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  •  Fred Greenstein, Princeton University Professor of Politics
  • Allan Lichtman American University, Chair, Department of History

George W. Bush: Living the Bush Legacy

This is a text adaptation of CNN's Special Report, "Living the Bush Legacy," which aired Sunday, October 29 at 10 p.m. EDT.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Only once in this nation's history has the son of a president been elected commander-in-chief. George W. Bush stands on the brink of making history again. Like any political legacy, he faces questions about whether he could have made it this far without his famous last name and he must bear the weight of expectations.

"It is very possible that if he wins the election, it will be the greatest political family in American history," says Doug Wead, a former adviser to President George Bush.

"If his last name were not Bush, this guy wouldn't be running for mayor of a mediocre city," says populist political commentator Jim Hightower.

"He was born on second base, but he's gotten himself over to third base on his own," says Bruce Buchanan, professor at the University of Texas.

"He wants to get the job done," says Mary Matalin, a former adviser to President Bush. "He doesn't want to make this his life. He's not coming here to be something. He's coming here to do something."

But while Bush hates talk of a dynasty, family and loyalty are at the core of his values. The Texas governor is campaigning as a compassionate conservative - and he is trying to project a new inclusiveness onto a party not previously known for diversity. To win, however, he must convince voters that he is much more than President George Bush's son, that he, George W. Bush, has his own vision and enough experience; in short, that he is ready to take the reins and lead the nation.

"I'm especially grateful tonight to my family," Bush told the Republican National Convention in August on the night he accepted his party's nomination for president. "I want to thank my dad - the most decent man I have ever known... And Mother, everybody loves you and so do I."

Bush doesn't say much about it, but in his run for the White House, echoes of family and tradition are never far away.

"It's his turn now," says Bush's father, George Bush. "And he's doing it right, making his own name."

"The whole Bush family, going back, I think even to President Bush's parents, have this sense of community participation [and] volunteerism," says Matalin.

Ron Kaufman, a former adviser to President Bush agrees: "It's inbred, I think, I really do believe it's inbred in the Bush family, that if you can make a difference, you owe it to the country to make a difference."

Bush came to public service just six years ago, but the Bush family's commitment to serve began at least two generations back.

Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a moderate, pro-civil rights Republican senator from Connecticut who served two terms. He handed down the tradition to son George, ultimately President George, who in turn passed it on to George W.

Bush was born in 1946 in Connecticut, but when he was two, his parents -- George and Barbara -- moved the family to West Texas -- Oil Texas.

With the help of some family money, they went to Midland and into the oil business. George Senior made his first million as a pioneer offshore oilman. He spent a lot of time on the road. That left Barbara Bush in charge of a rapidly growing family. Bush was the oldest, and the closest to his mom.

"She was the frontline of discipline, and pretty tough when she needed to be, but was always loving," Bush said in a 1989 interview. "And I can remember being banished to my room as a little guy there in Midland, Texas... I can't remember why. I'm sure I was innocent."

Mostly, childhood in Midland was just plain normal. For Bush, that meant the beginning of a lifetime's passion for baseball.

"Well, he was a good catcher," says his Little League coach Frank Ittner. "But he was like his daddy. He couldn't hit."

Though young Bush might not have known it, he was a stockholder in Dad's oil company.

"Little George had a million shares of letter stock... so he probably was one of the richest Little League players in Midland," says Ittner.

There was one family tragedy while George W. was growing up. Little sister Robin contracted leukemia. She died when George W. was 7 years old.

"I'm sure George did not realize at the time what a momentous thing it was toward his personality and his place in the family," says Joe O'Neill, a friend from Midland. "He kind of tried to fill that void created by the loss of one sibling and tried to be all things to his family."

Bush became a big brother to four other Bush kids. Then, at 15, he left home to start on the traditional family educational track at an elite prep school in the East, Phillips Andover. George Sr. had been a baseball star wearing the Andover "A." Bush also played baseball, but mostly made his mark as a cheerleader for the teams. Then, like his father and grandfather, he went on to Yale.

