The Quiet Dynasty
If you really want to understand someone, George W. Bush says,
"you look at his family and where he was raised"
George W. Bush wasn't officially notified that the White House
was haunted until after his dad was elected President in 1988.
He was sitting around the transition office with his aide Doug
Wead, thinking about how much fun they had had during the
campaign. "So what happens now?" Bush asked. Wead wondered if
Bush would be interested in what becomes of Presidents' kids.
Sure, said Bush, and Wead and his team went to work. They came
back a few weeks later with a 44-page study that was so dark it
might have been titled "The Curse," classified top secret and
filed away forever, because none of it was promising for someone
who was suddenly weighing his own future in politics.
The report detailed how Presidents' kids had a tendency to become
drunks or get sick, have an accident or die young. Many of them
gave their lives over to defending their fathers in history. Some
quit their jobs or couldn't hold them; some couldn't get it
together at all. George Washington Adams, the son of John Quincy
Adams, is thought to have committed suicide at 28. Others walked
away from colleges and universities, or they wrote bad papers and
gave lectures about why Martin van Buren was right to oppose
annexing Texas. Sixteen made it to Congress, but none had been
elected Governor. Bush groaned when he heard that.
You could take it as a measure of his courage or his indifference
to history that George W. Bush would even imagine that he could
take up where his father left off. No one has ever tried a
Restoration of the kind before us right now. The Adamses waited
24 years between presidencies, the Harrisons twice that long. But
only eight years have passed since voters tossed a Bush out of
office, and they have been eight years of rampaging prosperity.
Al Gore has plenty of time to argue that going back to the future
would be unwise or unreal. But it is remarkable that he is having
to make his case against the son of the man he and Bill Clinton
exiled. "It is time for them to go," Gore chanted famously at the
convention in New York in 1992. Is it already time for them to
On the surface, the Bushes seem the least likely family to lunge
for a Restoration. By every appearance, they lack the Roosevelts'
intensity or the Kennedys' unembarrassed ambition. Yet they are
poised to surpass them all. Theirs is the Quiet Dynasty, the one
that loves to surprise, that never shows its hand. Like old
money, its assets are something it doesn't discuss in public.
Instead the Bushes speak of service, as in, "We're just so glad
our sons decided to follow us into public service"--and it's not
insincere, because they are glad. The Bush code is not really
about power; it is about winning and achieving, doing your best,
better than the other guy. For them, dynasty is a fighting word,
and it's no wonder, with its embedded insult of unfair advantage.
"Dynasty means something inherited," W. told TIME. "We inherited
a good name, but you don't inherit a vote. You have to win a
If the family members manage to sound genuinely and sweetly
surprised to find themselves onstage for their fifth of the past
six Republican conventions, that's because even they find it
"mind boggling" that it is W. who has brought them here. By the
standards of the people who love him most, he lacks the
temperament to wear the crown. Oh, he is fun, outrageous, the
house rebel, great to have around. But when it came to the family
business, it was brother Jeb who was supposed to take over and
run the show.
So the fact that W. stands a chance of becoming the President
with one of the thinnest resumes in a century is teaching the
Bushes themselves a thing or two about how the game of politics
can be played. George W. has relied heavily on the clan
throughout his life, but he skipped basic training, wrote his own
rules, and he has had enough experience rebelling against his
family to understand why, in 1992, the country did too. The ways
in which he is different from his dad may be as important a
selling point as all that they have in common. George W. is the
dynasty's accidental heir, and he isn't ashamed of using that
fact as a calling card. "Can you imagine how much it hurt," W.
once said to a crowd, "to know that Dad's idea of the perfect son
was Al Gore?"
