Explore the Unique Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and His Son, George W.

The Bush family — emblems of decency, civility and public service — belong in the pantheon of America's great political families, along with the Adamses, Roosevelts, Tafts and Kennedys. Its two standard bearers, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, presided over the country for a collective 12 years, with only eight years between their presidencies. In his new book, "The Last Republicans: Inside the Extraordinary Relationship Between George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush," historian and former LBJ Presidential Library director Mark K. Updegrove takes readers inside the unique relationship between the 41st and 43rd presidents, which he calls "a love story, but a complicated one." Updegrove will be speaking in Dallas at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth's Global Forum Event. To register, call 214-965-8400 and ask for Whitney Reilly.In 1988, George H. W. Bush ("41") made his son, George W. Bush ("43"), a person with no prior political or business success, a senior advisor in his presidential campaign. What had he seen in his son before '88 that justified giving George W such major influence in the most important campaign of his life?Ten years earlier, George W had made a very respectable run for Congress in West Texas, winning the Republican nomination against a well-established candidate, and then losing narrowly to the Democratic nominee, Kent Hance, in a solidly Democratic district. In addition to that, 41 had also seen his son'sinvolvement in his prior Senate, House and 1980 presidential campaigns. These experiences made 41 believe George W was politically astute, "level-headed" and, of course, loyal. So, when the son asked what title he would have in the 1988 presidential campaign, his father said it didn't matter because "in politics, access is the key to power, and you'll have all the access you need."Throughout his political career — unlike brother Jeb — during his campaigns, George W distanced himself from the father he idolized. What was that about?As the eldest of the Bush brood and his father's namesake, George W was especially intent on blazing his own political path, independent of 41. In a 1988 interview, he conceded that if he followed his dad into politics, he would have to "work hard at establishing my own identity." He also knew that his father's background and record would be used against him, so he needed to distance himself. What George W said on this subject in his 1978 congressional campaign never changed: "We don't need Dad in this race. We don't need anyone in this race but the people in this district."41 didn't like the foreign policy positions of his son's vice president, Dick Cheney, and secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, but he did like the positions of his son's secretary of state, Colin Powell. Nevertheless, Powell's policy didn't resonate with 43 like Cheney's and Rumsfeld's did. 41 and 43 never discussed their foreign policy differences because 41 didn't want to interfere, and 43 didn't seek 41's advice. Was this disconnect a key to their staying close during 43's presidency?41 was conscious not to interfere in 43's presidency. He didn't want to be an added burden to his son, his view being: "We had our chance. Now it's his turn." 43 has acknowledged that in the Oval Office, he didn't consult his father often: "I was content with the advice I was getting, and it's not like I wasn't getting advice on all sides [of the issues]." As for Colin Powell, who had been 41's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 43's secretary of state in his first term, 43 told me it wasn't that he "didn't listen" to Powell; it was that he "didn't agree" with him on certain aspects of foreign policy.The love and loyalty 41 and 43 had for each other was never in question, regardless of their foreign policy differences. Given his natural humility and strong paternal instincts, 41 was always going to support and not second-guess his son.Do you think 43 was more like Reagan in his presidential perspective than 41 in both foreign policy and economic policy, vis-à-vis tax cuts and big deficits.43 was clearly more conservative than his father, who was always seen warily by the Republican Party's right wing as a moderate in conservative clothing. In that sense, 43 was far more like Reagan, and I think both Bushes would concede that. Politically, 41 encouraged George W and Jeb to "chart your own course," reassuring them that "no one will ever question your loyalty [to the family]."What 41 and 43 did in confronting the common enemy of Iraq/Saddam Hussein had Shakespearean overtones, raising the question: Was the son trying to prove something to his father? Would 41 have handled Iraq the same way 43 did from 2003 to 2008?When I asked 41 if he believed the War in Iraq was worth its cost, he responded, "In the