“First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty” by Bill Minutaglio, details the history and upbringing of this year’s Republican candidate and gives insight as to the impact his family heritage has had on him as a person, and who and what has influenced him as a politician. The biography is mostly nonjudgmental towards George W. Bush, but does paint an image of him and his family that is exactly what he has been trying to deny throughout his whole political life: he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and has led a largely unremarkable life that has left him unqualified as a candidate for President of the United States.
George W.’s grandfather Prescott Bush was the first Bush to attend Yale. George W. saw him as a living legacy of the family’s success. While at Yale, he was a golfer, football player, and baseball player, and a member of the glee club. He served in Word War I as well, as an army captain assigned to a field artillery unit in France. By 1921, Prescott had married Dorothy Walker and they settled in Greenwich, Connecticut where they raised five children, among them George W.’s father.
Prescott’s second son, George Herbert Walker Bush, attended the finest prep school in the country, Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He would graduate and then immediately enlist in the Navy, where he became a fighter pilot and was rewarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross after being shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and being rescued by an American submarine. Once returning home, he followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in Yale. While there he majored in economics, was a captain of the baseball team, and was also chapter president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
George and Barbara Bush married in January of 1945 and they moved into a small house in New Haven, Connecticut. George Walker Bush was born a little over a year later on July 6, 1946. George W.’s father continued his studies at Yale after his son was born, and would graduate two years later in the spring of 1948. The day after graduation, the elder Bush set off for West Texas and a job at the International Derrick and Equipment Company in Odessa, Texas; his wife and son arrived two weeks later. Odessa was a blue-collar town, where pipe-layers and roughnecks lived. Odessa’s white-collar sister city was Midland, where the oil deals were made, and the company headquarters were established. More importantly, this is where George H.W. aspired to be. But for now the couple moved into a small apartment in Odessa, where instead of dealing with oilmen they had to deal with another couple with whom they shared their bathroom.
The family temporarily moved to California in 1949, but returned to the Texas after a year. But they did not move back to Odessa; instead they moved into a small wooden bungalow in Midland. It was while living here that Bush and John Overbey began to consider the possibility of starting their own oil company, and by 1950 the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Company, Inc., was a reality. The company did business buying and selling oil-drilling royalty rights in the Permian Basin.
Big George directed the local chamber of commerce, helped draw up the papers for the Midland Commercial Bank and Trust Company, sat in on planning sessions for the YMCA, was on the local cancer board, and also taught George W.’s Sunday school class at the First Presbyterian Church, where the Bush family attended weekly. At the church, he eventually became a church deacon and church elder. The entire time he was involved with these activities, he was also gathering people to convert to the Republican Party. He was involved in countless activities, and was home less and less as time wore on.
In February of 1953, George W.’s brother Jeb was born, and it was at this time that their parents realized that something was not right with their sister Robin. She was soon diagnosed with leukemia, and died in October later that year. George W. Bush recalls this time as his first vivid memory of his childhood. After their daughter’s death, Barbara’s position as the disciplinarian became clearer. George H.W. Bush had mellowed even more and would not become upset toward his sons; he would simply seem disappointed in them.
By the late 50’s and early 60’s, the Texas oil boom was finally slowing down, but George H.W. Bush and his new multimillion-dollar drilling company Zapata were ahead of the trend. They were already positioned to move offshore along the Gulf Coast and then around the world. The elder Bush was constantly commuting back and forth to Houston, and soon it was necessary for the Bush family to move to Houston. In 1959, George W. began a two-year tenure at the Kinkaid school, considered to be one of the most exclusive private schools in Texas. At the suggestion of his parents he then transferred to Philips Academy at Andover, an alma mater of his father.
While in his first year at Andover, Bush played both junior varsity baseball and basketball, and by his second year had realized he was not going to live up to his father’s athletic prowess at the school. He decided instead that his legacy at Andover was going to be something completely different from his father’s. He was good at bringing diverse groups together, more of a figurehead. Other students attending Andover at the same time stated that George W. was in the popular crowd, but unlike them he had no outstanding characteristic to make him popular. He simply was.
