From Katrina to 9-11, Bush 41 opens up about his presidential son
March 4th, 2013
02:32 PM ET
10 years ago

From Katrina to 9-11, Bush 41 opens up about his presidential son

Washington (CNN) – After leaving office, President George H.W. Bush certainly had opinions about the challenges facing the nation and the politics that affected the public's perception of the White House. As a father, Bush kept his thoughts in check even when he believed the attacks were overtly personal and painted his son, President George W. Bush, in a wrong light.

"I am really down about the way the President has been attacked," Bush writes in a 2005 letter to journalist and long-time friend Hugh Sidey about the criticism directed at his son for the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. "Over and over again the networks attack him. First for being late in moving. Then for over flying Louisiana on the way back to Washington. Then on the snail like pace of relief."

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Bush went on to say "My heart went out to him. Here is a guy who cares deeply. Who wants every possible resource of the Federal Government brought in to bear to help people, yet he is being roundly accused of not giving a damn...the critics do not know what is in 43's heart, how deeply he feels about the hurt, the anguish, the losses affecting so many people, most of them poor."

The elder Bush, a decorated Navy pilot, ended this letter saying he had been shot down 61 years ago that very day by the Japanese.

"Now I see some of his most nasty critics trying to shoot down my beloved son – shoot him down by mean spirited attacks," Bush wrote. "I was a scared kid back then. Now I am just an angry old man hurting for my son."
Bush bio
These newly revealed observations by the 41st president about his son the 43rd president, are outlined in an updated book "All the Best, George Bush; My Life in Letters and Other Writings," set for release on Tuesday. CNN was provided an advance copy of the book by the publisher Scribner.

Like any proud father, the elder Bush explained in another letter to former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that when his son accepted the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, he felt as if the "baton had indeed been passed."

"When George finished his acceptance speech, it was like a new day had dawned on our family," the father wrote in the Aug. 5, 2000 letter. "I felt that finally my political days were over – the record sealed and finished, with the historians left to decide. The baton had indeed been passed; and when Bar (Barbara) and I left the hall, proudest parents in the world, we felt that a wonderful chapter was closed, finished!"

The night before the 2000 election, the father sent an e-mail to his son Jeb, who was then-governor of Florida, praising him for working tirelessly to help his brother in the presidential campaign.

"I just want you to know that your mother and I have never been prouder of you," the elder Bush said. "I don't know what will happen in Florida tomorrow. But I do know no one could have done more than you to help George carry the state, and to help in other states as well..." He went on to say, "I hope God will bless us with victory in Florida and across the land; but whatever happens our family will be strong and solid and your brother George and your Dad will say Jeb gave it his all and we love that guy. Devotedly, DAD."

It was Florida that indeed did hand George W. the presidency – a White House contest that was won by a mere 537 votes. During the recount of the Florida votes, the elder Bush wrote that he often spoke to his son, George W., about the situation.

"I have had more phone conversations over the last month with George than one could imagine," the father wrote.

After the Supreme Court ruled in December of 2000 and it was determined that George W. had beaten Al Gore, the father wrote, "The fat lady sang. The ordeal ended," in a letter to Sidey.

"And now a huge chapter in the lives of the Bush family opens up," the elder Bush said, who then praised Gore's concession speech, calling it "absolute perfection."

Bush told Sidey he called the White House and asked to be connected to Gore and within a few minutes the vice president called him back.

"I congratulated him, just a sentence or two, just a few words," the elder Bush wrote to Sidey. "I suddenly felt for him, saw him as a man whose disappointment had to be overpowering. I knew he must be hurting. He was very gracious. The conversation was over in a flash, but I suddenly felt quite different about Al Gore. The anger was gone, the competitive juices stopped flowing. I thought back to my own feelings of years before when I lost, when I had to go out and accept my defeat. He did it better than I did, and his ordeal had to be tougher because the election was so close. True I had to actually give up the Presidency that he was now seeking, but still he had been in public life a long time and he and his family were shattered."

After his son George W. addressed the nation that night from Austin, he recounted how he spoke to him by telephone. "What did you think Dad?" the president-elect asked his father. "I told him how perfect I felt his speech was. I also told him I had lost it."

In a Jan. 21, 2001 letter to Sidey – the day after his son had been sworn in as president – the father talked about how emotional the inauguration had been for him.

"Our son was President of the United States of America," Bush wrote. "It was for real. Our pride knew no bounds. We managed to contain our emotions but they shook us to the core. Wonder. Joy. Amazement. Honor. Happiness. I don't know how to describe what I felt, but it was good, real good."

