IN LATE 1988, JUST AFTER HIS FATHER WON the White House, George W. Bush asked a campaign staffer, “What’s gonna happen to me?” It’s not that he was selfish (“What’s gonna happen to me?”). Rather, he was curious, and maybe a little concerned, about how being the president’s son would affect his life (“What’s gonna happen to me?”). The staffer, Doug Wead, offered to research what had become of other first kin, and a few weeks later he produced a 44-page report, “All the President’s Children.” The findings, Wead says, were “very depressing,” including higher-than-average rates of alcoholism, divorce, and suicide. There were also a number of odd coincidences, including one that might have interested Junior, as George W. was known at the time to his dismay. Both his dad and Franklin Roosevelt had four sons, a daughter, and a sixth child who had died as an infant. Both had a son who was elected to office in Florida (Jeb Bush was then the Sunshine State’s Secretary of Commerce). Both had a son who struck out for the West (Neil Bush was living in Colorado). Then there was Roosevelt’s namesake son, who had returned to his home state to run for governor—and lost. “I do remember Junior looking at that and groaning, ‘Oh, great,’” Wead recalls.
More than ten years later, the two-term governor of Texas can safely say that he’s broken the Roosevelt curse. But if the pessimistic parallels in Wead’s report proved false, its general conclusion was indisputable: Once you’re the son of the leader of the free world, nothing is ever the same. In Bush’s case, what changed was his view of politics and of