After graduating from Andover, George W. was off to Yale. At the same time his father decided to enter politics, running for a senate seat in Texas. 18 year old George W. traveled along on the campaign trail with his father getting his first real look at Texas, and his first real look at politics from the inside. George W. was very enthusiastic in support of his father, and had his father’s confidence in all that he did. George H.W. was expected to win the Senate race, but he lost instead as his opponent pushed the stereotype of Bush not being a “true” Texan. The younger Bush was heartbroken, but did not make a single mention of the loss upon his return to Yale. The elder Bush would run for office again before his son graduated from Yale, and on his second attempt he was successful.
While at Yale Bush majored in history and did not exactly excel in his studies, but he also never really expected to. Instead, he thrived on the people and the environment, social situations and knowing what was going on. He was popular at Yale the same way he was at Andover, seemingly able to attract people with his magnetism. And foreshadowing one of his innate abilities he would often use in the future, he was able to avoid situations that were complicated or ambiguous, any circumstance that could turn into difficult issues. Police picked up Bush twice during his college years, but nothing ever came of either incident.
Both George W. and Jeb described their father as “a beacon,” but George W. was the first son and the namesake and it was unspoken knowledge that he would be the one to emulate their father. The elder Bush encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps and his family and close friends saw George W. doing exactly that. He participated in intramural sports, but not varsity sports as his father had. He eventually became president of the DKE house and joined the Skull & Bones Society, both former activities that his father had also been in. By the end of his years at Yale Bush was not relishing the rest of his time there; instead he was aching to be free of the campus, and what he called it’s “intellectual arrogance.”
Upon graduation in 1968, George W. moved to Houston and joined the 147th Fighter Group in the Texas Air National Guard. It was well known that most recruits joining this unit would most likely not be sent to Vietnam. This period of his life would later draw great scrutiny as to whether or not he was able to pull strings to be selected and avoid being sent to Vietnam. Evidence is given that Bush passed a rigorous battery of tests, and was clearly qualified to fly, though there was some dispute as whether he was vaulted past other candidates on a waiting list to join this squadron. Bush gained respect among his fellow pilots for his flying ability, but also for his humor, intelligence, quickness of wit, and of course just as at Andover and Yale, his ability to entertain an audience.
Upon his completion of pilot training in midsummer of 1970, George W. pondered over what to do next. He applied to the University of Texas law school, was turned down, and decided to continue on active duty for a little while longer. By 1971 George was hired as an all-purpose assistant to executives by Bob Gow, a former employee under his father at Zapata. Gow was a partial owner and founder of Stratford, a company that ran large scale farming operations throughout the south. Bush referred to this position as a “stupid coat and tie job,” and was constantly looking for other opportunities. He conferred with other employees about the value of his family name, how he could possibly use it to get ahead, to prosper as his father and grandfather had.
He briefly considered running for a seat in the Texas House or Senate in District 15, but wisely decided it was too early. An opportunity arose soon enough as in 1972 there was an important Senate race evolving in Alabama, and Bush was hired by the GOP as a paid political director for Red Blount’s campaign. It was a great learning experience for the young Bush, campaigning in a state that was not yet ready to accept the Republican Party. Blount was crushed in the election but that was not the significant part of the experience for George W.; he gained much insight into anti-Washington bias, the conservative Christian world, big government, and big taxes.
In the fall of the next year, George W. requested an honorable discharge from the Texas Air National Guard and enrolled in Harvard business school. He was not sure exactly what he wanted to accomplish in his time there; his family hoped it would drive discipline and sense into the 27-year old. They thought he was still much too young to consider running for office, especially considering he had yet to hold a job for longer than a year. While there he avoided political involvement on campus, even as his father was becoming a more prominent figure in the White House. The summer following his graduation in 1975 George W. left the Northeast to return to his roots: the Midland-Odessa region. He promptly began looking up favors and old friends and soon formed his own company, “Bush Oil,” developing oil leads and passing them on at a price.
In 1977, with Democratic Representative George Mahon from the 19th Congressional District abdicating, Bush saw the political opportunity he had been waiting for. With the entire Bush-Walker clan backing him financially, George W, announced his candidacy in July, and was seen by some as the best chance for the GOP in that district in decades. During this campaign period, he met his wife Laura Welch, and they were married in less than three months. Bush won the Republican nomination, fending off accusations of being a carpetbagger from the Northeast using him name for political gain, of having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and never having worked a day in his life. These same accusations of being an outsider were his downfall a few months later in 1978, as he lost the election to Kent Hance. Bush took the loss as a learning experience, and resolved to spend more time and money in the hundreds of small towns littered across Texas to get his message out.