In Bush's first year at Yale, there was a little baseball and a little studying. He ended up near the bottom 20 percent of students as a freshman.

"Excelling in that was not, I think, at the top of his list," says Bush's Yale roommate, Terry Johnson. "What he did naturally and excelled at naturally was personal relationships."

He was well liked - president of the top party fraternity, the DKEs, which was his dad's old house.

"You'd have your parties there," says Johnson. "You'd entertain, you know, girls there... I can probably safely say that there were times when, yeah, we were probably a little over the line."

The same year Bush arrived at Yale, his father ventured into the real family business: George Sr. ran for the U.S. Senate in Texas as a Goldwater Republican - conservative, against the 1964 Civil Right Bill, for prayer in school. Young Bush helped make an appeal to Hispanic voters, speaking Spanish in an ad for his father.

His dad lost in what would turn out to be a banner year for Democrats.

During the late '60s at Yale, there was a roiling campus debate over both civil rights and Vietnam, a debate in which Bush didn't really participate. But Vietnam got his attention at graduation, when his draft deferment ran out.

"The big question mark then was, what about the draft," says Johnson. "...And I can't recall a specific discussion with George about it, other than we were all looking at what were the programs in the Navy or the Marines or the Army or the Air Force or National Guard or whatever."

When Bush graduated in 1968, he joined the Texas Air National Guard, a safe haven from combat in Vietnam. He told the Guard commander he wanted to be a pilot, like his father in World War II. It wasn't easy to get into the Guard.

"The Bush son was not the only prominent son to be able to find a home there," says Hightower. "Lloyd Bensten, U.S. senator from the state of Texas, later the treasury secretary - his son got in, as did John Connally's [former Texas governor] son. So it seemed to be that it had an unnatural attraction for sons of political figures."

"I don't think any sane person wants to go off to war," says Doug Hannah, a friend of Bush's from Houston. "...But I don't think George was trying to avoid the war. I think George wanted to fly."

While in the Guard, Bush joined his father's second campaign for the Senate, in 1970. The younger Bush was at his dad's side on Election Night.

"It appears that we've lost the race," said George Bush Sr. in 1970. "...Needless to say, I congratulate Lloyd Bentsen and wish him the very best of luck."

That kicked off the 1970s for the Bushes. Senior Bush went on to a number of presidential appointments - to the United Nations, to China, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). George W. Bush, meanwhile, began what he called his "nomadic" years.

He worked in a few political campaigns, and there was plenty of tennis, golf, dating and drinking.

"We did drink," says Hannah. "But it was - we drank what people gave us to drink... And if we went to a party and they were serving liquor, then we would drink it and we would drink it until it was gone."

In 1973, Bush decided to try business school. He got into Harvard. The campus was anti-war, anti-Nixon, uncongenial for Republicans. As at Yale, Bush wasn't crazy about some of the attitude he found at Harvard.

"What George does not respond well to are people who are snobs, whether you're a social snob, or an intellectual snob or any other kind of snob," says Johnson.

He completed his Harvard master's of business administration. Then, it was back home to Midland to try the other family business -- oil.

"Midland was experiencing a great boom and expansion," says Midland banker Don Jones.

"Everybody was moving back to town," says O'Neill. "Fortunes were being made. Oil was being discovered, the boom was back."

Back on the Bush family's home field, Bush would soon explore mixing oil and politics himself - an unspoken expression of following in his father's footsteps.

PART2: The wanderer finds his way -->

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Prescott Bush served two terms in the Senate  


Bush's sister, Robin, died of leukemia when he was seven years old  

Bush played baseball and was a cheerleader at Phillips Andover  

Bush's father ran for the senate in 1964  

Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard in 1968  

Bush's father lost his 1970 race for the Senate  

College roommate Terry Johnson discusses Bush's time at Yale.

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