were, you know, beginning to escalate upward through the highest levels of American politics. So on one level, he was avoiding the usual kind of student entry points for political movement back then, but on another level, he was almost acting as if he, you know, again, was in service to entrenched establishment politics off campus.

GROSS: He's said that he hated what he saw at Yale, this idea of -- he hated this intellectual arrogance that he hoped he would never have. What do you think he was referring to?

MINUTAGLIO: Yeah. Exactly. I think it has something to do with the reaction to the hazing episode. And there were other things, this sort of general sense that people who were involved in fraternities or even, as he was, in a secret society -- Yale has a number of secret societies that -- limited admission kind of secret societies that people are invited to join.

I -- you know, George W. said in college, "I was a," quote, "carefree lad." And he also said, "I didn't want any," quote, "heaviness to really ruin my time at school." And I think that he was a guy that was more interested in the process of being a student rather than kind of some of the other areas, almost the policy, if you will, of being a student. I think he was just more intrigued and happy with kind of hanging out on campus.

Another writer has described him in this period as being an "apolitical foam-head," a guy that, you know, was divorced from politics, enjoyed chugging a lot of beer, drinking a lot, carrying on, being a fraternity guy.

You know, among his other hallmarks at school back then were being picked up by the police at an event in downtown New Haven for stealing a Christmas wreath. He was detained by the police in Princeton, New Jersey, after a football game for getting into a little bit of a melee after a football game. And these were the kinds of things that really almost defined his, you know, college experience.

And I think, in retrospect, what he saw was this, you know, burgeoning sense of ambiguity on campus and -- campuses around the country, and this counter-cultural movement. And he saw that as almost an intellectual arrogance, a snobbery. And he really loathed it, and I think to this day still despises it.

GROSS: Just a few days before George W. was about to lose his student deferment, he went to the National Guard to register. And the question has since arisen, did he pull strings to get into the National Guard at a time when a lot of young people wanted to get into the National Guard in the hopes that they wouldn't be sent to Vietnam. What did you find in your investigation? Do you think he pulled strings?

MINUTAGLIO: I think his background pulled strings for him, if that's a way to answer your question. I found no evidence that his father picked up the phone and called somebody and said, "Hey, get my son into the National Guard." There has been, you know, emerging evidence that some friends of the family did call folks in state government in Texas and ask them to basically put in a kind word. That's not illegal. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. And it happened a lot in the '60s and even the '70s, people, you know, had phone calls placed on their behalf. So I tend to believe that that probably did happen for George W.

But more importantly, I think what happened for him was that just by dint of where he was in life, in society, both at Yale, but more importantly, he was going to be returning to Houston, Texas, after school, or that's where his family was living. And it's pretty clear now that the particular unit that he went into in the Air National Guard was one that in some ways was populated by people who had come out of that same kind of upper-end strata of society. And in fact, those kinds of folks were probably alerted or had a little bit more advance knowledge than other people did about -- about openings in the National Guard.

GROSS: Do you think he wanted to get into the National Guard to avoid getting sent to Vietnam?

MINUTAGLIO: I think he went into the National Guard to not embarrass his father. I found one of the most telling things that kept -- that his friends kept telling me at different avenues in his life. One of his closest friends at Yale said to me, "The underlying reason George W. went into the National Guard was to perform some, any kind of military service and not embarrass his father," and really, probably more importantly, not to derail his dad's chances to run for the White House, to ultimately move into the Oval Office.

It has a parallel later on in his life. George W. gave up drinking rather dramatically in 1986, and I found it so interesting that another one of his closest friends said that that decision was really made in service to his father. He at that point in '86 didn't want to derail his dad's attempts to win the presidency in 1988.

GROSS: And after he gave up drinking, he started to really work for his father's campaign.

MINUTAGLIO: That's exactly right. He was even more assiduously in service to his father's political ambitions at that point.

GROSS: Well, let's go back a little bit to -- was it 1978 that George W. ran for Congress?

MINUTAGLIO: Exactly. Yeah, out in West Texas.

GROSS: And...

MINUTAGLIO: Back out where he had lived, yeah.

GROSS: What made him decide at that point to, you know, throw his hat in the ring?

