George Bush: A Life Through Letters

He wrote to Alexander Haig on June 27, 1973:

There is a feeling of confusion; there is a feeling of “not knowing”; and there is a feeling of wanting to believe the President which can be totally shored up by yet another Presidential statement.

But a year later, he conveyed a different feeling in a letter to his sons:

Dear Lads:

… My Dad felt strongly the firm obligation to put something into the system. He felt compelled to give, to be involved and to lead — and that brings me to the worst of times. I mean the part about Watergate and the abysmal amorality it connotes. You must know my inner feelings on this.

But Mr. Bush survived Watergate and became C.I.A. director. In a letter to an old friend on May 4, 1976, he wrote:

… I’ve never worked so hard in my life, and after three months here I conclude this is the most interesting job I’ve ever had.


On March 30, 1982, he wrote the actress Katharine Hepburn:

We respect you so — and I guess as a little kid I thought you were the meowest of the cat’s meows. … But this is about last night’s Oscar too. Hooray for you — 3 cheers for excellence and style and class and honor and warmth. 3 cheers for your decency.

In the 1984 re-election campaign, