To: the Honorable George W. Bush
Governor of Texas
Dear Governor Bush:
SO, CONGRATULATIONS on your wins in the March primaries. Now you’re going to be the Republican nominee after all. It hasn’t turned out to be as easy as it looked six months ago, and the campaign will become only more difficult in the coming months. In the general election Gore, using some of the events of your primary campaign, can push into the center or even to the right of center, casting you in the role of a hard-line right-winger and making it difficult for you to run as, say, a compassionate conservative. And then there is the danger that the fight with McCain has sapped the strength of the Republican party. Hubert Humphrey beat Eugene McCarthy in 1968 but drained the youth and energy out of the Democratic party in the process.
Your best opportunity to solve both these problems will be in your acceptance speech at the Republican convention. It’s bound to become the most important speech of your life, just as your dad’s acceptance speech at the 1988 convention was the most important speech of his life. I’m sure you remember how Dukakis had come roaring out of the Democratic convention and was fourteen points ahead in the polls. But your dad’s speech turned the tide back in his favor. That speech had the famous “thousand points of light” line. It also had “Read my lips: No new taxes,” which came back to haunt him four years later, but even that is proof it was a great speech that a lot of people believed and remembered.
What should your speech say? I care about the answer to that question because, for me, this campaign turns out to mean something different from campaigns in the past. I try to think about it intellectually, but the fact is that I care about it emotionally. Here’s why. Years ago I saw a pretty good band playing for tips in a bar in San Francisco. Just a few days after that I went to a party in a warehouse and there was the same band playing for free. The band’s name was Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was only a matter of months before they had the first of a long string of hits and became big stars. During their rise, I found myself pulling for them in a kind of teenage-fan way that I was almost embarrassed about. I couldn’t help it. I was proprietary. I thought of them as “my” band just because I happened to see them twice when they were nobody. I feel a little bit the same way about you as I watch you run for president, and so do a lot of other people in Texas. However someone intends to vote this fall, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that you’re “our” band out there on the campaign trail. You’re carrying Texas out to the rest of the country, and how you handle yourself is going to affect all of us here. When you look bad, we feel as if we look bad too. How often has anyone heard the phrase “Massachusetts miracle” since Michael Dukakis looked so goofy driving around in a tank and your dad trounced him in the election?
And it’s not always the best thing for you to be carrying around Texas. I was under the pleasant delusion that anti-Texan bias in the media had mostly disappeared, just as the crude and ignorant but filthy-rich Texas stereotype had disappeared. But the national press assumed right from the start that you were guilty of … well, of something. One reason for their animus is that you are from Texas and therefore they assume you must be a rube. The other reason is that the press never liked your dad and they don’t see why they should like you either. As long as a year ago the talk among journalists in New York was what a good candidate McCain would be compared with you. The moment it became clear you were going to run, Texas was suddenly crawling with journalists whose assignments were to explore your no doubt scuzzy financial dealings or to uncover your wild philandering or to prove all those cocaine rumors were true. Not since Ronald Reagan has the media felt so superior to a national candidate.
Living here in Texas made it hard to watch all this happening. We knew you weren’t such a bad guy. You had run two statewide campaigns, and neither business dealings nor sex nor drugs had ever been an issue. Reasonable people can debate your stand on various issues, but you were clearly the guy in charge despite the weak powers of the governor’s office. You made allies with the Democratic leadership and operated above partisanship. Around the Capitol and around the state, most people were glad you were governor. The media’s determination to get you didn’t seem fair, especially since none of the other candidates had to endure such a determined attempt to knock him off.
I don’t have any evidence, but I’ve always thought that part of your initial hesitancy about running for president was a worry that you might not be ready or that in your heart you might not want to do what it would take to get ready. But then the endorsements and the money started flowing in. The only competition was Steve Forbes, who didn’t look that hard to beat. And in politics the stars and planets that were in line for you now might not line up that way ever again. You joined the race. You beat Forbes in the Iowa caucuses, and then along came McCain. You showed up with too little too late in New Hampshire. Suddenly you had to win South Carolina or the campaign would be as good as over and you would join fellow Texans John Connally and Phil Gramm as embarrassing presidential flops.
Now Texans began seeing another George W. we didn’t know, and this one was not