Fa­ther-son dy­namic: Love, a bit of ri­valry

Com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship ex­tended to the Oval Of­fice

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - David Jack­son and John Fritze

WASH­ING­TON – Some­thing was nag­ging then-Texas Gov. Ge­orge W. Bush two decades ago be­fore his bid for the White House – the in­evitable news stories that would com­pare him with his pres­i­den­tial fa­ther.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush re­sponded with a let­ter of ad­vice: Be your own per­son, even if it means dis­tanc­ing your­self from your old man.

“Chart your own course, not just on the is­sues but on defin­ing your­selves. No one will ever ques­tion your love of fam­ily – your de­vo­tion to your par­ents,” the el­der Bush wrote in a let­ter in 1998 to Ge­orge and brother Jeb, then seek­ing his first term as gover­nor of Florida.

Ge­orge W. Bush largely fol­lowed his fa­ther’s ad­vice when he moved into the White House. Even as the two Pres­i­dents Bush de­vel­oped sep­a­rate and com­pet­ing lega­cies, they fre­quently ex­pressed their love for each other and served as each other’s big­gest cheer­leader.

The younger Bush will al­most cer-

tainly dis­cuss his unique and his­toric fil­ial re­la­tion­ship Wed­nes­day when he de­liv­ers a eu­logy at a fu­neral ser­vice for his fa­ther, who died Fri­day at age 94.

“I think it’s a very com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship,” said Doug Wead, who cowrote a book with the el­der Bush and wrote “The Rais­ing of a Pres­i­dent: The Moth­ers and Fa­thers of Our Na­tion’s Lead­ers.”

“It was,” he said, “both love and a bit of a ri­valry.”

Though many of the Bushes and their sup­port­ers de­ride what they call the “psy­chob­a­b­ble” that sur­rounds stories of their re­la­tion­ship, it has been part of their pub­lic life for four decades. Early in his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, the son wanted to flour­ish with­out re­ly­ing on his fa­ther’s suc­cesses or be­ing ham­pered by his mis­takes.

“He didn’t want to have to carry the bur­den of de­fend­ing his dad’s cam­paign – it was his cam­paign for pres­i­dent,” said An­drew Card, who was sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion for Ge­orge H.W. Bush and chief of staff for Ge­orge W. Bush.

For the se­nior Bush, Card said, there were never hurt feel­ings about de­ci­sions his son made that de­vi­ated from his fa­ther’s path.

“Ge­orge Bush lost re-elec­tion, and it was hard to get over, and the truth is he never re­ally got over it un­til his son was suc­cess­ful in win­ning a sec­ond term,” Card said. “Pres­i­dent Bush 41 had un­be­liev­able recog­ni­tion that the per­son in the bat­tle was more un­der­stand­ing of that bat­tle than some­one out­side of it.”

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the fam­ily of Ge­orge H.W. Bush, said the re­al­ity of their re­la­tion­ship was sim­pler “than a lot of the spec­u­la­tion and in­trigue make it out to be.” The truth, he said, is that “they loved each other un­con­di­tion­ally; they were never com­pet­i­tive.”

That doesn’t mean their re­la­tion­ship was free from com­pli­ca­tion. Ge­orge H.W. Bush told a bi­og­ra­pher in 2015 that he thought two of his son’s con­fi­dants – Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney and De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld – did not serve the pres­i­dent well be­cause they were “hard-line” and “ar­ro­gant.”

The younger Bush de­nied that his au­tho­riza­tion of the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 stemmed from a de­sire for re­venge against Sad­dam Hus­sein, who had plot­ted to as­sas­si­nate his fa­ther. He dis­puted the idea that he wanted to re­solve un­fin­ished busi­ness from the Gulf War au­tho­rized by his fa­ther.

Jour­nal­ist Bob Wood­ward asked Bush whether he con­sulted with his fa­ther be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion to go to war.