final analysis, it will be seen as being the right thing to do, given Saddam Hussein's malevolence." I then asked if he would have made the same choices his son made in Iraq, and he replied, "It's hard to tell, but I think so." Was he speaking as a dispassionate former president or as a loyal father supporting the most controversial decision of his son's White House years? That I can't answer.C-SPAN conducts a regular survey of historians on presidential leadership. In the 2017 poll, the elder Bush is ranked 20th, while the younger is 33rd. Given the extreme challenges of dealing with the post‑9/11 war on terror and the financial collapse of 2008, do you expect, in time, 43 to move past 41?Not enough time has passed for history to cast anything but diffuse light on 43's presidency. It takes at least a generation to get an objective view of a president's legacy. It will likely take longer than that to evaluate 43, given the complications of his presidency. I believe his legacy's dominant aspects will be homeland security after 9/11 and the War in Iraq. He achieved something great by keeping the nation safe after the worst attack ever made on American soil, but the Iraq War was misguided and took a major toll on the U.S. in blood and treasure.We have a much clearer sense of 41's legacy, since many of his major issues were resolved before he left the Oval Office. He ended the Cold War peacefully and drove Iraq out of Kuwait in the Gulf War with an unprecedented coalition of nations, making it a major military and diplomatic triumph. Despite the perceptions that he lacked domestic vision, which led to his re-election defeat in 1992, he was arguably our best one-term president.43's foreign policy in the war on terror was all about America's being the world's leading force for the spread of freedom — clearly a worthwhile goal and to 43, a moral imperative. It proved to be a wildly expensive and nationally draining goal. Over time, most Americans believed the costs outweighed the benefits. Will history say that 43, like Don Quixote, dreamed an impossible dream with his freedom expansion goal?43 told me that, like his father, he has always seen America as a "force for good" in the world. In that spirit, I think there was noble intent behind the War in Iraq. The objectives were to (1) take out Saddam Hussein, who had been a tyrannical thorn in the side of his neighbors and the U.S., and (2) democratize Iraq with the hope it would have a transformational stabilizing effect on the Middle East. It didn't turn out that way. There's an old adage about the Middle East: "The cradle of civilization will be its grave." Given the region's inherent instability, bringing human freedom there as 43 hoped to achieve, if not impossible, has certainly been elusive.Unlike Jimmy Carter, both 41 and 43 largely removed themselves from "the arena" after their presidencies. Have the Bushes set the standard for best practices in their post‑presidency years, or do historians view more favorably a politically active former president like Carter?Carter set the standard for an activist post-presidency by continuing to pursue the same causes he did during his four years in the White House. His peacemaking efforts during his presidency (most notably the Camp David Accords) and then post-presidency won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, more than 20 years after he left the Oval Office.Upon leaving office, Bush 41 chose not to pursue an activist post-presidency, saying "I don't want to save the world." Nonetheless, he has been involved with and raised over $670 million for noble causes. Bush 43 is something of a hybrid — certainly not an activist like Carter, but remaining active in policy through the good works of the George W. Bush Institute.As for historical evaluation, it's likely neither Bush will achieve Carter's post-presidency stature, though they have furthered their own legacies by pursuing honorable endeavors.Jeb Bush's loss to Donald Trump in 2016 made it clear that 41 and 43 were going to be "the last Republican" presidents in the Bush family for the time being, though Jeb's son, George P. Bush, gives the family hope for future national Republican leadership. You've witnessed the beginning of George P.'s political career in Austin. Can he bring the Republican Party back together?It depends. Right now, the party is in a battle for its soul. The Establishment Republicans in the Bush mold are at war with the party's radical members who have been emboldened by Donald Trump's rise. To achieve unity going forward, the party must determine not just what it stands against — but what it stands for.Talmage Boston is a lawyer and presidential historian in Dallas, whose most recent book was "Cross-Examining History: A Lawyers Gets Answers from the Experts About Our Presidents." Twitter: @TalmageBostonMark Updegrove is on Twitter: @MarkKUpdegrove ‏  Continue reading...

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