"IT'S A MIXED BLESSING"
If George W. Bush has a tic that drives his critics crazy,
it is his cocky impression of a self-made man. Texas Democrat Jim
Hightower tossed off a lethal line about the father: that he was
"born on third base and thought he hit a triple," which more than
one adversary has applied to the son. Without the family
connections, they argue, he would never have got into such elite
schools, or found a slot in the National Guard during Vietnam, or
got those jobs in the oil business or been given a second glance
Bush, however, sees it all differently. It was no picnic being
the son of the chairman of the Republican National Committee
during Watergate, or running for Congress in 1978 and having to
spend all his time denying that his father was some sinister
agent of the Eastern establishment. "It's a mixed blessing," he
says. "Some folks will say, there's George and Barbara's son, he
must be interesting, let me listen. Others may say, he's not done
anything in his life, just running on his daddy's name." Wead's
report spelled out the dilemma that W. faced after his father
took office: "It may seem that the President's children can do
nothing right. Try something great, and appear grandiose and
presumptuous. Try to lead a normal life, and appear lazy or
unambitious. Try something artistic, and offend those who believe
in causes. Any success will be credited by some to the family
And it gets worse: if the problem outside the family is that your
father is President, the problem inside the family is that your
father is perfect. A legendary Andover athlete, George Sr. went
to war and became a hero, came home and became a husband, went to
Yale and became a star: Phi Beta Kappa, baseball-team captain,
fraternity president, Skull and Bones member--all in less than
four years and always upholding the family code. At supper with
parents Prescott and Dorothy, boys were expected to wear ties and
use the right fork. There was lots of love but no sloppy
affection--and certainly no sass, much less open rebellion. "See,
Senior was never a child," a family friend argues. "He grew up
always doing what Prescott expected. He never rebelled; he was
always a responsible little man-child."
As formidable as Prescott was--6 ft. 4 in., movie-star handsome, a
Wall Street legend and Connecticut Senator--it was Dorothy Walker
Bush who pruned and staked the shrubbery. President Bush once
described his mother, a championship-tennis player, as a
"perfectionist, and a fierce competitor." She kept the Ping-Pong
table in the entry hall of the Greenwich, Conn., house--the games
were always front and center. Her rules? Never brag. Never quit.
Never let 'em know you're hurting. Be honest. Be kind. Care about
the other guy--help him. Don't look down on anyone. Compete hard.
Play to win. Give the other guy credit. Until she died in 1992,
her son the President telephoned her every day.
But one thing she could not prepare him for was having a son like
George W. While the elder Bush was never really a child, his son
was one for a long, long time. It was soon after they'd departed
the East Coast for the wilds of West Texas that George Sr. wrote
back to his father-in-law, "Georgie aggravates the hell out of me
at times...but then at times I'm so proud of him I could die." A
friend who went to school with the son but worked for the father
says, "It's not that W. rebelled; he just was wilder than the old
man expected--it was rowdiness. Not doing well in school when you
could, being class funnyman--those were huge detours from the
The longtime W. watchers all have their theories about his place
in the family and what made him this way. In part it was just his
personality, drawn much more, they all say, from his mom than his
dad. "I'm quick with the quip," he says now. "Dad gives me advice
when I ask him for it, my mom when I don't. She can be blunt,
like me. My dad's always gracious." But you can also make the
case that if his father didn't exactly have a normal childhood,
neither did W. The death of his three-year-old sister Robin in
1953, when he was seven, has been seen as one source of his
breezy manner; when sorrow settled over the house, the little boy
saw it as his job to lighten things up, especially to cheer up
his mother, whose hair began to turn white in her 28th year. W.
always denies planning his life, plotting to run for President
since he was a kid. "I live in the moment," he says, and people
who knew him as a child think that trait started with Robin.
It wasn't long before the son realized he was maybe a little too
loose, too deep fried, for his father's taste--but he liked that.
W. performed the most disgraceful stunts, the ones that would
have angered the grandparents the most, the cigar chewing, the
strutting, and swearing and smoking cigarettes in the dining room
of the Nonantum Hotel in Kennebunkport when he was 12. He'd round
up the younger brothers and say, "O.K., you little wieners, line
up," and he'd shoot them in the back with his air gun, and they
would all flail and pretend to collapse on the floor, and it
hurt, but they'd all get up and do it again, because he was the
oldest and the most fun and so outrageous. They'd go to church,
and he wouldn't say, "Good morning, Mrs. Witherspoon"; he'd say,
"Hiya, little lady, lookin' sexy!" and Mrs. Witherspoon would
swoon, and the parents would roll their eyes and wonder how they
were ever going to rein him in.