The elder Bush also said, "I am not sure if there was one specific moment in time when I finally realized that my son was President. If I had to single out one such moment it would be right after the oath taking."

In the same letter, he recounted how some people would ask him what he should be called and he responded, "I like #41. Adjusting will take time but it will not be difficult at all. It is funny after all these years to have to get a new name; but, hey, what does it matter if your boy is President of the United States of America so help me God."

The elder Bush also told Sidey he spoke to his son right after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. "I talked to George," Bush wrote. "I did tell him the sooner he got back to Washington the better. He totally agreed with that."

And the elder Bush noted that he found it difficult in not joining Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford in making statements about the attacks, but realized it was better to stay out of the spotlight.

"It is not easy, dear friend, to sit on the sidelines now, not easy to make decisions or take actions," Bush wrote. "But I must continue to stay out of the limelight, out of the news, giving quiet support to #43."

The book, which recounted his early years, his family and his presidency through letters and other communications he wrote, was first released in 1999 and basically was his autobiography since he never wrote one. As he did in the original book, readers often will see how emotional the former president became at times.

One such moment came after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fell after the second Gulf War in April of 2003.

In an e-mail to his son, the elder Bush recalled comments he made to friends saying, "I shamefully choked up, the tears tumbling down my aging cheeks. I was embarrassed; but then I realized that I shouldn't worry if people see this visible manifestation of a father's concern, a father's love. It was pride, yes, but it was also an overflowing of joy from all that you have given your mother and me over the years..."

Bush continued, "...Bar (Barbara) and I are at your side. I hope you can feel it. We will stay out of the way, but I am there beside you, my heart overflowing with happiness on this day of vindication."

When his son was seeking re-election in 2004, the elder Bush said he was hungry for any information about the race and received a briefing the day before the election from his chief of staff.

"Though 43 was still leading by a thin smidgeon in many of the states, some of the important ones had slipped into a tie or into a small negative," Bush wrote in a letter to Sidey. "This, of course, caused by aching duodenum to throb, to pulsate, to hurt."

And the elder Bush recounted how he was watching television news the previous Sunday, and heard some political pundits call his son a "liar."

"The whole atmosphere is horrible and for this loving Dad it is impossible," the father wrote. "I cannot run away and hide."

He recounted that he was a "nervous wreck" on Election Day. "I feel like I have been hit squarely in the gut – hard," the elder Bush wrote.

The day after the younger Bush won re-election he told Sidey his son "…asked me to come over to the Oval Office. I threw on my clothes and went over there. The two of us sat alone in that historic office. For me it was magic."

Later the father recounted how he stood with his son on the White House putting green.

"To myself, I was saying, 'I wish I could help this son of ours. I wish I could do something to help ease the burden, a burden incidentally that he never ever complains about. But I cannot. I am an old guy. My experiences are out of date. Perhaps my instincts aren't as good as I once thought they were,'" the elder Bush said. "George W. said to me, 'Dad, do you realize that this is the first time since 1988 that a President has won with a clear majority of the vote?' My mind raced back to my win over (Democratic nominee Michael) Dukakis in 1988. Who would have thought back then that I would be bonding with my own son in that manner?"

The elder Bush ended the letter by writing, "Victory. How sweet it is."

Filed under: George H. W. Bush • George W. Bush
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Uncle S.

    Having the village idiot for a son must be one hard row to hoe.

    March 4, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC

    I always thought that web site that was cataloging "Bushism", unusual words and phrases that he spoke, was a little on the heartless side. But hey, everything they posted came for the Bush's mouth.

    March 4, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  3. Donna

    It is almost like George Bush never left office in 2009. Obama has continued a lot of his policies and blames him like he was standing next to him the last 4 years. I just wish Obama had been honest with the American people in 2008 and said his only plan for the next 4 years was to blame George Bush. You still se it alive and well on this board 5 years later. I guess that is all you are left with when you're own Obama policies are a complete failure.

    March 4, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. Jerubbaal

    The worst thing a parent can do is lie to their child.

    March 4, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  5. W.

    I have lived long enough to endure the disgrace of several presidents. With G. W. Bush being one of the least competent and most ignorant among all, I am most hopeful that my ashes will have been spread long before another of the Bush family plagues our great nation. There have been fewer depths reached by any other administration in comparison that that loathsome period of our country when either the senior or the junior of that family controlled our fate. I may not fully agree with our current president on all matters, however we must do better than pursue the repetitive insanity of the Bush dynasty.

