On the eve of a report that repudiates his son's leadership, former president George H.W. Bush broke down crying when he recalled how his other son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, lost an election a dozen years ago and then came back to serve two successful terms. The elder Bush has always been a softie, but this display of emotion was so over the top that it had to be about something other than Jeb's long-ago loss.
That election turned out to be pivotal because it disrupted the plan Papa Bush had for his sons, which may be why he was crying, and why the country cries with him. The family's grand design had the No. 2 son, Jeb, by far the brighter and more responsible, ascend to the presidency while George, the partying frat-boy type, settled for second best in Texas. The plan went awry when Jeb, contrary to conventional wisdom, lost in Florida, and George unexpectedly defeated Ann Richards in Texas. With the favored heir on the sidelines, the family calculus shifted. They'd go for the presidency with the son that won and not the one they wished had won.
The son who was wrongly launched has made such a mess of things that he has ruined the family franchise. Without getting too Oedipal, it's fair to say that so many mistakes George W. Bush made are the result of his need to distinguish himself from his father and show that he's smarter and tougher. His need to outdo his father and at the same time vindicate his father's failure to get re-elected makes for a complicated stew of emotions. The irony is that the senior Bush, dismissed by Junior's crowd as a country-club patrician, looks like a giant among presidents compared to his son. Junior told author Bob Woodward, for his book "Plan of Attack," that he didn't consult his father in planning the invasion of Iraq but consulted a higher authority, pointing, presumably, to the heavens.
Bush was asked during the campaign in 2000 what would happen if he lost. He said he'd go back to Texas, watch a lot of baseball and have a great life with Laura and the girls. He's an accidental president, a man who was vaulted into a job he wasn't prepared for, and who treated war like a lark. Bush's father observed between sobs in his Florida speech, "A true measure of a man is how you handle victory and how you handle defeat." He was talking about Jeb, but surely it's his first-born who triggers the tears.
Besides spawning an accidental president, I wonder if 41 has ever mentally chastised himself for not making that trip to the drug store back in '46 that could have prevented the worst accident of all.