So even as he headed east to monogram his resume at Andover and
Yale, even as he played on all the same fields his father had, he
played by different rules and in a very different climate. He
didn't have the talent to be the baseball-team captain, so he
became commissioner of stickball, a rebel sport that upended
Andover's jock culture and gave everyone a chance, however
hopeless their natural gifts. He tried at first to impress his
teachers, combing through the thesaurus for a synonym for tears
to use in an English essay he was writing about his sister's
death. But his account of lacerates streaming down his cheeks
earned him a zero so emphatic that "it left an impression visible
all the way through to the back of the blue book," Bush recalls
in his autobiography. "So much for trying to sound smart."
If any of the Bush children seemed capable of making a name for
himself the old-fashioned way, it was brother Jeb. He was the one
on the fast track, the serious son, the Phi Beta Kappa, the one
with the ambition and focus that W. disdained. A family adviser
explains the relationship this way: "W.'s kind of like the guy
who spends the night before the test in his Corvette, running
around with two cheerleaders, and drives by the brainiac's house
and says, 'Jeb, can I have your notes?' The brainiac gets an A,
but W. slides by with a B."
BORN TO CALIBRATE
The interesting thing about all this acting out was that to any
stranger watching the Bush children grow up, W. still looks like
an awfully faithful son, a much more faithful Xerox of his
father than Jeb, who after all went to the University of Texas,
not Yale, then married his Mexican wife, Columba, and settled in
Florida rather than back home. W. followed his father step for
step. "He is always anxious to please his father," one of the
President's oldest and closest counselors said a few years ago,
"and he has done it by emulation. He went to Yale. He was a
combat pilot. He went into the oil business in Midland. He ran
for Congress. In his way, he tried to relive segments of his
The Yale class of '68 offered George W. Bush a perfect chance to
become his own man, as many sons of privilege did. Many of them
forswore their trust funds, dodged the draft, grew their hair,
switched from beer to pot. But in a way, the opposite happened
with W. He may have been the family rebel, by their standards,
but even from the earliest days, he was also the protector,
fiercely defending his dad. His father ran for the Senate in
Texas in 1964, opposing the civil rights bill and supporting
Barry Goldwater all the way. His opponent, Senator Ralph
Yarborough, lost no chance to paint Bush as a preppy-come-lately,
not one of us. "Elect a Senator from Texas and not the
Connecticut investment bankers," went the Yarborough campaign
chants. As W. worked on his dad's campaign during his summer
before college, he saw how poisonous the not-one-of-us stereotype
could be. On election night, the narrow defeat was a huge blow.
"I don't understand it," the father said at the time. "I guess I
have a lot to learn about politics."
Back at Yale after the election, a famous story goes, W. ran into
the school's high-profile chaplain, William Sloane Coffin,
himself a blue-blooded Yale alum and contemporary of W.'s
father's. "I knew your father," he told the son, "and your father
lost to a better man." It was an appalling thing to say, Barbara
Bush later noted, especially to a freshman, who would hardly be
likely to darken the chapel doors after an encounter like that.
But that was not the last time W. found himself defending his
father in a climate in which pro-Vietnam Nixon men were not
In fact he found plenty to rebel against in college. He bridled
at the "intellectual arrogance" he encountered, at those who
"wrote him off because he was a legacy kid," says his classmate
Robert Birge. W. upheld the tradition of the gentleman's C; when
undergraduates renounced frat life as a waste of time, he made it
the center of his social life. His run-in with the law came not
during an antiwar sit-in or a civil rights march but on a raucous
night when he and his fraternity brothers "liberated" a Christmas
wreath from a local hotel to decorate Deke house. Though he was
born in New Haven, it was at Yale he decided to tell people he
was from Texas.
