George W. Bush is our nation's 43rd president, son of the 41st president, and older brother of the governor of Florida.
Despite the family's strong political prominence over the past century, unlike the Kennedy clan, little has been written about the Bushes -- until now.
Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institute, and his wife, Rochelle, a freelance journalist, delve into the intimate workings of this private and influential family in their new book, "The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty." With it, they are creating all sorts of controversy about their conclusion that President Bush's father had a lot of reservations about going to war in Iraq.
Their conclusion, Peter Schweizer tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "comes from conversations with members of the family that we quote on the record. And I think it reflects the real differences between the father and the son," he says.
Rochelle Schweizer points out the father and the son have very different personalities and temperaments. "I think people need to recognize that. George W. is very much the rebel, 'go it alone,' type of person," she says.
The book talks very specifically about a conversation the former president had with his sister and a comment that he made when his sister, Nancy Ellis, asked him about the war and he responded, "But do they have an exit strategy?"
Peter Schweizer says, "There was clearly concern there and tension there. Part of that was because the father had been through the Gulf War himself, and had made the decision not to go after Saddam Hussein. So, you know, clearly, there were differences. Other family members commented that there were differences of worldview between the two, and that that was certainly an element in terms of the disagreement."
Asked to comment on this, the office of the elder George Bush released the following statement: "The accusations that President Bush, No. 41, did not support the war in Iraq are wholly untrue. From the very first day, he unequivocally supported the president, and had no reservations of any kind."
It actually goes on to talk about the Schweizers' book and says it is "filled with inaccuracies not only about the war but historical facts about the family."
But behind the scenes, Peter Schweizer says there is turmoil within the family. "We have to remember, for the Bushes, primacy is placed on loyalty. That is the most important element. We've been talking to family members for five years, on-the-record interviews. We know from reports we've been getting from the family members there is a lot of turmoil because this is the first time that the veil of secrecy, so to speak, of the family has been pierced. That's caused a lot of dissension within the family," he says.
As for the father-son relationship, Peter Schweizer notes they talk on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day. Asked how much of their conversations are about policy, he says, "They do talk about policy and talk about it regularly. But the father never introduces it, unless the son asks him what the views are on particular issues. "
The Schweizers also had interesting comments by unnamed family members, who classify the president's war on terrorism as a religious war.
Schweizer explains, "We interviewed family members and family friends such as Franklin Graham. And they indicated that for him, because of his religious faith and conviction, it's really impossible to divorce this from the larger issues that he sees in terms of the spiritual conflict. That's an element, I think, that helps him look at things in terms of moral clarity. And I think the comparison I would draw there would be with Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union the 'evil empire,' and saw communism through the prism of his religious conviction and faith."
Read an excerpt from the "The Bushes":
Anytime the rains came to Midland, rejoicing could be heard in the Bush home. Little George would anxiously pace around the living room in a soiled T-shirt and jeans waiting for it to let up. When it did, he would burst out the front door and join his friends at a nearby pond.
Thousands of frogs would be there, croaking and hopping about. "Everybody would get BB guns and shoot them," recalls Terry Throckmorton, a childhood friend. "Or we'd put firecrackers in the frogs and throw them and blow them up."
For the Bush children, Midland was an idyllic place of adventuresome days and placid, star-filled nights. Little George, Jebbie, Marvin, and Neil had the run of the house. Each had their own place in the family, and each tried to define himself within it.
Little George, the eldest by more than six years and also his father's namesake, spent his free time riding around on his bicycle looking for adventure. It could be something very simple like throwing dirt clods, or catching the matinee at the theater in town. "On Saturdays we'd meet at the ball field and put together a ball game," recalled Robert McCleskey. "In the afternoons we would ride our bikes down to the Ritz and watch the serials, mostly Buck Rogers and cowboy movies."
Little George was, like his father, a great collector of friends. They came from school, the neighborhood, or the baseball diamond. To those he was particularly close to, he would assign nicknames. It was his mark of friendship.
Most of his time was spent dreaming about baseball. He had heard from family and friends about the great triumphs of his grandfather, father, and uncles on the baseball diamond. Little George played catcher on the Midland little league team and was a member of the Midland All-Stars. While not the most gifted athlete, he more than made up for it with an innate aggressiveness. He swung the bat so fiercely, coaches would have to urge him to loosen his grip. "He tries so very hard," his father wrote to his friends.
George often arrived early at Sam Houston Elementary School to play baseball with his friends. The school principal, John Bizilo, would come out on the field, take off his jacket, loosen his tie, and hit a few balls for the boys. Some neighborhood girls would come and watch. One who didn't was a small, pretty girl named Laura Welch, who lived only a few blocks away. Laura and her friends were interested in more refined matters, at least as defined by a young girl. They spent their Saturdays at the Rexall Drug Store sipping Cokes and passed their free time reading or listening to 45s—mostly Buddy Holly, the Drifters, and Roy Orbison—and dancing in their socks.
