(7. - 805.) 41 by George W. Bush – George W. (hereafter “George W.”) has written “a portrait of my father”, George H.W. (hereafter “George”), the 41st President of the United States. Not unexpectedly it is a respectful summary of the strengths of George by a loving son. My knowledge of George was more limited than I realized until I read the book.
Born and raised among the American elite of the northeastern states, his father a prominent Wall Street banker, he had a privileged upbringing. What was striking was his close and loving family. Many in the American aristocracy have fractured family lives. He came from a stable family that provided him with solid values.
George made the decision to serve his country by joining the Air Force by enlisting on his 18th birthday. Becoming the youngest qualified pilot in the Navy he flew one of the most ungainly planes, the Avenger bomber, ever to fly off aircraft carriers.
Shot down and adrift in the ocean just off Chichi Jima his life was undoubtedly saved by being rescued by an American submarine. Others captured at that time were killed by their Japanese captors.
He married young at 20. George and Barbara have now been married for over 70 years. While I had always seen them as a devoted couple the book makes clear they had a strong marriage. It is nice not to be reading about personal scandal in the marriage of a famous couple.
I had always thought of George as a conservative man being a lifelong Republican stalwart. While conservative politically he was never conservative in his life. He has spent over 90 years pursuing new opportunities and challenges.
George’s adventurous spirit was evident after WW II when he declined to join Wall Street and went from the wealthy enclaves of New England to live in Odessa, Texas and work for a company servicing the oil industry.
While Americans have been moving to the West since the first settlers on the eastern shores few have chosen to leave a comfort in the urban East for the challenges of the Texas oil frontier. George was confident he could be successful and was actually eager to take risks.
Within a few years he had formed his own oil drilling company. George used his New York connections to seek out investors in his business. While living an independent life there was no foolish pride in avoiding the investment money available through his Eastern family and friends.
What might have been most surprising to me was George’s vast network of friends that extended around the world. He was at the forefront of networking in his generation. George W. wrote that there are thousands of people around the world who can pull out of their desks a letter personally written to them by George.
Successful politicians in America must love people. If you lack charisma it is almost impossible to get elected. You can become Canadian Prime Minister while neither being fond of the people nor compelling (our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and a former PM, William Lyon Mckenzie King are good examples) but it has been a long time (Richard Nixon) since America has had a president who did not enjoy meeting and greeting and talking to his, since there has not yet been a female President, fellow Americans.
I found it interesting that neither George W. nor George really gave advice to the other when President. Both focused their relationship on being supportive. Each left it to the advisers chosen by the President to give advice on policy and legislation. Their relationships during the respective presidencies was reflected in George sending his son corny jokes to try to lighten George W.’s day when dealing with the constant demands of the presidency.
George was blessed with the ability to make a decision and move on whether in business or politics or personal life. He was never paralyzed when facing a decision.
There are not a lot of decent men in politics around the world. George was honest. He cares about all Americans. While financially comfortable he was never wealthy. He pursued a life in politics to make his nation a better country. He never sought to become rich.
George W. is an engaging writer. Much as I perceived him as President he has no ambition to be an intellectual. He is not writing a rigorous academic study. He writes smoothly and tells the story of his father’s life well. The pages slide by easily. The charm that helped get George W. elected President is evident through the book. I think he could have revealed more of his relationship with his father and that issue will be a part of my next post.