The Many Faces of George W. Bush
Wasn’t it only four years ago that we were clamoring about the New Texas? Ann’s Texas? Weren’t we just saying goodbye to white guys in business suits who were telling us what to do?
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Well, say hello to . . . what? The New New Texas? The New Old Texas? This is going to be a tough one to figure. For one thing, the Bombastic Bushkin (as George W. Bush is called) is not your basic Republican coot, like Bill Clements. Nor is he a rustic redneck in the tradition of Clayton Williams. And despite his East Coast schooling, he ain’t no preppy like his father. He is, in truth, an odd new breed: part gentry, part good ol’ boy, part city slicker, part Midland. He’s also our first baby-boomer governor. He jogs. He owns a NordicTrack exercise machine. He lifts weights at a health club. He drives his twin thirteen-year-old daughters around in a Chrysler Town and Country. At night, he lies on a dilapidated tan leather couch that he won’t let his wife, Laura, get rid of and flicks from one TV station to another with his remote control.
Because George W.’s campaign was so precisely execute—he never strayed from the issues or allowed the more colorful parts of his personality to emerge—your probably assume he’ll be just another standard conservative politician. Sorry, fellow Texans: The new governor is unlike any politician you’ve ever seen. Who else do you know who takes pride in the fact he can sit through a major league baseball game for nine innings without once going to the bathroom? While some political scientists might call such bladder control an act of magnificent discipline, don’t forget that this is the same man who, during Nolan Ryan’s historic 300th pitching victory, was seen on nationwide TV sitting behind the dugout picking his nose.
A lot of people—even his close friends—are not quite sure how to describe Bush. “He’s got his eccentricities, that’s for damn sure,” says an old Midland friend. “I can remember in the seventies, while everyone else was wearing boots and blue jeans, George W. was walking around town in these flimsy Chinese slippers that embarrassed the hell out of all of us.” At one point during the governor’s race, Bush made a campaign stop before a group of famers at a barn in Nacogdoches, and then flew immediately to New Orleans to meet some rich contributors. When he was told by the anxious hostess that he smelled like cow dung, he grabbed a bottle of Drakkar eau de toilette, doused himself, and then cheerfully worked the room, shaking hands with the fat cats, all of whom kept sniffing the air and giving him suspicious looks.
Now that you’ve gotten your first whiff of our new governor, you too might be a little confused about him. He’s such a newcomer to Texas politics that no one is sure what to expect. At the moment, you might think of him only as the guy who loves boot camps, hates welfare mothers, and wants to put more juveniles in jail. But after reading our primer to the real George W. Bush, perhaps you’ll see that his New Texas could be a lot more interesting than you ever imagined.
GEORGE AS OTTER
To some who know him, George W. resembles Otter, the unflappable fraternity rush chairman in the 1978 movie National Lampoon’s Animal House. Otter, you’ll recall, was a handsome guy who looked like he knew how to have a good time. He’d walk up to strangers and say with a cocky grin, “Damn glad to meet you.” Then he’d lead them into one escapade after another. No matter how much trouble the frat house got into, Otter escaped unsullied.
It’s not insignificant that George W. was president of the Dekes, his fraternity at Yale University. Until he stopped drinking eight years ago, he was a notorious partier. He still greets almost all his male friends with a collegial, “Hey buddy,” and just like Otter, nothing seems to phase him. When Richards tried to bait Bush in the campaign by calling him a jerk, and when she accused him of losing $371 million in various business ventures, he just shrugged and used her allegations to his advantage—especially with his friends, telling them they had to pay for lunch because he was seriously in the hole and needed to save money. So here’s the first thing you should know about George W.: It’s impossible to shake his confidence. Even when he shot a killdeer and had a public relations fiasco on his hands, he turned the whole episode into a joke. “Hell,” he said, “it’s a good thing it wasn’t deer season, or I might have shot a cow.”
GEORGE AS PIGPEN
At the start of the gubernatorial race, Bush bought six dark suits at Dallas’ Culwell and Son so he’d have something decent to wear on the campaign trail. For all his breeding, George W. is not exactly a snappy dresser. The Midland Country Club still gives out a prize in his honor for the club’s worst-dressed golfer. Although he’ll never stoop low enough to wear the laughable plaid jackets that Bill Clements favored, he is a consummate Thrift Shop Republican. In private he dons Haggar jackets, wrinkled sport shirts, and jeans—a style that his spin doctors say suggests a complete lack of pretentiousness. His old friends, on the other hand, say Bush is simply too cheap to buy nice clothes.
What’s more, Bush is inherently unable to keep his office clean. People who got to see his Dallas office were treated to a portrait of near-anarchy. Baseball books and newspapers littered the room, and most of his framed photographs were stacked against the walls because he never had the patience to hang them. His secretary would come in, throw some faxes on his desk, and walk out. Since he didn’t have a coat rack, Bush threw his jacket on the floor. “This is how I like to work,” he would say unapologetically.
Soon, Bush will have a convenient way to hide the Pigpen side of his personality. The governor will actually have two rooms: an outer reception area that is neat and formal, where Bush, in his nice suit, will greet important guests; and an inner office, where he can throw his jacket on the floor and toss his papers around and get his real work done.
