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Bush defeated in 1978 as carpetbagger { March 29 1999 }

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After graduating in 1975, Bush once more followed in his father's footsteps, heading to Midland in hopes of making a fortune in the oil business. And then in 1978, again like his father, he made an early, unsuccessful run for Congress. His Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, tagged Bush as a Connecticut carpetbagger and an Ivy Leaguer.

For George W. Bush, early life a wrangle between East, West
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | March 29, 1999

ANDOVER -- George W. Bush was 15 when his parents sent him out the door, to a world apart from his Texas home, to what he remembers as the ``cold, dark, faraway'' confines of Phillips Academy, the strict all-boys boarding school in this town north of Boston.

Unprepared, Bush quickly found himself at the bottom of his class. Over the next three years, Bush, by his account, ``learned to read and write,'' gained a measure of independence from his well-connected family, and made friends, many of whom are now helping his expected presidential bid. By graduation, Bush had become a class leader and head cheerleader, and had earned the nickname ``Boss Tweed.''

``Andover,'' the Texas governor said in his Austin office, ``was a life-changing experience.''

For years, Bush has sought to play down his Eastern roots and his studies at the elite New England troika of Andover, Yale, and the Harvard Business School. Partly, it is because Bush seems reluctant to concede that he is anything but a Texan. And partly, it may be because Bush has sought to avoid discussion of his early years, a period he prefers to describe cryptically when he talks about it at all.

``When I was young and irresponsible,'' he has said, ``I was young and irresponsible.''

Bush, for example, has acknowledged being a heavy drinker, and has declined to answer questions about whether he used marijuana or cocaine. ``When I get asked pointed questions,'' Bush said, ``I'm going to remind people that I made mistakes in the past, and the question is, `Have I learned from those mistakes?' ''

At Yale, Bush was president and legendary party boy at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. When he graduated in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, he entered the Texas Air National Guard, a decision that has raised questions about whether he tried to avoid combat.

Yet the education and early years of George Walker Bush are essential to understanding the apparent front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. The teenager brought up in a mix of Eastern formality and the Texas wildcat culture is now a 52-year-old man, just reelected in a landslide to the Governor's Mansion, but apparently still struggling with that balance.

In his early years, Bush followed his father's footsteps time and again, at Andover and at Yale, where, like his father, he was tapped for Skull and Bones, the secretive club at Yale. To this day, he seems by turns a copy and an occasional contradiction of his father, collecting friends as quickly as he gathers autographed baseballs, but heading toward a race for president -- a contest his father attacked with zeal -- with insouciance.

Still, several weeks ago, when he announced the formation of his presidential exploratory committee, Bush dismissed suggestions that he had emulated his father, the former president. ``I went to Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas,'' Bush said, ``and he went to Greenwich Country Day in Connecticut.''

It was as if Bush had hoped his New England years would go unnoticed.

``There is a difference between my dad and how he was raised and I was raised,'' he said in an interview. ``In Midland, they don't ask, `What's your pedigree?' they ask, `Can you hit a baseball?' ''

Nothing wrong with the pedigree, however.

Bush was born in Connecticut, where his grandfather, Prescott Bush, had been a US senator, and his parents, George and Barbara, were embarking on a journey that would culminate in his father's election to the White House.

But when young George was 2 years old, his father decided to establish a new home base and moved the family to Midland, a West Texas town filled with oilfield wildcatters and political schemers. Childhood friends recall going with Bush and his father on wildcat expeditions, sleeping in a station wagon while the future president waited for a well to spout oil.

By the time ``Georgie,'' as his mother called him, had become a teenager and the family had moved to Houston, his parents decided he needed a proper New England education. After a year of school in Houston, Bush was sent to Andover.

After Bush arrived in 1961, Andover made the cover of Time magazine, which painted a vivid portrait of the world the young Texan was entering. The school's unofficial motto, the magazine said, was, ``sink or swim.'' There were ``a million kids dying to get in,'' it said, `and a boy who just mopes his way through, boy, that's almost a sin.''

According to the article, the campus day began when Andover boys, in mandatory coat and tie, attended a 7:05 a.m. breakfast, a ``generally resented'' 7:50 a.m. chapel service, and ``work, work, work.'' The article seems dead-on accurate, for when Bush was asked about Andover, the first things he mentioned were the coat and tie, daily chapel, and ``hard, hard work.''

``We were way behind the curve and at the bottom of the class,'' said Clay Johnson, a fellow Texan who attended Andover, roomed with Bush at Yale and is now the governor's appointments secretary. ``All of a sudden we were at the tail end.''