Throughout the 1980’s, as George H.W. Bush served Ronald Reagan as Vice President, George W. was networking throughout Texas and participating in numerous activities that would strengthen his political resume. He continued his involvement in the oil business, starting the Bush Exploration Company and overseeing its merger with Spectrum 7 oil. He also served as his father’s right hand man, always checking on the loyalties of his father’s people, making sure none were swaying in their loyalty to the Bush Family. During his father’s 1988 campaign and subsequent presidency, George W. served as a senior advisor, and was responsible for conveying his father’s displeasure with anyone in the media or campaign. He was also his father’s main link to the Christian Right; serving to waylay their fears of not being heard, and strengthen his father’s conservative image to the skeptical Right.
Once his father was removed from office, George W. saw the time as being perfect for a run at the governorship of Texas. His opponent would be the formidable Ann Richards, who was a nationally known political figure. For once, George W. would be able to use his heritage to his advantage; he seemed to be more of a true Texan than did Richards. Bush ran on a simple platform of four issues: tort reform, crime, education, and welfare reform. His tactics were to stick to these four issues, and “hammer on them, hammer on them, hammer on them.” He was able to fend off accusations of having a phantom campaign, not having any real initiatives, and of illegal activities in his oil dealings. In the final count George W. Bush became only the second Republican Governor of Texas since Reconstruction, winning by over 335,000 votes, the widest margin in 20 years.
By 1996 George W.’s was among those mentioned as a possible running mate for Bob Dole, but he realized he would need more than one term as an elected Texas official first. It was in 1998 that he seriously began looking into the possibilities of running for president in the 2000 election. He began raising funds, taking polls to gauge the public’s view of his possible candidacy, but still would not publicly admit any presidential aspirations. By crushing opponent Garry Mauro in the 1998 governor’s race, he solidified his base for a run at the presidency. He soon began gathering backers and declared himself a candidate for 2000 presidential race, as all his close friends had been sure he would.
I found “First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty” to be a very informative writing about this year’s Republican candidate. It did not go into any controversial issues about Bush’s past, instead treating it much as Bush himself did, by saying he had done irresponsible things when he was younger but that those days were long in the past. With Bush’s drunk driving charge coming out recently, I was surprised that Ann Richards had told her campaign to find evidence of Bush getting a DUI, but did not find any. Also, he does not rely on the rumors of George W.’s cocaine use and instead only hints at what might have went on as opposed to assuming the worst.
Minutaglio spends a large portion of the book describing how being part of a “political dynasty” affected almost every political action he took throughout his life. It doesn’t charge that he deliberately used his family name to avoid the Vietnam draft or to obtain special favors, but instead that he simply took what was given to him. I found it interesting that Bush saw his family name as a liablility. It is mentioned as a factor in almost every important decision he made in his life, starting in college and continuing through his run at the presidency. He pointedly kept his father away from his campaigns as much as possible, fearing the accusations of riding on his father’s coat tails.
The book drives home George W.’s strengths and weaknesses by pointedly remarking on them throughout different situations. He has had to work hard on his public speaking and his temperament. His family members were shocked by the changes that he made in order to be a better politician. He realized the things he needed to do in order to have a successful political career, and he was determined to succeed.
Perhaps the most important item I learned about George W. is that he realizes he is not the smartest, most knowledgeable, perfect candidate. He instead realizes his faults and lets more knowledgeable people instruct him in the areas in which he needs help. He despised politics throughout much of his own life, and he is dealing with people who have lived and breathed politics their whole life. He prefers to be viewed as a regular guy, a businessman, not someone who had everything handed to him throughout his whole life. He believes that what is best for private business is also what’s best for the country, and I couldn’t agree with this view more. That is the impression that I get from this book, and also the impression that I get from seeing Bush speak.
I am a Bush supporter, and this book did nothing to sway me away from that stance but did give me a solid overview of his life and past experiences in a mostly partisan view. I do believe he will be a respectable and also exceptional president. He has been involved with politics all his life, but I do not believe he has a “Washington” type attitude. He knows his own limits, and will surround himself with skilled people, and will be able to organize and lead these people the way he has done throughout his life, as illustrated by Bill Minutaglio in “First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty.”