Maureen Dowd: Bush senior has taken time to criticise son in public

Bush patriarch has used his new biography to tackle some family politics

Former US president George HW Bush: “Like many uptight, upper-class families, the Bushes seem unable to directly confront tensions and talk to each other candidly. In the case of the Bushes, this ended up rupturing the globe.” Photograph: Aida Crawley/EPA

Former US president George HW Bush: “Like many uptight, upper-class families, the Bushes seem unable to directly confront tensions and talk to each other candidly. In the case of the Bushes, this ended up rupturing the globe.” Photograph: Aida Crawley/EPA

 

Westeros. I visited HBO’s Game of Thrones set in Belfast last week and, after watching Daenerys Targaryen in firelight for a couple hours, I learned how to say “I have to go to the bathroom” in Dothraki.

I’ll never be fluent in that martial language. But I am fluent in mangled Bush-speak.

So I must pull myself away from the Iron Throne and return to the Iron Ass, trading one serpentine family tangle for another. I am here, my puzzled readers, to help interpret the latest Oedipal somersaults of our royally messed up Republican royal family.

Like many uptight, upper-class families, the Bushes seem oddly unable to directly confront tensions and resentments and talk to each other candidly. With other families, the unsaid and circuitous end up rupturing relationships. In the case of the Bushes, it ended up rupturing the globe.

Like Queen Cersei, old King George knows that revenge is a dish that doesn’t lose its flavour when served cold.

After more than a decade of publicly keeping his lips zipped, Poppy Bush took his full measure of payback in Jon Meacham’s new biography, Destiny and Power: the American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.

While W used to say that what he liked about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld was their brass appendages, Poppy offered a dimmer anatomical appraisal, calling each an “iron-ass”.

He said he thought Rumsfeld served W badly, and Rumsfeld responded with his usual charm, noting “Bush 41 is getting up in years.”

Foolish agenda

He ultimately faults his son for the administration’s deadly embrace of Cheney and the neocons and for allowing Cheney to create his own national security apparatus, noting: “But it’s not Cheney’s fault. It’s the president’s fault”, adding at another point, “The buck stops there.”

Bush snr, who had been so deferential and dutiful as a vice-president that he endangered his chances of being president, with George Will calling him a “lap dog”, was offended by Cheney’s White House empire building and upset that his son let his vice-president grab so much power.

A surprised W told Meacham, “He certainly never expressed that opinion to me, either during the presidency or after.”

He added that his father “would never say to me, ‘Hey, you need to rein in Cheney. He’s ruining your administration.’ It would be out of character for him to do that. And in any event, I disagree with his characterisation of what was going on. I made the decisions. This was my philosophy.”

Even for a Waspy American family with scorn for introspection and a long tradition of fathers not weighing in, choosing to let their sons make their own life choices, it’s remarkable that two presidents who went to war with the same Iraqi dictator can bluntly talk to each other only through a biographer.

Family advice

The sad part is, they probably now agree on Cheney, whom W has distanced himself from, and Rumsfeld, fired by W in the second term.

Far from shrinking away from his twilight unburdening to a sympathetic biographer – even though it severely complicates life for Jeb, who is sinking in dynasty quicksand – 41 seems eager to get the belated word out. His office in Houston is helpfully sending out bulletins about where Meacham is appearing on his book tour, including a signing hosted by HW’s library at A&M University.

At Yale, in military service and in politics, W chafed at his father’s shadow. He drifted, drank and became what James Baker jokingly described to Meacham as “a juvenile delinquent, damn near”. He laboured under the disapproval of his father. When he sobered up and found his path in politics, he presented himself as the heir of Ronald Reagan, not his own father.

That had to hurt, but Poppy kept it to himself.

W became president by using his dad as a reverse playbook.

That had to hurt, but Poppy kept it to himself.

Father’s nemesis

Sonny Corleone

That had to hurt, but Poppy kept it to himself.

As a young man, W once got drunk, drove back to the family home in Washington, plowed his car into a neighbour’s garbage can and then challenged his disappointed father to go “mano a mano”.

Now the father, in belatedly putting W over his knee, has taught the son the meaning of the phrase. If only it could have happened face to face. – (New York Times service)

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