MINUTAGLIO: He had always had political ambitions. I had discovered, and I think it's little known -- a little known fact that even as early as 1971, after just being out of college for two years, he had flirted with the possibility of running for office in Texas, running for a state representative's office here, and had abandoned that, basically, taking a look at his civic resume. And at that point it was pretty bankrupt, honestly speaking. There wasn't a lot on that resume that he could probably sell to voters.

In '78, he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He had just gotten his feet wet a little bit in the oil industry, had graduated from Harvard Business School in '75. Replicating his dad's exact journey, he had left the Northeast, moved back to Midland, tried to get involved in the oil industry, mainly working with his dad's old friends.

But when he was out there, coincidentally, a long-term, entrenched Democrat was retiring in that particular congressional district. In fact, really, the only congressman that had ever served in that district was retiring after several decades in office. And George W. just happened to be on the ground, essentially there with the Bush family network -- incredible connections, resources to a lot of money and beyond West Texas political clout. So he was -- he was just at the right place at the right time.

GROSS: Bill Minutaglio is the author of the new book "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty." We'll talk more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross, back with Phil Minutaglio, author of a new biography of presidential hopeful George W. Bush and the Bush family dynasty called "First Son." Minutaglio was a reporter for "The Dallas Morning News."

When we left off, we were talking about George W.'s first political race, his failed run for Congress in 1978.

How did losing that first congressional campaign affect him, politically and personally?

PHIL MINUTAGLIO, "FIRST SON": Personally, it reminded him of almost, really, the sense or the way that people have been perceiving or had been perceiving some members of the Bush family.

He lost the race because he was painted in royal colors as a gilded aristocrat, a, you know, quote "tool of the Eastern kingmakers," which was a charge that had been leveled against his dad when his dad was getting started in Texas politics -- that really, you know, he was a silver spoon kid who had gone to all the right schools and suddenly alighted in west Texas and was just here to run for Congress because there was an opening.

And it sent a real hard message to him that, one, I need to perhaps do a better job, at least here in Texas, of reinventing myself or correcting that perception of me as a gilded aristocrat from somewhere else. I need to do -- to work harder to sell myself or convey an impression of myself as, you know, a real died-in-the-wool west Texan kind of guy.

So it really rocked him on his heels, it really did. And it caused him to almost kick back, I think, and analyze and, again, search for a better opening. It also reminded him at that point that he needed to have that civic resume. And I think he very assiduously and carefully and in a calculating, frankly, way began building that resume and filling in the spots where he saw deficiencies.

GROSS: What did he do to build the resume?

MINUTAGLIO: Well, he -- you know, he -- first of all, he tried to stay the course in the oil industry and make a lot of money, which is always a good thing, I guess, to do these days if you're running for politics. It seems to be a lesson that he's learned pretty well lately.

But he -- you know, he tried to stay the course, unfortunately got a little whipsawed by that too. He didn't profit from the same luck and timing as his father had had in the 1950s. Basically, the oil bust kind of washed over him, and he had marginal success, so to speak, really, in the oil game.

But he established more contacts, he essentially made a lot of friends, and assiduously tried to retain contact with people who could probably help him later on. And then later on, post-oil industry, he gravitated into a really, I think, politically fortuitous situation.

He bought himself a 1.8 percent piece of the Texas Rangers baseball team here, and with that business move, his profile was astronomically elevated. He did that in large part to raise his political profile, and that kind of helped him. He was perceived then as a part of apple pie and baseball in America, and he was also -- appointed himself to be sort of the out-front spokesperson for the team, so he was nominally seen almost as the owner. He was often frequently described that way.

GROSS: How did his partnership with the other owners of the team help him politically?

MINUTAGLIO: Well, it -- you know...

GROSS: And financially?

MINUTAGLIO: Well, sure, yes, that's a great question, and the financial part is really easy to lay out. He invested $606,000 in the Texas Rangers and walked away, by some estimations, about $15 million over the span of about a decade. So that's a pretty good return on your investment. I'm not sure what the exact percentage is, but that's a pretty healthy return.

GROSS: My guest is Bill Minutaglio, the author of the new book "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty." Minutaglio writes for "The Dallas Morning News."