Little George didn't have much interest in that sort of thing. If his father was a gentle and obedient child, this son was different. George Walker Bush was, many in the family said, more Walker than Bush. He did little reading except for the occasional Hardy Boys story or a series of mystery books about baseball. He did make one early run at electoral politics, however. In the seventh grade he ran for class president against Jack Hanks, a popular kid. Few expected him to win, but with heavy campaigning and a smile he managed to do so narrowly. (Hanks went on to a political triumph of his own. Four years later he went to Boys Nation and was elected vice president, defeating a young candidate from Arkansas named Bill Clinton.)
Perhaps baseball more than anything gave George something to share with his father. Big George coached his son's team, which usually played its games on Saturday mornings. Then in the afternoon the fathers would play a pickup game. Word got out—not from George himself—that the coach had been a star player at Yale. And his skills were on display for all to see during the afternoon dads' game.
"If he was standing in the outfield when someone hit a fly ball, he could put his glove behind him at belt level, drop his head forward, and catch the ball behind his back," recalls Joe O'Neill, a childhood friend. "We'd try to do it too, but the ball would always hit us on the back of the head. We all had scabs on our heads from trying to catch the fly balls like Mr. Bush did."
For Little George, life would be defined by the need to live up to his name. He had seen his father's photos of the Yale team and heard stories from his uncles and great uncles about Poppy's playing days. Little George would have trouble matching those accomplishments. Fay Vincent, a family friend who later went on to be baseball commissioner, remembers visiting Texas in the 1950s and watching Little George play. "I remember him striking out a lot. Wild swings with lots of muscle; but he was swinging so hard, trying so hard, he didn't take the chance to watch the ball."
Little George loved the game and became fixated on becoming a star.
"All George ever wanted to be was a major league baseball player," recalls Terry Throckmorton. "That's all he ever talked about." In an instant he could recall the batting averages and slugging percentages of his favorite players. He swapped baseball cards with a passion and proved to be so shrewd at it that his friends had to carefully think through any deal or they might be taken.
"He would sit there on the floor with his brothers and they would argue for hours about the value of a Pee Wee Reese card," recalls Elsie Walker. "He was so tenacious about it, it was ridiculous. He either convinced them to make a bad trade, or he just waited them out." Soon he was writing notes to famous players, offering words of encouragement and enclosing a baseball card with return postage. His diligence paid off as he got signed cards returned from Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and some of his other favorite players.
At school Little George was not exactly a serious student. He would get into trouble because of that Walker swagger. In the fourth grade he was clowning around in class and used an ink pen to draw a mustache, beard, and long sideburns on his face. When he shared his artistic work with his classmates, they erupted in laughter. The teacher, Frances Childress, promptly grabbed him by the arm and took him down the corridor to see the principal.
"Just look at him," she said. "He's been making a disturbance in class."
The principal took George by the hand and told him to bend over and reach for the ground. He then promptly administered three licks with a paddle.
"When I hit him, he cried," John Bizilo recalls. "Oh, did he cry! He yelled as if he'd been shot."
When Bar found out, she was furious. With the death of Robin, she had become fiercely protective of her oldest son. She called Bizilo immediately. "My husband's going to kill you," she said with slight exaggeration. "He's out of town, but he's coming home to kill you immediately."
Bizilo calmly explained what Little George had done: When sent to the principal's office to explain his actions, he had been far from contrite. Instead, George had "swaggered in as though he had done the most wonderful thing in the world." When Bar heard the full story, she ended up supporting Bizilo.
When George Sr. was at home, he sometimes clashed with his oldest son. "Georgie aggravates the hell out of me at times (I am sure I do the same to him)," he wrote his father-in-law, "but then at times I am so proud of him I could die."
Little George was strong-willed and stubborn. Even as a young boy, Little George constantly butted heads with his father, recalls Gerry Bemiss, who saw them frequently in Kennebunkport. Otha Taylor, who helped out in the Bush home, recalls the two Georges "were always tussing about something."
His younger brothers each seemed to move in a different path to make room for themselves in this busy and active family. Marvin grew up with a wicked sense of humor, trying to communicate and establish himself by making fun. He would pee in the housecleaner's iron or switch the liquids in the kitchen. When you reached for the apple juice, you'd find vegetable oil instead. Neil was the attractive little kid. Pleasant and well-mannered with shining white blond hair, his father would call him Whitey. He became the good kid, the one who got attention and identity by being the most obedient son.
For Jebbie, being the middle child proved to be the most difficult. Too young to compete with his older brother as a boy, he had also spent scarce time as the family baby, with Neil being born just two years after him. He quickly emerged as the most serious of the Bush children, but also the one that family members saw go through the most changes. "Jeb I thought of as somebody who as a kid was experimenting and trying to figure out his role," recalls cousin John Ellis.