It would be easy to dismiss his choices in college as reflecting
the apathy of one who would always rather party than protest,
but some of his classmates have a different theory. The
all-or-nothing, in-your-face politics of the street was
uncomfortable for someone from a family who didn't like conflict
of any kind. "If you were not with the pack, there was no room
for you--all the gradations were lost," says a contemporary.
"But he was skeptical of the groupthink; he stayed independent
of the mob." One reason some classmates didn't realize how
bright he was, argues Birge, was that he was glib and "almost
always funny. He would essentially manipulate the environment to
make it less confrontational and avoid conflict."
This was especially true when the subject turned to Vietnam. "He
thought, if the decision had been made, you back up the country
and stop whining," recalls Birge. "That comes as much from who
his parents were and his respect for the system--he was unique
among all my friends that he had that attitude." It also
reflected a kind of efficiency, Birge notes, in someone whose
temperament was far more practical than philosophical: "If this
was something you couldn't do anything about, why waste your time
worrying about it?"
"He always had to calibrate everything," observes a peer, "find
the middle ground between the family code and the times he grew
up in." He didn't enlist and head for Vietnam. But "leaving the
country to avoid the draft was not an option for me," he explains
in his book. "I was too conservative and too traditional." Like
many sons of prominent pols, W. found a place in the National
Guard, spending nearly two years learning to fly fighter jets. By
that time the F-102 was increasingly obsolete, so there was not
much chance he would ever be called to serve overseas. The duty
left him time to work on various political campaigns and even
have a quick leave from his base when a plane arrived to fly him
to Washington for a date with Tricia Nixon. But if he was using
the Guard to avoid more onerous military service, the Guard was
not above using the famous son as well. He was their antidrug
poster boy: "George Walker Bush is one member of the younger
generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot or hashish or
speed," read a 1970 press release. "Oh, he gets high all right,
but not from narcotics...As far as kicks are concerned, Lt. Bush
gets his from the roaring afterburner of the F-102."
Through what he would later call his "nomadic years," he tried a
series of jobs, some out of Dad's playbook, others way far away.
He worked as a management trainee for an agribusiness company,
delivered messages for a law firm, worked on an offshore oil rig
and on a political campaign and on a ranch, and as a
sporting-goods salesman at Sears. And with each passing year his
parents grew a little more worried about him, and he knew it. It
all famously came to a head at Christmas 1972, when he was home
visiting and took his little brother Marvin, then 16, to a
friend's house. They rolled home late and well oiled, banged into
a neighbor's garbage can and roused Bush's father, who was
reading in the den. He sent for W.
"I hear you're looking for me," the son told the father. "You
wanna go mano a mano right here?" It was Jeb who tried to ease
the tension by announcing to the Bush parents that W. had just
been accepted at Harvard Business School. They hadn't even known
he had applied, but they leaped at the idea until he told them,
"Oh, I'm not going. I just wanted to let you know I could get
But he did go after all, in the fall of 1973, wearing his flight
jacket to class as a big I'M NOT ONE OF YOU sign to the lefty
Cambridge crowd. He hadn't got into law school, training ground
for polemicists, but business school suited him; it was for
dealmakers. "He was trying to figure out what to do with his
life," said classmate Al Hubbard. "He was there to get prepared,
but he didn't know for what."
A WARRIOR FOR HIS DAD
Through those years, W. had so much fun working on other
people's political campaigns that it was inevitable he would
want to try one of his own. He had considered a shot at the
Texas state senate when he was 25 but, after talking to his
father, decided against it. By 1978, though, he saw a chance to
run for Congress in West Texas, and it was then that he ran
headlong into the thicket of being named Bush.
The race was a tiny little frontier skirmish in the much larger
war between Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush over who
would control the G.O.P. heading into the 1980 presidential race.
