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The Family Tree

Eleanor Clift via Atrios: The setting was a leadership summit Monday in Tallahassee, where the elder Bush had come to lecture and to pay homage to Je

Eleanor Clift via Atrios:

The setting was a leadership summit Monday in Tallahassee, where the elder Bush had come to lecture and to pay homage to Jeb, who is leaving office with a 53 percent approval rating, putting him ninth among the 50 governors in popularity. The former president was reflecting on how well Jeb handled defeat in 1994 when he lost his composure. “He didn’t whine about it,” he said, putting a handkerchief to his face in an effort to stifle his sobbing.

That election turned out to be pivotal because it disrupted the plan Papa Bush had for his sons, which may be why he was crying, and why the country cries with him. The family’s grand design had the No. 2 son, Jeb, by far the brighter and more responsible, ascend to the presidency while George, the partying frat-boy type, settled for second best in Texas.

The plan went awry when Jeb, contrary to conventional wisdom, lost in Florida, and George unexpectedly defeated Ann Richards in Texas. With the favored heir on the sidelines, the family calculus shifted. They’d go for the presidency with the son that won and not the one they wished had won.

The son who was wrongly launched has made such a mess of things that he has ruined the family franchise. Without getting too Oedipal, it’s fair to say that so many mistakes George W. Bush made are the result of his need to distinguish himself from his father and show that he’s smarter and tougher. His need to outdo his father and at the same time vindicate his father’s failure to get re-elected makes for a complicated stew of emotions. The irony is that the senior Bush, dismissed by Junior’s crowd as a country-club patrician, looks like a giant among presidents compared to his son. Junior told author Bob Woodward, for his book “Plan of Attack,” that he didn’t consult his father in planning the invasion of Iraq but consulted a higher authority, pointing, presumably, to the heavens.


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