Father Knows Best: Newsweek cover story about Bush I saving Bush II





George Herbert Walker Bush is a proud father; tears easily come to his eyes when he thinks of his children, all of them, and there is gracious deference in his tone when he talks about the son he calls, with emphasis, "The President." He is not given to boasting about or bragging on his family; he still hears his mother's voice warning him to avoid "the Great I Am," but several times over the past few years the 41st president has mentioned to visitors that the 43rd president has read the Bible in its entirety—not once, the father says, but twice, sticking two fingers in the air. If so, then the incumbent may recall the Song of Moses: "Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee."

Ask thy father, and he will show thee: advice that, at long last, George W. Bush seems to be taking. Last week the president lost both houses of Congress and 16 more Americans died in Iraq, bringing the U.S. death toll to 2,844, with little discernible progress in sight. The war there has now lasted 44 months, the amount of time that elapsed between Pearl Harbor and VJ Day.

In a conference room filled with commemorative shotguns in his Houston offices last Wednesday, the father settled in to watch his son's post-election press conference on TV. Lunching on pizza, Bush Senior listened as George W. Bush said the loss of Congress was a "thumping," promised to "work with" a commission on Iraq chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee Hamilton, and announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was resigning. Within two hours the president was in the Oval Office with Rumsfeld and his replacement: Robert M. Gates, Bush Senior's CIA director and the president of Texas A&M University, the home of Bush 41's presidential library.

In Houston the phones started ringing, and Bush 41 staffers were pulled away from their pizza. Reporters were calling and e-mailing: would 41 talk about 43's shake-up? The answer was no, though two perfunctory statements were issued (one for the Bryan-College Station Eagle and one, as the former president put it, "for everybody else"). Still, the reality spoke for itself. Dad's team was back—a remarkable course correction in the political life of the son and, quite possibly, in the life of the nation.


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