“I don’t re­mem­ber. I could ask him and see if he re­mem­bers some­thing,” Bush said. “I’m not try­ing to be eva­sive. You know, he is the wrong fa­ther to ap­peal to in terms of strength. There is a higher fa­ther that I ap­peal to.”

Bush told Wood­ward he sought ad­vice from God be­fore the in­va­sion of Iraq.

“The fa­ther was very proud of his son, and very lov­ing and very sup­port­ive but not very pre­scrip­tive,” said C. Boy­den Gray, White House coun­sel to Ge­orge H.W. Bush who worked for Ge­orge W. Bush as am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union. “I don’t think he gave de­tailed ad­vice, if he was asked.”

Ge­orge H.W. Bush won elec­tion as Ron­ald Rea­gan’s vice pres­i­dent in 1980 and cap­tured the pres­i­dency it­self eight years later. Ge­orge W. Bush mar­ried school­teacher and li­brar­ian Laura Welch in 1977 and pur­sued a busi­ness ca­reer in Texas.

The two bonded over pub­lic life while the younger Bush sought to cut his own path.

As he rose from base­ball team owner to Texas gover­nor to pres­i­dent, Bush of­ten sug­gested he was more con­ser­va­tive than his fa­ther, who earned en­mity from some hard-line Repub­li­cans who at­tacked him for sign­ing a spend­ing bill that in­cluded tax hikes.

While Ge­orge H.W. Bush never lost signs of his New Eng­land lin­eage, the son em­braced his Texas-ness. “The big- gest dif­fer­ence be­tween me and my fa­ther is that he went to Green­wich Coun­try Day and I went to San Jac­into Ju­nior High,” the younger Bush said.

Another quote con­cerned his out­spo­ken, some­times sharp-tongued mother, Barbara. “I used to say I had my daddy’s eyes and my mother’s mouth, which is re­ally true,” Bush told USA TO­DAY in 2014.

For decades, Bush fam­ily mem­bers down­played tales of how much in­flu­ence fa­ther and son had on each other’s pres­i­den­cies, in­clud­ing stories about the son’s role in the dis­missal of the fa­ther’s first White House chief of staff, John Su­nunu.

Like many pres­i­dents, the Bushes un­der­stood that no one has the wealth of in­for­ma­tion the per­son in the Oval Of­fice does, and ev­ery­one should re­spect pres­i­dents to make their own de­ci­sions, aides said.

“They wanted to re­spect the pre­rog­a­tives of the pres­i­dent,” said Mar­lin Fitzwa­ter, press sec­re­tary for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

The two Pres­i­dents Bush seized ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to de­fend each other.

Card re­layed the story of stand­ing in the Oval Of­fice on Ge­orge W. Bush’s first day in of­fice, when the new pres­i­dent was silent for his first sev­eral min­utes. In walked the se­nior Bush.

“Mr. Pres­i­dent,” he said to his son. “Mr. Pres­i­dent,” Ge­orge W. Bush re­sponded.

“They had tears in their eyes,” Card said. “It was just a mo­ment when they felt tremen­dous mu­tual re­spect.”

Ge­orge W. Bush – who was the first, and so far only, pres­i­dent to leave of­fice with both of his par­ents alive – wrote a book about his pre­de­ces­sor. In “41: A Por­trait of My Fa­ther,” the 43rd pres­i­dent com­pared his and his fa­ther’s cam­paigns.

“When re­porters would ask how my fa­ther would af­fect the race, I joked that I had in­her­ited half of his friends and all of his en­e­mies,” he wrote. “The truth was that he didn’t have many en­e­mies, and I was able to pick up many of his friends.”


For­mer Sen. Bob Dole stands and salutes the cas­ket of Ge­orge H.W. Bush as the for­mer pres­i­dent lies in state at the U.S. Capi­tol Ro­tunda on Tues­day.


Then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush walks out of the Oval Of­fice with his fa­ther, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, on Sept. 25, 2008.

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