So at what point did George W. start working for his father's political campaigns?

MINUTAGLIO: It was really -- no, he's always worked on behalf of his dad, actually. I mean, he started out in 1964 when his father was first running for the Senate in Texas, so he's always been exposed to power and worked on behalf of his dad. But to really talk about acute political involvement, where he actually seemed to be, you know, earning his bread and butter, so to speak, you'd have to look at the mid-1980s evolution of the campaign of the George W. -- George Herbert Walker Bush campaign for the presidency.

GROSS: I think it was during that campaign that George W. became his father's bridge to the far right of the party, especially the religious right. Why was he given that position?

MINUTAGLIO: His father was very, very worried about the emergence of a group that he rarely understood. Within the Bush campaign at that period, they would almost ominously, I think, refer to the Christian right and the evangelical groups as, quote, "the movement." Almost had an ominous undertone to it.

And they had a hard time understanding who these people, where they were coming from, and really, beyond that, what the net effect that the, quote, "movement," the Christian right, the hard Christian evangelical movement would have on the chances for Bush to go further.

There were a lot of questions then about the elder George Bush as he -- a lot of questions posed by the hard right. Is he strong enough? Is he iron-limbed enough to do the right thing? Is he really going to be like Ronald Reagan? And George W.'s role was to essentially recorrect or inform people that the Bush's really did have the stomach and the fire in the belly to do these things.

Now, he was a pretty good messenger, because he can be a pretty insistent and argumentative, at times even hot-tempered kind of fellow. So I think when some people met him, they saw a guy who had a lot of bark and some bite.

GROSS: How do you think his role as the bridge from the Bush campaign to the religious right, how do you think that role is affecting him now in his own campaign?

MINUTAGLIO: Well, it's interesting now, just lately, because people like Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan have been essentially suggesting that George W. Bush is really almost like his father. I'm not sure they're articulating it exactly that way. But it's very interesting to me, as his biographer, to see the same arguments being leveled against George W. Bush as were leveled against his dad.

You know, Gary Bauer and Buchanan and others basically accused George W. of speaking empty words, mealy-mouthed words, and really, in essence, not having the spine to follow up the Republican revolution, the 1994 Republican revolution now, and even probably beyond that, the Reagan revolution.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bill Minutaglio, and he's the author of the new book "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

GROSS: It seems that in George W.'s current campaign, that although he doesn't in public speeches espouse the same platform as, say, the Christian coalition, that Pat Robertson seems to be behind him. Do you think that they have a relationship that goes back to George W.'s days as the bridge between the Bush campaign and the religious right? Do you think that there's some level of understanding or trust built on that?

MINUTAGLIO: Yes, I'm not sure about that. I don't think so, to be honest. I think that they're still kind of eying George W. and keeping him at arm's length.

I also think there's a sense of inevitability about George W. right now that's causing a lot of harder-edged conservatives and people on the far right to jump on the bandwagon. He's so far ahead and has, you know, accumulated almost $60 million in his war chest. It's almost hard to, you know, sit down and argue with him, and really, almost, I guess, spin your wheels, frankly, at this point by supporting somebody else.

But I think they're still watching him real closely. And, you know, he's had in recent weeks some trouble distance -- you know, he's been distancing himself a little bit from the Republican Party in some ways and suggesting that the GOP needs to be a little more empathetic.

I do know that he and Robertson have parted ways on certain issues. One of the really infamous incidents in George W.'s tenure as governor was the execution of a woman named Karla Fae Tucker (ph), a convicted pickax murderer who was on Texas death row who was put to death here. Pat Robertson believed that she was essentially a born-again Christian and had interceded on her behalf and sought, hopefully, some clemency from her, or at least a reprieve on her execution from the governor, and he chose not to grant that.

So I know there was a little bit of a difficulty when them on that issue.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bill Minutaglio, and we're talking about his new book, "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

Another position that George W. filled for his father was being head of what was called the scrub team. What was that?

MINUTAGLIO: (laughs) Yes, that's one of those kind of back-room teams or organizations that you probably presume exist and maybe worry about, but in fact really did exist. Basically, what it was, was a loyalty-enforcing and -monitoring group that acted on behalf of his father as his father was moving into the White House. George W., you know, unofficially was known as the loyalty enforcer for his father. You know, some folks I've talked to said he was tantamount to being Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather" books, in the sense that he would go out and, you know, do some manly defense on behalf -- and offense on behalf of his father.