W. found that Reagan was actively supporting his primary
opponent, Jim Reese, in hopes of weakening the Bush family hold
on Texas. Though W. survived the primary, Democrat Kent Hance was
far tougher, painting the son as a carpetbagger funded by East
Coast fat cats and happily fueling constituents' concerns about
the father as an agent of all those One World Government forces,
such as the U.N. and the Trilateral Commission.
W. defended his father ferociously and even borrowed some of his
moves as he crisscrossed the district morning to night in his
white Oldsmobile. To the charge that he was not a real Texan, he
replied that he would have liked to have been born in Midland,
but at the time he wanted to be close to his mother, "and she
happened to be in New Haven, Conn." It was similar to a line his
dad had used in his losing race against Ralph Yarborough 14 years
before. "Kent Hance gave me a lesson on country-boy politics,"
Bush says. "He was a master at it, funny and belittling. I vowed
never to get out-countried again."
in the movie version of George W.'S life, 1986 is the mysti-
cal year when everything came together. The story is all about
faith and redemption; it's the year he turned 40 and quit
drinking and found his faith reawakened after a walk on the beach
with Billy Graham. The process of finally growing up and calming
down, of course, had really begun when he married Laura, "the
best thing he's ever done," says his cousin Elsie Walker. It was
Laura who had issued W. the ultimatum about booze. "It's me or
the bottle," she reportedly told her husband. The birth of his
twin daughters also did a lot to steady him. The collapse of oil
prices and the sobering effect of a near death experience in
business did too. But all the stories of personal growth still
don't explain how he managed to change his whole attitude about
his father, his legacy, his own gifts, his ability to measure up.
For that explanation, for the birth of W. the politician, you
have to look at 1988.
As the campaign for the White House was gearing up, then Vice
President Bush summoned his son to Washington to help keep an eye
on things and make sure everyone was loyal, especially the wily
genius campaign guru Lee Atwater. W. was going nowhere in Texas,
so he came up, brought the family, moved into a town house not
far from the old family place in Spring Valley and took an office
downtown at the shabby campaign headquarters. And over the next
18 months, he discovered things about his father and himself and
the oily internal workings of national politics that cleared the
way for everything that would come after. It was as though he got
to perform the ultimate act of synthesis: take his father's
weaknesses--his sometimes excessive loyalty to people, his
reluctance to fire or even confront anyone, his lack of feeling
for what was uppermost in voters' minds and hearts--and apply his
own instincts to solve the problem. It turned out W. was quite
willing to be confrontational when it came to his father's
honor--and survival. "I'm a warrior for my dad," he often says.
And for once, he wasn't being asked to compete with his father;
he was compensating for him.
This was especially true when it came to wooing the Evangelicals.
It seemed odd to give W. that portfolio, the reformed playboy.
But it worked. W. had gone through his own conversion by this
time and could speak the language of the faithful heart fluently,
at least compared with Dad. He met with the important ministers
and Evangelical leaders, talking about the family's faith, even
contributing a book explaining the father's spiritual journey. It
was as though a light had gone on in W.'s head, not just about
how vital the Christian vote was for his father but for his own
prospects as well. Thanks in part to W., his father wound up with
80% of the Evangelical vote; and his son, recalled an aide,
described this as a "huge eye-opener." The road to the Texas
statehouse, after all, ran right through the narthex.
Then there was the sheer confidence that came from just being
sent out as his father's surrogate. "Have you ever worked for
your dad and been good at it?" asks a veteran of that campaign.
"It gives me goose bumps to think about it. He was just extremely
happy. Inside, he was working with his dad, if not as a peer,
then an adult; and on the outside, he was giving speeches. He saw
the reaction. He was a real success." When he left, he told an
associate that it had been the best 18 months of his life.
By the time it was over, that life had changed. Dad had no sooner
won than the new generation began to make its moves. Jeb had his
eye on the Florida Governor's mansion, W. on Texas. But first
there was a piece of the family code that his mother insisted he
honor, one handed down all the way from Prescott, who made a
fortune on Wall Street, through Dad, who struck it rich in the
oil business. "My dad would talk about my grandfather's lesson,"
W. says, "which is that before you enter public service, you go
out and make some money and take care of your family. But my
grandfather believed...that if you had money, it came with an
obligation to serve."