    March 4, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  6. ted

    Yes GHWB your beloved son was president, thanks to the Supreme court electing him due to hanging chads. YES your beloved son is responsible for the deficit we currently have for his stupid insane wars. Thanks a lot Bushs. Now can you all go away and leave us a lone. and tell Jeb to forget the white house.

    March 4, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  7. Grandma P

    Wow, I just can't imagine being so arrogant that I would go around calling my son #43. It must have broken his heart to realize his son was the worst president in history. I sure hope the idiots that voted for #43 aren't stupid enough to vote for his brother in 2016. God help us if they do...

    March 4, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  8. Canuck

    "I am really down about the way the President has been attacked"

    I wonder how the families of those servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price for W's lies feel???

    March 4, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  9. Bob

    Time to end the Bush Family Evil Emoire once and for all. Those people have done ENOUGH damage to this country.

    Let them crawl back into the holes from whence they came and just leave this country alone.

    March 4, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  10. Rudy NYC

    Donna wrote:

    It is almost like George Bush never left office in 2009. Obama has continued a lot of his policies and blames him like he was standing next to him the last 4 years. ....
    Obama was filibustered into continuing most all of Bush-43's econmic policies. It was all part of the Frank Luntz strategy "to make a liberal govern like a conservative." The strategy, however, quickly digressed into a the more familiar"block anything Obama wants to" strategy. Most liberals would probably concede the point that economic policy could have been better during the first term. But, most conservatives will not readily admit that that policy was extension of their own policies put in place under Bush.

    March 4, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  11. Morecattlethanhat

    It's hard to believe that George W., and his minions weren't held more accountable for the chaos they created. How many times were they told that no weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq? No one listened. How many times were they challenged on they're running of the nations economy? No one listened. What about all the people killed in two wars, not to mention the ones that were killed in the downing of the World Trade Centers? Where was security during this time? And didn't this all happen under his so called watch? And yet he roams free. Free to smirk at all he see's and all he meets. Between Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove, they basically raped the constitution and enslaved the workers. Where's the outrage?

    March 4, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  12. v_mag

    I don't think there is any amount of criticism of GWB that is too much. He richly deserves to go to jail for war crimes. His destruction of the economy and explosion of the national debt is well documented. The lives lost in his wars are an incredible waste.

    Republicans complain that people are always blaming W for current problems. The reason that people point the (middle) finger at him is that the problems he caused are so long term. They cannot be fixed in a few short years. The quantity of damage Bush did is out of proportion to that done by any previous president. There is no way to over-estimate how bad a president he was, because the reality tops every prior assessment. GWB screwed us all.

    March 4, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  13. Al-NY,NY

    I wonder how dad the decorated war pilot felt when he saw his son (with the simpering grin) get out of a plane in a flight suit and have the cajones to stand there and say "Mission Accomplished?"

    March 4, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  14. boungiorno

    you mean to tell me that BUSH41 isn't responsible for 911 although he is the father of George W Bush?

    March 4, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  15. Larry in Houston

    OMG !! What an Article !! LOL – oh well, of course he's going to defend his son ! Wouldn't anybody defend their own kids, (son, in this case) even though they robbed a bank somewhere, and acted like they either knew nothing about it, or they Just won't admit that their own son would ever do that !! LOL –

    Hate to be a bearer of bad tidings, but the good 'ol U.S.of A. is in Hawk for 16.6 – and it did Not start w/ Obama !
    (hint: Clinton left us w/ a surplus)

    March 4, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  16. Larry in Houston

    @ Grandma P @ 3:03 pm –

    If the voters in this country "forgets" by the time 2016 rolls around, and they end up putting 'ol "Uncle Jeb" in the white house, then this country deserves what it gets.

    March 4, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain

    GHW, you made the bed of abandoning your principles for political expediency: you nailed it when you called Reagan's trickle-down plan "voodoo economics", but did an about-face when you were tapped to be Reagan's VP candidate. You demonstrated to your sons a lack of integrity, whether it was Neil and the S&L scandal, GW and letting himself be lead by the nose by Cheney, or Jeb bouncing all over the map on illegal immigration.

    I have no sympathy for this family ...

    March 4, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  18. Ol' Lefty

    No more Bush Presidents, please.

    March 4, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  19. kayla

    somebody trying to change the bushes history.

    March 4, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  20. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    The Skull & Bones family. Remember GHWB's call for a "New World Order?" What the heck do you think is going on around the world now? Each president following GHWB is carrying out his New World Order. Don't be fooled people!

    March 4, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    Fark that family and the hoohoos they fell out of.

    March 4, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |