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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Dad says, 'I don't miss politics'

But that may be because he's got something better: a family legacy to watch over

By Hugh Sidey

June 14, 1999
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT)

TIME magazine

Back in 1988, Jim Hightower, a razor-tongued Texas democrat, amused the nation by saying presidential candidate George Bush was a man "born on third base [who] thought he had hit a triple." Hightower was only a little bit right.

Bush was born intelligent, healthy, handsome, tastefully wealthy, with the best social and school connections and a lust for adventure, to a mother and father who taught him the virtue of public service. So he may have been born closer to home plate than even Hightower suggested.

But Bush always knew this. He rode his privilege joyously through these first 75 years but always with good humor, and every step of the way he thanked God and anybody else within earshot for "being the luckiest guy on earth." His constant awe about his luck may have been one reason he did not win a second presidential term, but once again Providence may have been dealing out a lucky hand, clearing the way for a new generation that could elevate him to something greater than mere political power--patriarch of history's most commanding family in American public life, beyond the Adamses, the Harrisons, the Roosevelts and the Kennedys. Home plate may be only a step away.

So there he was in full birthday mode last week, munching a Morton's roast-beef sandwich after tumbling wildly through 5,000 feet of Texas sky. He was so blissful up there, he missed his skydiving instructor Glenn Bangs' signal to pull his rip cord. (Bush's other parachuting companion, Andy Serrano, pulled it.) "What a high!" he laughed as his promise to Barbara not to jump again slipped away with each memory of touching the clouds in free fall.

After a whole week of 75th-birthday hoopla, as he sent his son George W. Bush off to run for the presidency, he seemed (almost) ready to move on. "I don't think in terms of a dynasty or a great legacy," he said. "I think in terms of family. A lot of people ask me how George W.'s running for President and the possibility of him being in the White House will affect me. It won't impact me that much. I've been there. I've done that. I'm not entitled to a damn thing. It is their turn now."

Their turn? Often these days when Bush talks about the coming political era, he inadvertently (or maybe not) lumps together both his political boys, George W. and Florida's Governor Jeb Bush, as if they might be coupled in some inexorable public caravan carrying them down the White House road. President Bush will only allow the slightest look into that corner of his heart: "I think Jeb will be on the national scene some day."

When Bush read the comment that his eldest would at last be ushered into "the big leagues" by campaigning in Iowa, he managed a wry smile. "Both boys have seen it all up close," he said. "They went through a tough time in 1992 with me. They felt my defeat. They fought back. They stood loyally with me. That conditioned them. They know how tough it can be. And they are both better equipped for it. George W. will never be complacent. He's seen things go up, he's seen things go down."

While public service has been a staple of the Bush family for decades, it was never imposed on this generation. "George W. was doing very well in business with the Texas Rangers baseball team," said President Bush. "It surprised me a little when he decided to run for Governor. I've always felt that people in public life should have done something in the private sector before. But, yes, it was kind of interesting when he told us his plans."

The President is even more surprised now at the surging energy behind George W.'s presidential run. "I've never seen such a groundswell." But the past also makes him weary. "I don't know. He's doing so good right now, but these things can change fast."

What never changes is George Bush's belief that his greatest challenge, his greatest achievement, is his family. "The family is the overriding consideration. It gives strength for everything else. We don't have to refurbish this family. George W. and Jeb have never been closer, and the other children are as much a part of us. Right now, it is tremendously exciting that there are two [Bushes] in public life, and I want their desires to be fulfilled. But Bar and I are going to stay out of the fray. We can help raise money. If George W. wants to talk, he can call me. But I'm enjoying turning down all requests for interviews. I don't miss being in politics."

The truth of Bush's words was on display all last week in Houston as the birthday celebrations went on with kids and grandkids and friends and entertainers and power seekers from all over the world. Wherever the Bushes congregated, they were rarely in family huddles; but when you watched, they seemed always to be connected--with a gesture, a glance, a joke from the podium, the President laughing at whatever lame jest one of the kids made, Barbara surveying everybody's manners.

In the cheer surrounding his birthday, there seemed only the vaguest concession to mortality from the former President. When he was studying a landing site for his parachute jump near the Bush presidential library grounds at Texas A&M, he suddenly pointed to a small grove of trees near a pond. "That's where Barbara and I will be buried," he said. But his voice had its usual verve, as if to say that even that would be an adventure.


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: June 21, 1999

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