Here, the family legacy was certainly not a curse. It bought Bush
the chance to furnish his name and about $600,000 to buy a piece
of the Texas Rangers, which he sold nine years later for $14
million. His mother still didn't think he was up to winning a
Governor's race, and she said so, but W. was intent on trying in
1994. It was all the richer that his opponent would be Ann
Richards, who had managed in 1988 to take the poisonous cartoon
of the Bushes and serve it up to a national audience. "Poor
George," she had cooed at the Democratic National Convention in
1988, "he can't help it...he was born with a silver foot in his
mouth." The old man had spent his life trying to shake the
Greenwich out of his cowboy boots, but W. had already immunized
himself. He was a real Texan, and he had the squint to prove it.
Bush won with 53% of the vote.
W. had come a long way from Prescott and Dorothy of Greenwich,
but the path looked a lot like a huge circle on the morning of
his inauguration in 1995. His dad passed the family torch to his
firstborn, presenting W. with a pair of cufflinks that his own
father Prescott had given him when he went off to war. He had
called them "my most prized possession." "At first I didn't think
about the continuity, the grandfather part," Bush says, recalling
that busy, glorious day. "The main thing I thought was that it
was from my dad. He was saying that he was proud of me. But later
I reread the letter and thought about it. It ended with, 'Now
it's your turn.'"
MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Along with a set of cufflinks and a sense of duty, Prescott Bush
passed along something else that is still at work today: an
addiction to politics that would not subside even after leaving
office. After less than two terms in the Senate, Prescott
retired in 1962 for health reasons. He had suddenly begun to
lose weight, and a doctor told him, "You'd be a fool to run." So
Prescott complied, a decision he would regret. "Once you've had
the exposure to politics that I had," he said later, "...it gets
in your blood, and then when you get out, nothing else satisfies
that in your blood. I mean, there's no substitute diet for it,
you see? It's like the old song, 'How you going to keep him down
on the farm after he's seen Paree?'"
George W.'s dad couldn't shake the habit either. After he lost in
1992, the President announced that he was going to exit the
scene, write his memoirs and play with his grandchildren. He
would be, in short, the graceful loser Dorothy had taught him to
be. But as the years passed and Clinton's personal problems
increased, it was hard to shake the feeling that he had lost to a
lesser man. If President Bush was disciplined about holding his
tongue, you have to wonder whether it was because he had an even
better revenge in mind than just sniping from the sidelines. On
the day in 1998 when both Jeb and George were on the ballot, the
father was thinking back to his own loss six years before and how
far they had all come. He sat down that morning and wrote of his
enormous pride. "Tomorrow I might well be the dad of the
Governors of the second and fourth largest states in the Union.
But there will be no feeling of personal vindication, no feeling
of anything other than pride in two honest boys who, for the
right reasons, want to serve--who fought the good fight and won."
It was not lost on him that his namesake had become one of the
hottest political properties around, that the son had in some
ways surpassed the rest of the family at the game. Bush saw it
for himself at W.'s final rally in Houston on his way to being
re-elected with 70% of the vote. "He was the rock star--Mr.
Charisma," the father observed to TIME's Hugh Sidey. "He is good,
this boy of ours. He includes people. He has no sharp edges on
issues. He is no ideologue, no divider. He brings people
together, and he knows how to get things done. He has principles
to which he adheres, but he knows how to give a little to get a
lot. He doesn't hog the credit. He's low on ego, high on drive."
The problem now was that if he wanted to help his son get elected
President, the best thing he could do was disappear for a while.
There were lots of people outside Texas who didn't know whether
it was the father running again or the son. An early 1998 poll
revealed that 40% of the people backing Bush thought they were
voting for the hero of the Gulf War. It was nice that Barbara had
consistently topped the list of most popular women in the country
and that the focus groups found people had warm memories of the
clan--"Nice family. Honest. Decent." But too much emphasis on the
family tie could do more harm than good.