Peter Pfeifle, a Bush classmate, remembers that ``not very many people were happy to be there. There was a great deal of cynicism and unfriendliness in the air, people putting people down. It was like an old-fashioned English boy's school where you were watched all the time and weren't having much fun overall.''

But Pfeifle, now president of the Blue Eagle Productions apparel firm, near Dallas, recalls that many boys on campus found refuge hanging out with Bush. ``He was a natural-born leader and a very popular fellow,'' Pfeifle said. ``Everybody wanted to be around him.''

One yearbook photo shows Bush as head cheerleader, wielding a giant megaphone and wearing a sweater with a large ``A.'' Another photo depicts Bush among several students trying to squeeze into a phone booth. Even now, 35 years later, former classmates recall how Bush was ``high commissioner of stickball,'' which meant he organized a street version of baseball and umpired the games. He lived in America House on Main Street, where the song ``America'' (My Country 'tis of Thee) was written in 1832.

Andover and its rigors changed his life, Bush said. ``I can remember trying to figure out how to catch up,'' Bush said. ``The high standards lifted me up.''

In 1964, Bush started at Yale, where he was selected president at Delta Kappa Epsilon and joined the exclusive Skull and Bones Society, whose members are drawn from the upper crust of old money and society. Bush was a devoted member of the group, which met twice a week, five hours at a time, discussing every imaginable personal and social issue. One classmate recalls spending a weekend with Bush driving through New York and New Jersey in an unsuccessful effort to find a tattoo parlor that would apply a Skull and Bones symbol. Bush's fraternity was also a curious clan -- making news after the school newspaper reported that DKE pledges were being branded in a hazing rite.

``There's no scarring mark, physically or mentally,'' Bush said at the time, defending the practice to the Yale Daily News.

Like those of many undergraduates then and now, Bush's Yale years included bouts of serious drinking. As one Bush friend puts it, the term ``binge drinking'' had not been invented, but Bush was a practiced participant.

``At Yale, we all drank,'' said the Rev. Alexander ``Sandy'' Green, who went to Andover and Yale with Bush and is now rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Denver. Asked about Bush's description of himself as irresponsible, Green said, ``The only thing I can imagine is that George was a member of `the Haunt Club,' which was kind of improper and not the `Hunt Club.' Their sole purpose was to mix a garbage can full of screwdrivers before the football games.''

Bush recalls being a patron but not leader of the club.

Tom Seligson, a CBS-TV producer in New York who went to Andover with Bush, said, ``I think George, like all of us, felt the constraints and probably wanted to make up for lost time. College is a time to explode.'' While Seligson never saw Bush use drugs, he said, ``if he didn't use marijuana at that point, then he wasn't alive.''

When asked about this, Bush puts on a resolute face. ``I choose not to detail the mistakes I made,'' Bush said. ``The reason why I don't answer the question is that it is never ending.'' When it is noted that Vice President Al Gore has acknowledged using marijuana in the early 1970s, Bush said, ``I think most Americans in this day and age recognize that people made mistakes. The question is, have you learned from them?''

Bush, who has preached the importance of ``personal responsibility,'' does say he stopped drinking when he was 40, and without explanation adds that he might have been ``too tough'' on himself in describing himself as ``irresponsible.''

College life also included plenty of pranks. Once, Bush and some friends tried to tear down the goal post of an opposing football team, which almost got Bush arrested until a friend's father told police he would watch after him.

``He was as unserious at the appropriate moments as everybody else,'' said a fraternity brother, lawyer Franklin Levy of Boston. ``He was just a decent human being . . . He came from a background where he could have been a snob, standoffish, exclusive everything, but he just wasn't. He was down to earth.''

To hear Bush tell it, he was the last man with a crewcut in the last all-male class at Yale. ``We went from short-haired people'' in the class of 1968 ``and they were long-haired people'' in the class of 1969, Bush said. ``In '68, all of us were figuring out what we were going to do.'' He recalls no protests against the war at Yale.

One thing Bush was figuring was whether to marry during his Yale years. He announced his engagement to a Rice University student in 1967, but the couple canceled the wedding plans for reasons that have not been publicly specified. ``They drifted apart,'' said a Bush spokeswoman, Karen Hughes.

Bush is the first to say that he wasn't a great student or an intellectual. But he developed a love for history, which was his Yale major, and he made clear to friends that his goal was to go into business.

