Girl Gone Mild

This is the same Jenna Bush who was cited more than once for underage drinking? Who was a fixture in the tabloids and a punch line in every late-night talk show monologue? That was then. Today, the president’s daughter is all grown up, teaching in an inner-city public school, soon to be married, and even sooner to be the best-selling author of a serious book about AIDS. And yes, she’s counting the minutes until January 20, 2009.

she and Barbara were not happy about it. “We were really independent kids, and the thought of Secret Service agents following us all the time was terrifying,” she says. “But when it came right down to it, we thought, ‘He should run because he would be a great president.’ How unbelievably selfish would it have been for us to say, ‘Please, Daddy, don’t do it because we’re nineteen and it might affect our life negatively.’”

The Bushes were so determined for the girls to lead normal lives that they kept them out of sight during the entire campaign and asked the Secret Service not to hover over them while they attended classes or hung out with their friends. Then, after the election, the president made it clear to the press corps that there would be hell to pay if he discovered that reporters were prying into Jenna’s or Barbara’s life.

As a result, except for the Enquirer story, there was nothing written about the twins—until February 2001, just one month after Inauguration Day, when it was learned that Jenna had persuaded her Secret Service detail to drive to the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth to pick up one of her male friends who had been busted for underage drinking during a fraternity party at Texas Christian University. The story was funny. You had to admire her chutzpah. And it was hard not to laugh again, a couple months later, when the news broke that Jenna’s agents had allowed her and a friend to go into Cheers Shot Bar, on Sixth Street in Austin, even though they were both under the legal drinking age. The agents were sitting in a car outside the bar when, to their dismay, they saw a couple of undercover Austin cops cite Jenna and her friend for that dreaded teenage offense: MIP (minor in possession of alcohol).

Underage drinking is, inevitably, a fact of life in a college town like Austin. Some faculty at UT estimate that 90 percent of the school’s 49,000 students drink alcohol. The year Jenna got her MIP, there were some five hundred alcohol-related citations issued in Austin to people under the age of 21. Still, none of them was the child of the president of the United States. Everyone couldn’t help but wonder why Jenna would take a risk like that, knowing what kind of publicity would come her way if she got busted. “To be honest with you, I didn’t feel that guilty about it,” she says. “I was determined that I was not going to stay in my dorm room and do nothing after my dad had been elected. I wanted to do what other people in college do and have experiences.”

But then, in late May 2001, only a scant two weeks after Jenna went to court to plead no contest to the first MIP—for her court appearance, she wore a black tank top, pink capri pants, sandals, and a toe ring—she, Barbara, and a friend showed up at Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road, in Austin, a restaurant that the Washington Post later described as “a joint known for mediocre food and killer margaritas.” The waitress asked everyone at the table for identification. And here’s where Jenna made her big mistake. Although she surely had to have known that she was UT’s most famous female student, she pulled out a fake ID. After recognizing her, the manager, Mia Lawrence, told her she would not be served. When Lawrence realized Barbara was also at the table, she called 911 to say that there were minors on the premises attempting to purchase alcohol.

Lawrence could easily have said to Jenna and Barbara, “Girls, get out, you can’t drink here,” and that would have been that. If you’ve been to Chuy’s, you know that college kids trying to buy drinks are not exactly an endangered species. How often does the manager call 911? Clearly, Lawrence wanted to narc the twins out. (According to the police report, she told an officer, “I want them to get into big trouble,” a statement that led to much speculation among Austin Republicans that Lawrence was a Democrat.) Then, in a scene straight out of a Hollywood comedy, the cops arrived, and Jenna’s and Barbara’s Secret Service agents, no doubt imagining the end of their careers, sped out of their cars hoping to bust up the bust. One agent promised the cops that the twins would leave. But after several calls between Austin police officers, commanders, and even the chief, the decision was made to go ahead with the citations.

The media firestorm was almost instantaneous. Within days, the Austin Police Department had received more than four hundred phone calls from reporters. The tabloids, of course, had a field day (the New York Post ’s front-page headline read, “Jenna and Tonic!”), and the late-night comedians nursed the story for months. (“It was a long, dull speech,” David Letterman said after one of President Bush’s State of the Union addresses. “Halfway through, Ted Kennedy sent drinks over to the Bush twins.”) On the Fox News Channel, Bill O’Reilly insisted the story was worthy “because [teenage drinking] is a very difficult problem that touches almost every American home.” Meanwhile, political reporters suggested that the twins’ antics were distracting the president from more-pressing matters.

Historians quickly thought back to Ulysses Grant’s teenage daughter, Nellie—“probably the most attractive of all the young women who have ever lived in the White House,” one wrote—who at sixteen was cavorting with so many Washington men that her parents sent her on a long trip abroad. (It didn’t work. She met an alcoholic con man in England and married him.) And to Teddy Roosevelt’s flamboyant daughter Alice, who smoked cigarettes in public—she once smoked on the rooftop of the White House to defy her father—and flirted shamelessly with any number of men, single and married. Alice, described by one newspaper as “Washington’s other monument,” was such a live wire that President Roosevelt once

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