The scrub team was basically a group that met to determine who would be granted political favors and basically get jobs in the White House. And George W. oversaw that group as his father made the transition into the White House.

GROSS: That's a position that must have given him a lot of power, since he could give power or take it away.

MINUTAGLIO: Absolutely. He was right there in the center of determining, you know, who would physically work in the White House alongside his dad and in other positions and looked at recommendations, offered his own recommendations. And I think it's another aspect of his life that a lot of people just don't know about, the level of access to power. I guess you would presume, obviously, that he was hanging around the White House a lot and meeting his mom and dad there, and therefore had obviously a geographical access that was there.

But beyond that, he really did hold the keys to certain levels of authority, I believe, in government and in Washington.

GROSS: One of the things that a lot of voters in America would like to know is the answer to a question that you decided not to investigate yourself, which is, did George W. do cocaine or other drugs in his past? He has declined to answer that, although he has implied that if he has done anything, it hasn't been in the past 25 years.

Why have you declined to really investigate the answer to that question?

MINUTAGLIO: Sure, yes, I did investigate it, but not to exclusivity, I guess, would be the right answer. And as word spread, really, around the country that I was working on this biography, the first biography of George W., I began receiving rumors myself. People would call me and correspond with me in different ways and essentially send me down a variety of rabbit trails.

I determined in time that you could spend a lot of time chasing your tail doing that. I probably could have spent really almost all the time that I had allotted to my project on that issue alone. And I decided really -- I hope this doesn't sanctimonious or pious, but I decided really that my role as a biographer was to look at the broader spectrum of his life, but, as well, as best I could, to address the issue.

And I hopefully, you know, did address the issue, but it's not an exclusive or dominating way.

GROSS: George W. has said, "I'm going to tell people I made mistakes and that I've learned from my mistakes, and if they like it, I hope they give me a chance, and if they don't like it, they can find somebody else to vote for." I think the reason why a lot of people feel that his drug experiences are perhaps more relevant than they might even be for somebody else is that he has been so tough on drugs in Texas, and there's a lot of people who are serving, you know, long sentences for -- for -- for -- for -- for -- for drug use, for -- for carrying drugs.

And whereas, you know, he was able to outgrow his mistakes, they're in prison for their mistakes. So I wonder, you know, in the light of that, how relevant a question you think his rumored drug use in the past is.

MINUTAGLIO: Oh, it's an absolutely relevant question, especially in terms of the political nature or the dimension of life in Texas. If you're, you know, a convicted drug abuser, possessor, in Texas, it's not a happy day for you. You will be subject to some pretty onerous penalties. And obviously, you know, some people would say that's a laudatory thing when weighed against, you know, the possibility that George W. hasn't been entirely precise about his exact involvement, you know, with drugs.

That -- it does take on, obviously, an acutely political dimension, and probably causes people to wonder why the lack of precision, exactly, you know, what -- you know, it's almost a double standard, I suppose you'd argue.

And I can say, I really believe this, that no matter what the final conclusion is or estimation is on this particular issue, it will be something that will be with him forever, I think, whether he succeeds in his run for the presidency or not. It's something that people are going to talk about for a real long time and will be with him, really, until his grave.

GROSS: What are some of the biggest controversies that you've covered pertaining to George W. Bush while covering social issues for "The Dallas Morning News"?

MINUTAGLIO: Oh, the biggest one -- sure, that's a great question. The biggest one so far was an attempt during a previous legislative session in 1997 to essentially privatize the welfare system and, broadly speaking, a giant portion of the social services system in Texas, and by privatize, basically, the ultimate agenda, if you will, for Governor Bush here was to have data processing and even defense contractors around the country participate in essentially administering social services and welfare in this state.

And I can tell you, the system here is gigantic. It's larger than it is in some countries. And in fact, I know that some countries around the world were actually watching -- had come to Texas to see what Governor Bush was going to do in terms of essentially moving control of the social services system and the welfare system here really into private hands.