Bush apparently never envisioned getting into politics. He ``never mentioned it,'' Johnson said, a comment echoed by other classmates interviewed for this article. ``He didn't join the Young Republicans, he didn't attend political speeches.''

But he did face the prospect of involuntarily going to war. G. Gregory Gallico, a Yale classmate and Boston physician, recalls discussions at Skull and Bones about the overriding concern of the day: being drafted for the Vietnam War. Bush and many other students had educational draft deferments that would end upon graduation from Yale.

``I think all of us were apprehensive about going to Vietnam,'' Gallico said.

This portion of the Bush story remains hard to piece together, as the records of his local draft board no longer exist, according to Lewis C. Brodsky, a spokesman for the Selective Service System.

Soon enough, however, the draft question would be moot. On June 13, 1968, around the time of the Yale commencement, Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard, which provided him with a deferment. Rather than sign up with one of the active military services, Bush walked into the Houston office of Colonel Walter Staudt.

``I want to be a fighter pilot,'' Bush told Staudt, again following a course charted by his Navy pilot father, who was shot down and rescued in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

Bush received one of the five or six available pilot positions. He served six years in the National Guard, flying an F-102 fighter jet and receiving high marks, but his unit was never called to Vietnam.

``George Walker Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot or hashish or speed,'' said a 1970 National Guard news release quoted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. ``As far as kicks are concerned, Lieutenant Bush gets his from the roaring afterburner of the F-102.''

Staudt, in a telephone interview, said no one, including Bush's father, exerted any influence to get Bush into the National Guard. Moreover, Staudt said, it was unlikely that Bush would have gone to Vietnam if he had signed up with the Air Force as an inexperienced pilot.

``He is honest and sincere,'' Staudt said. ``He wasn't a draft dodger.''

Bush, asked why he didn't join one of the active military services, said that might not have led to combat and might have meant he couldn't fly a fighter jet.

``A lot of pilots were just cargo pilots. I was guaranteed a slot in the Guard and guaranteed a chance to fly fighters, so I chose the Guard. The opportunity came up and I jumped. I was the third selected out of five or six slots.

``The question is: Did I receive preferential treatment?'' Bush said, referring to similar queries that were raised about his father's running mate, Vice President Dan Quayle, who also served in the National Guard during the Vietnam years. Bush then provided his own answer: ``There were some pilot slots available, and I was chosen. I sought and was chosen.

``At the time I wanted to fight, yes, and I was willing to train for whatever experience came my way,'' he continued. ``I actually tried, I tried for what's called a palace alert program from my guard program to transfer on a temporary basis for assignments, and I was too junior to get the assignments.''

After nearly two years of National Guard service, during which Bush was remembered as a jet jock who drove a convertible and partied hard, Bush applied to Harvard Business School, keeping the application secret from his parents until he was accepted.

Bush refers to his time in Cambridge as ``a vocational exercise in capitalism'' and fondly recalls his three years there -- the three-story walkup, the jogs along the Charles. But while Bush walked the MBA walk, he seemed to go out of his way to talk the Texas talk. He wore cowboy boots and often stuck tobacco in his cheek.

``I remember him making a comment about how he didn't think he'd ever see the need to wear a necktie,'' said a classmate, Mark Hopkinson, now president of Allied Devices Corp. of New York. ``He was a Texas boy. He was very clear about that.''

After graduating in 1975, Bush once more followed in his father's footsteps, heading to Midland in hopes of making a fortune in the oil business. And then in 1978, again like his father, he made an early, unsuccessful run for Congress. His Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, tagged Bush as a Connecticut carpetbagger and an Ivy Leaguer.

The memory of his Yankee background still burns. But he is convinced that the lessons he learned in the Ivy League helped in his business dealings, which included being managing general partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and will be crucial to his candidacy. Indeed, Johnson, the longtime friend and appointments secretary, said, ``The 52-year-old George I see today is very similar to the 15-year-old George at Andover, the energy, the discipline.''

``People try to figure me out,'' Bush said. ``Part of what I am is the Midland, Texas, experience, and obviously part of what I am is Andover, Yale, and Harvard. People may like it and may not like it.''

Then, with a nonchalance that would surprise few who have known him over the years, Bush reflected on the prospect of launching a presidential campaign -- one of America's most difficult journeys.

``I have no fear of failure in this venture,'' Bush said. ``Nor do I fear success. If it works out, great. If it doesn't work out, hey, you know, come and see me. I'll be a retired governor living somewhere in Texas. Seriously.''

Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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