GEORGE AS DAVID LETTERMAN
If you think George W. is kinder and gentler like his dad, think again: He loves to needle people. During a White House dinner for Queen Elizabeth that the Bush family hosted a few years ago, Barbara Bush made sure that George W., whom she calls “the Bush black sheep,” was seated at the far end of the table so he wouldn’t say something sarcastic to Her Royal Highness.
Spending a day at Bush’s office is like watching David Letterman run his television show. People come in and out, Bush makes fun of them, and they, in turn, make fun of him. (His old friends call him El Busto because of his remarkable inability to discover oil during his Midland days.) Like Letterman, Bush sticks a cigar in his mouth and chews on the end. And whenever he gets together with the Austin press corps, he always poo-poos their questions, lampoons their liberal politics, and tells them to go play in traffic.
While a few Bush advisers worry that some Texans will view their new governor as a bit of a pop-oof—he has an array of teasing nicknames for his key staffers—his humor has a way of disarming people. At a dinner this past December in Dallas, where he met the four 1994 Nobel Prize winners from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, he spent the evening calling the distinguished men of science “fellow genii.”
GEORGE AS SUSAN POWTER
George W. is not the sort of guy who spends his days reading briefing books. He simply cannot sit still long enough. He has the leaping eagerness that one normally associates with Susan Powter, the burr-headed Dallas exercise maniac. Like Powter, Bush loves to work out. His seven-minute-mile pace during his morning runs makes Bill Clinton’s trot to McDonalds look pathetic. One Sunday afternoon last year, he got bored watching a football game and told Laura he was going out for a little jog. He ended up running eighteen miles around Dallas’ White Rock Lake.
What does this mean for Texas? It means that Bush hates inactivity of any kind. He likes to make quick decisions about almost everything (he married Laura after only a three-month courtship) and can’t stand it if someone is not moving as fast as he is. One day during the campaign, Bush’s travel aide, Izzy Hernandez, showed up three minutes late at Bush’s house to take him to an appointment. Bush had already left. In fact, considering Bush’s penchant for starting meetings earlier than their scheduled time, it’s possible he’ll make decisions on public policy issues before his advisers have a chance to open their mouths.
GEORGE AS NORMAN CROSBY
Perhaps you’ve heard a George W. speech and though, “well, he’s not the speechmaker that Ann Richards is.” But before too long, you’ll find yourself listening closely to his speeches—if only to study his imaginative use of the English language, reminiscent of Norm Crosby’s malapropisms.
We assume that Bush has worked hard not to use the same speech patterns as his father, who preferred fragments to actual sentences. But on occasion, George W. slips. About the possibility of signing a particular bill, he’ll say: “Won’t happen. Not going to do it. Isn’t right.” What he tends to do more often, however, is hilariously mispronounce words or make up brand-new ones. During the campaign, for example, when he would talk about how certain crimes are heinous, it would come out as “hey-knee-us.” When he would say that the Democrats were obfuscating an issue, it would come out as “ob-cous-fating.” When he’d say that his mantra was to change voters’ attitudes, it would come out as “main-tra.” For a while, Bush kept saying that he wanted to “incent” people to act more responsibly. When his press secretary told him that “incent” was not a verb—much less a real word—Bush nodded, but was later heard telling crowds that he wanted to “incentivize” them to act more responsibly.
GEORGE AS DAGWOOD BUMSTEAD
One morning during the last days of the campaign, Bush became the talk of his Dallas neighborhood when he was seen frantically dashing out of his house and racing to a nearby Tom Thumb supermarket. It turned out that he needed a new can of shaving cream. His daughters, Jenna and Barbara, had used up his old can the previous evening while shaving their legs for the first time.
Here might be the key to understanding the New Texas under Bush. Our governor is the father of two prepubescents who will be going on their first car dates while he is in office. Although he talks non-stop in his speeches about education and prisons, he knows he has bigger things to worry about. Indeed, when asked about his move to Austin, George W. says, with only a slight hint of irony, “I’m worried that Jenna and Barbara are going to spend too much time on the phone at the Governor’s Mansion.”
Clearly, we should be steeling ourselves for a cultural change fueled by the twins. The music at the mansion, for instance, is not going to be the standard Willie Nelson-Lyle Lovett fare. Pounding down the hallways will be the thrashing punk sound of Green Day, Jenna and Barbara’s favorite band. The three dweebish San Francisco rockers, who dye their hair and sing of teen angst, are white adolescent America’s most-beloved music group. At their concerts, members of the band spit in the air and ask their fans to hold up their middle fingers. Green Day’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, has been known to take off his clothes and do a song or two stark-naked.
When Ann Richards was governor, she would come home at the end of a long day at the office, put on country and folk tunes, and relax. Bush, however, will spend his evenings lying on his couch bombarded by catchy Green Day lyrics about “geek stink breath.” If you think this isn’t going to change the way he governs Texas, buy a Green Day album, listen to it for five minutes, and see what it does to your brain.
Whither Texas under George W. Bush? It’s safe to say we won’t get bored. This is a man, after all, who gave a major campaign speech to a group of important Houston financial backers with his fly wide open. “I’m not going to go around charming the rest of the country the way Ann Richards did,” Bush says, “but I think we’ll have a good time.” All we ask, Governor, is that you invite Green Day to play at the Governor’s Mansion. Such an act will secure your place in history.