It was a very, very controversial proposal, ultimately not really successful, but I thought an incredibly interesting and insightful maneuver on his part.

GROSS: Who opposed that, and who supported it?

MINUTAGLIO: It was opposed at the highest levels by the Clinton administration, directly by Donna Shalala and Bill Clinton, and it was even more assiduously and ardently opposed by the AFL-CIO, folks that were representing a lot of unionized state employees who would have been affected. And it was a very little-told story Texas, but one that I think says a lot about George Bush, you know, the fact that he's still at heart a Republican. He believes in deconstructing government and essentially opening up opportunities for big business.

GROSS: So was this seen in Texas as an example of compassionate conservativism, privatizing the welfare business?

MINUTAGLIO: Yes, you know, at that point he wasn't really using that term. But I could probably see how he would suggest that it was, you know -- What we're doing now is letting people help themselves. We're going to let the private sector essentially move in here and help people help themselves as opposed to having Big Brother, big government, get people to help themselves. Which is, you know, one of the underlying tenets or philosophies of his compassionate conservativism.

GROSS: Now, when he ran for governor of Texas, you say he asked his father to stay away from the election. Why?

MINUTAGLIO: I think he had really studied his family's history and his legacy. I think he looked back to 1978, when he was beat. I think he also looked at why his dad was beat. And I think he determined -- In 1992. I think he determined that, Wow, we're in this new generation, I'm a young baby boomer, I'm the GOP's Clinton, if you will, in the sense that I'm a postwar baby boomer, and I don't really want to be burdened by the baggage that might have gotten my father elected -- or unelected. I don't want to be burdened by the things that dragged him down.

And I think he saw his father almost as a liability, and specifically asked him, Please, stay away, it's probably not going to help me for me to be affiliated with you. I need to prove that I can do something on my own, and beyond that, you represent a generation that's maybe past, politically speaking.

GROSS: What's George Bush's role now in his son's presidential campaign?

MINUTAGLIO: He'll -- he's -- you know, he's been pretty quiet, as you can tell, and I think that's been a hallmark of a lot of their relationship, as George W. and even Jeb have become governors of prominent states. He's, I think, operated in the background as a quiet adviser when they gather at Kennebunkport for the annual gatherings at the seaside compound, the 100-year-old seaside compound up in Maine, the father obviously dispenses some wisdom and advice on things.

But by and large, I think with his sons' help, he's understood that it's probably all in all politically beneficial for the family at large for him to take a back seat, a less visible role. I think intuitively the Bushes' distrust a particular word, and that word is "dynasty." You know, it's on the cover of my book, and...

GROSS: Yes, I was going to point that out.

MINUTAGLIO: Yes. (laughs) I'm not sure they're going to like that a whole lot, but I think it's certainly appropriate, and it can be read both in a positive and negative way, I think, the word "dynasty." But they particularly acutely dislike it. They've said so often, over and over again, and it's something they think smacks of royalty and aristocracy and almost a monarchy, if you will, in some ways. It's just something they don't like. You know, they think it conveys the wrong message.

And I think toward that end, the elder Bush has decided to take a very less visible role in his sons' life.

GROSS: Well, Bill Minutaglio, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

MINUTAGLIO: Well, thank you very much for having me.

GROSS: Bill Minutaglio is the author of "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on dot-com fever.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Bill Minutaglio
High: Journalist Bill Minutaglio has just written a biography of presidential hopeful and Texas Governor George W. Bush called "First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty."
Spec: Profiles; George W. Bush; "First Son"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "First Son": A Profile of George W. Bush

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: OCTOBER 14, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101402NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: The Dot-Com Craze
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:50

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: The current mania for Internet commerce seems to be focused on the single suffix "dot-com." People talk about dot-com companies, dot-com billionaires, and dot-com neighborhoods.

Our linguist, Geoff Nunberg, has been tracking the dot-com fever from San Francisco, where the madness is at its height.

GEOFF NUNBERG, LINGUIST: I was talking to a woman who'd grown up in Paris and had recently arrived in the Bay Area to teach French at Berkeley. She was in a daze over the San Francisco housing crisis, which had been blown to stratospheric levels by the same Internet wind that piles up dollars in drifts on the sidewalks out here.