There was the problem that conservative Republicans never much
liked or trusted the President. Among Republicans who did like
him, especially those who respected his foreign policy skills,
there was a risk the son would suffer by comparison. And out in
the electorate at large, there were still people who remembered
something they didn't like about the Bush brand, who had actually
voted against it, who had the impression that the whole clan
lived in a rarefied world where no one knows the price of milk
and recessions don't happen. The last thing Bush wanted was to
convey any idea that this crown was his for the taking, something
he had inherited like a life peerage or a seat on the board. "All
the focus groups and polling say the same thing," says an
insider. "Any sense of entitlement is a catastrophe."
And so the campaign decided early on to stay away from Mom and
Dad. Father and son rarely appeared together. In fact, Bush and
campaign manager Karl Rove did such a splendid job of changing
the locks that by the time reporters started to ask, "How is the
son really different from the father?" they knew just what to
say. "Well, he's more ideological, more conservative. He's just
much more interested in domestic policy than his father." The big
guns from Dad's White House, the Bakers and Scowcrofts, would be
heard but not seen, but all their younger, less visible deputies,
like Condi Rice and Larry Lindsey, climbed onboard for a second
tour. "The whole goal was to be different from the father," says
an official who has worked for both father and son. "It didn't
need to be written down. There weren't that many people who
needed to know. The basic thing was to look more conservative
than his father, but don't offer up any real red meat that is
going to worry the swing voters."
It was a game played at both ends. "I will have a very inactive
role," the former President told people. "This is his race, his
issues and his destiny." And the Governor opened nearly every
meeting he had with small groups of backers and donors in Austin
that year with an abbreviated one-liner that said it all: "This
is not going to be George H.W. Bush, Part 2. It's going to be
George W. Bush, Part 1."
That was the story in public. In private, nothing much had
changed. "My dad," George W. Bush once said, "plays a big role in
my life as a shadow government." All through this campaign, the
father has been in constant and close communication--"obsessed,"
Barbara admitted, e-mailing and making calls to his old state
operatives and doing events with police officers. An old magician
with a telephone, he worked the long lines behind the scenes,
making suggestions about what a good idea it would be to do a
national Hispanic event, helping with fund raising. You could
hear the President speaking through the son on foreign policy,
and a close friend says he repeatedly heard the Governor make
reference to the old man in conversation. "Pop said that exact
same thing this morning," Bush would say in a meeting or a
The few public mistakes just confirmed the need for discretion.
There was that event in Iowa at which Barbara Bush quipped, "One
out of every 8 Americans is governed by a Bush, and with your
help, we'll make that all Americans." And there was that awkward
night, on the eve of the crucial New Hampshire primary, when the
family gathered for a rally at a tennis club and the father
majestically reappeared to praise "this boy, this son of ours."
The criticism that followed seared the parents and forced them
from the stage.
Last week, with the naming of Dick Cheney, you could almost watch
the Dynasty stagger from one day to the next between wearing a
mask and taking a bow. On the same day that the father told the
New York Times that he couldn't remember whether he'd talked to
his former Defense Secretary about becoming his son's running
mate, George W. was telling USA Today that "it's no sign of
weakness to talk to your dad."
They'll all be together onstage this week, but going into the
final moments, it was still unclear whether even Barbara would be
allowed a speaking part. Dad will be saluted Tuesday night,
safely wrapped in a tribute to all past Republican Presidents.
But certain traditions will still be honored: brother Jeb will be
doing the talk shows; Laura speaks on Monday night; the star of
the next generation, Jeb's son George P. Bush, is supposed to get
a slot. "Every Bush family member is an asset," says convention
co-chairman Andy Card, who was, as it happens, the President's
deputy chief of staff. But, he added, "we want to be careful it
doesn't turn into a Bush family reunion." The Quiet Dynasty
didn't get this far by calling too much attention to itself.