Despite their age differences, the boys were expected to compete on an equal footing. It was the family's currency of communication, a way of showing that you were a Bush. Competition was also a way to channel their natural rivalries. "The boys absorbed the family's competitive nature at an early age," says Bucky Bush, their uncle. "I remember watching them playing baseball, basketball, board games, just about everything, and just going nuts, playing over and over again, each one trying to win one over on the other."
Robert Mosbacher, a longtime family friend, remembers that when the Bushes would visit in Houston, the Bush boys were always eager for a game. "We played touch football in the backyard and a game called wonder tennis, a game of table tennis with a larger table," he told us. "What was so interesting was that the sense of competitiveness was much greater at wonder tennis than touch football. Touch football is a team sport and they weren't as fiercely competitive at that. But wonder tennis—it's one-on-one, that really brought it out in them." One-on-one sports—not team sports—really brought out the competition among them, particularly as the boys became older. "We played basketball," recalls Neil Bush, "and we'd throw elbows at each other and duke it out."
"I remember one afternoon up in Maine," Marvin Bush recalls. "My brother George and I were playing tennis when things got a little tight on the tennis court. I was about ten years younger than he and it got to an especially tense point in the match. I think I was fairly brash and was making sure he knew exactly what the score was. The next I knew he was chasing me up a fence."
In those early years, Little George was the lead boy. It was a function of both his age and personality, which could come on strong at times. But as they grew older, Jeb began to assert himself. "At first George was in charge and Jeb always seemed to be finding the place where he fit in," recalls John Ellis. "But as they got older, Jeb started to chart his own path and at one point had surpassed his brother in terms of success."
In Midland the boys would fight over toys, the rules of the game, or the proverbial pecking order. When a fight did break out, it was Barbara who usually got in the middle to break it up. "Sometimes they'd come up the driveway yelling dirty words at each other and Barbara would send them to their rooms and that kind of discipline," George Bush said. "She would say, 'Your dad will be disappointed in you.' "
That was the family's most powerful tool for imposing discipline: instilling a profound sense of disappointment that you had let the family down and hurt everyone. George Bush says he considers it the most effective parenting tool they had; he rarely spanked his boys.
George and Barbara still reserved a special place for Robin. They placed a portrait of their late daughter in the living room for everyone to see. Barbara worried at the time whether it was fair to "our boys and to our friends" to give her such a prominent place in the home. George never thought so.
Barbara and George were desperate to have another girl. "What I'm going to do," Barbara told everyone, "I'm going to keep trying until I get another girl." In August 1959, Barbara gave birth to Dorothy Walker Bush, whom they called Doro. Big George in particular was beaming. Robin was still very much on his mind, and Doro added a touch of softness in a home with four rowdy boys. She instantly received special attention from her father. It was as if he had a special place in his heart reserved for a little girl.
"My dad would just spoil me with love," Doro Bush recalls. When she was a small girl and George was in town, he would tuck her into bed at night, telling her about Robin. "We would both cry," she says. The whole family saw Doro as a living reminder of Robin. "Dorothy is enchanting," George wrote his friend Lud Ashley. "She is a wild dark version of Robin. They look so much alike that Mom and Dad [Pres and Dottie] both called Dorothy 'Robin' all last week when Bar went to visit at Hobe Sound."
Despite the time he tried to reserve for his children, George spent most of his time traveling on business. Zapata was now heavily involved in offshore drilling. That meant, instead of trips to West Texas or Houston, George was increasingly venturing to Europe, Latin America, and the Persian Gulf. He was in many respects a distant figure for his sons, much as his father had been to him.
His heavy travel schedule also caused tension at home. "I had moments where I was jealous of attractive young women out in a man's world," Bar later recalled. "I would think, well, George is off on a trip doing all these exciting things and I'm sitting home with these absolutely brilliant children, who say one thing a week of interest."
Compounding the problem was the fact that Barbara was often left to handle problems on her own. When Jebbie was diagnosed with what was thought to be a rare bone disease, Barbara had to handle it by herself. "George was away, so my friends held my hand," she recalled later. "But it turned out to be only an infection in his heel. Neil had an eye emergency and I had to rush him from Midland to Houston, but it turned out to be nothing."
George and Bar would argue. She would complain about the burdens on her, and George would counter with how hard he was working for the family. Bar finally figured that the arguing did little to improve anything. "What's the point?" she recalls. "He would just let you flail and flounder . . . I mean, it's no fun to argue in a one-sided argument. He knows what he thinks and he's perfectly willing to let you scream and yell, but I gave that up. That was a waste of our energy."
Excerpted from "The Bushes," by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer Copyright© 2004 by Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.