"I want in," she said. "Where do I sign up for America.com?"

She's not alone. There's nothing so powerful as a suffix whose time has come. "Time" magazine ran a cover story a few weeks ago on the Bay Area start-up culture that was called "GetRich.com." And "Fortune" called its cover story "Dot-com Fever."

Network Solutions describes itself as "the dot-com people," and Sun Micro is using the slogan "We're the dot in dot-com."

Actually, I'm not sure what that last one is supposed to mean. It sounds to me sort of like saying, "We're the apostrophe in apostrophe-S." But it gets the mantra right.

Who knew? Certainly no one back in the mid-1980s, when the present system of Internet naming was taking shape. Back then, the idea was just that commercial users would put the dot-com suffix in their e-mail addresses after their company names. As late as 1992 there were only a few thousand dot-com addresses in all, nowhere near so many as there were for the educational institutions whose addresses ended in dot-edu.

The dot-com craze really began in the mid-'90s, as the Web took off and companies began to realize that their Web address could become part of their brand. One of the first major companies to go in for this was Procter and Gamble. As the story has it, a bunch of P&G network support people got punchy at a party and started registering every name they could think of, not just product names like Charmin.com and VapoRub.com, but also a bunch of generic names like dandruff.com, pimples.com, and diarrhea.com.

I don't know if the story's true, but it would explain why P&G misspelled "deodorant" when they first registered deodorant.com.

In any event, the rush was on. Tidy Cat scooped up litter.com and Ragu scarfed up eat.com. And Charles Schwab registered Schwabsucks.com to forestall any disgruntled customers from getting there first.

By 1997, the number of dot-com addresses passed the million mark. People were getting used to the system, and they stopped reciting the "http-colon-slash-slash-W-W-W" stuff every time they gave you a URL, which made these things a lot easier to pass around and post on billboards.

By then, the dot-com suffix had become a talisman of the e-commerce boom. Startups were taking to adding it to the name of the business itself, on the model of Amazon.com. Of course, there's nothing new in making a chic address a part of your business name. Just look at Saks Fifth Avenue or Frederick's of Hollywood.

The only difference is that in the dot-com world, there's no limit to the available street frontage, provided you can find an unused name to stick up over your place of business.

By now there are over 6 million dot-com names registered, and the coffers of the English vocabulary are pretty much emptied out. "Wired" magazine did a search not long ago on about 25,000 standard English words and found that more than 90 percent of them were already taken.

As of now, you can still get maggot.com or gluttony.com. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's somebody down the street getting together a business plan so they can grab those names too.

It's true that dot-com isn't the only game in town. There are already other suffixes available, like dot-US and dot-net, and there are plans afoot to introduce a whole shelf of new, more specific suffixes like dot-store, dot-biz, dot-movie, and dot-sex.

But it isn't likely that any of this will ease the demand for dot-com names. Showing up for your IPO with a dot-net address on your business card is sort of like trying to get into Studio 54 wearing a pair of Birkenstocks. And if you're casting about for a new dot-com name for your own startup, as you almost certainly are, you can rest assured that there are still a lot of possibilities left. There are all the e-hyphen-this's and the i-hyphen-that's, and we're starting to see URLs with full sentences in them, like WhatistheMatrix.com and HaveIgotagirlforyou.com.

Some of those are kind of obscure, but if your startup is flush with venture capital, you can still buy a more common name from one of the speculators who had the foresight to register it a couple of years ago. The name computer.com recently sold for half a million dollars, and WallStreet.com went for over a million to some people in Venezuela who were starting a gambling site.

Those figures make the prices of the Internet stocks themselves seem downright prudent by comparison. But the commerce in dot-coms comes with the digital territory. It's the price you pay for setting up business in a retail district where the streets are dark and featureless and there's no way to find anything except by punching names into the void.

As T.S. Eliot might have put it, I gotta use words when I link to you.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at Stanford University and at Xerox Palo Alto Research Lab.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Bob Purdick. Dorothy Farabee (ph) is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Geoff Nunberg
High: Linguist Geoff Nunberg discusses the dot-com craze started by the Internet.
Spec: Internet; Computers; Lifestyles

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Dot-Com Craze
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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