President Bush and his father in Kennebunkport, Maine.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The current President Bush prides himself on saying he doesn't pay much attention to the critics who bombard him via television, newspapers and the Internet. But I want to let you in on a little secret: his father keeps tabs on all of it.
I was reminded of this fact recently when a friend of mine spent a little time at the swank Kennebunkport, Maine, home of former President George Herbert Walker Bush. The former President, known as "Bush 41," showed off his study and confided that he has several television sets where he can watch all of the cable networks simultaneously when a big story breaks - and monitor every word said about his son, a.k.a. "Bush 43".
I was reminded of this phenomenon again Friday, when USA Today published an interview with Bush 41 timed to Saturday's unveiling of his refurbished presidential library in College Station, Texas. The patriarch of the Bush family lashed out, declaring criticism of his son's handling of the Iraq war is "grossly unfair."
"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?" the elder Bush railed to the newspaper. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? ... Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"
Actually there is a major debate over whether the Middle East would be more secure if Hussein had not been toppled, but that's not the point of this story. Andy Card, who served in high posts in both Bush administrations, told me what he thinks motivated Bush 41's comments.
"It's a lot about a father caring about his son," said Card. "Like any parent, he aches for his child. But there's also a certain degree of empathy."
Card is right. Bush 41 has a unique perspective on what it's like to take the slings and arrows of being commander-in-chief, especially when it comes to dealing with a war in the Persian Gulf. After all, he's only the second former president in history, after John Adams, to watch his son follow him into the White House.
As for Bush 43, he's still claiming not to care about the naysayers. "Popularity is just like, it comes and goes," the current President told a German television interviewer from RTL this week. "And I've never been one to really worry about that, you know? Because when it's all said and done I think the key thing in life is to look in the mirror and say, 'I didn't compromise my core beliefs.'"
His father, on the other hand, clearly has some bruised feelings. He's not just a former president - he's a Dad.
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– CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry