Share this article

print logo

FAMILY MATTERS <br> ELDER BUSH TRYING TO LET SON STAND ON HIS OWN

He's a former president with no love lost for the Democrats who defeated him eight years ago.

He's a proud father whose son could be the next leader of the United States.

And he has a shot at rewriting history -- if his son wins, they would be only the second father-son team ever elected to the Oval Office.

But except for some pricey fund-raisers, such as one held in Buffalo on Wednesday, George Bush, now 76, has tried to remain behind the scenes of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential campaign.

Even Wednesday, while here helping to raise more than $400,000 for his son's GOP presidential campaign against Democratic candidate and current Vice President Gore, Bush was low-key.

What advice is the former president giving his son?

"No advice," Bush said while talking with reporters for a few minutes after touring Roswell Park Cancer Institute on Wednesday afternoon. "I'm very confident he'll win."

Keeping a low profile in this campaign is only natural for Bush the father, who knows as well as anyone that his son must be seen as capable of governing on his own, experts say.

"One of the major concerns about George W. is, 'Is he experienced enough?' " said Roger Porter, who served as President Bush's top economic adviser and is close to the Bush family. "It's clearly a case of President Bush wanting to be helpful to his son, but not wanting to look like he's running things."

So did it work for the other presidential father-son duo, John Adams, the second U.S. president, and his son, John Quincy Adams, the sixth?

No, say the experts. The Adamses, they said, had an entirely different kind of relationship than the Bushes.

"There was a very substantial gap between them, and they were the kind of stern New England Puritans who did not have a political ethos about them. They were not trying to climb the slippery pole," Fred I. Greenstein said about the Adamses. Greenstein is a presidential scholar at Princeton University; his book "The Presidential Difference" was published in May.

While the Adamses saw the presidency as a "divine calling," Greenstein said, for the Bushes it is a much more practical affair.

That means -- for the Bushes -- that this campaign isn't a time to showcase the entire family. It's time to keep the spotlight focused solely on the candidate.

President Bush's own words have made that crystal clear.

Over and over, he has said his job during this election is being a dad.

"I have no role in it," Bush said of his son's campaign, while attending the Republican National Convention in August.

"I have a role as a father who stays in close touch with a son. Not on issues, not on who he chooses to do what, not on his staff, not on his pick for vice president, but just is there as a guy who's been around the course many, many times . . . and doesn't want to do anything directly or indirectly to diminish his (son's) quest or to complicate his task."

Rather than speaking at the Philadelphia convention, where his son accepted the Republican presidential nomination, the elder Bush and his wife, Barbara, stayed in the background, not wanting to take the spotlight away from their son.

"His No. 1 role in this campaign is being a loving and supporting father to his son, the governor," Ken Lisaius, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said Wednesday. "Someone he can talk freely and openly with about anything."

And the former president is cautious not to give critics a reason to find fault with his son, such as when the younger Bush chose as his running mate Dick Cheney, a man who served in his father's Cabinet.

"(Bush) is very eager not to harm or damage his son," said Porter, the former Bush adviser who now is a professor at Harvard. "It's a very healthy relationship. They're very close. And (Bush) would do anything his son asked of him."

His brief stop in Buffalo on Wednesday certainly didn't hurt his son's campaign.

The $5,000-per-ticket fund-raiser at the North Buffalo home of Republican stalwarts Anthony and Donna Gioia could go down as one of the most successful political fund-raisers in Western New York history.

The warm September night allowed the invited to mingle on the lawn or stand at the bar set up in the yard, as attendants directed the expected 150 guests where to park their Mercedeses, Jaguars and BMWs.

Surrounded by Secret Service agents, Bush -- looking fit and dapper in a dark suit -- arrived for dinner shortly after 6 p.m. He was greeted by guests -- such as Gov. George E. Pataki and County Executive Joel A. Giambra -- and watched from afar by neighborhood rubberneckers.

But guests didn't forget why they were there.

"This campaign is about George W. Bush," said Erie County Republican Robert E. Davis, one of the attendees, who said the event was expected to raise more than $400,000. "It's not about who his father is. George W. can stand on his own. He has a great record to run on."

The Bushes are different from many other White House families, said Greenstein, the presidential scholar.

"The larger picture of (presidential) fathers and sons is quite checkered," he said.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example, gave his sons small White House jobs, but really didn't get along with them, Greenstein said. Ronald Reagan's relationship with his sons was pretty dysfunctional as well, he said. Wendell Wilkie, who almost became president, had a son who couldn't handle the stress and committed suicide, he said.

The Bushes are different because they seem to have a very solid, healthy relationship that they both enjoy, Greenstein said.

"George W. Bush is obviously very bonded to his dad," he said.

There are no comments - be the first to comment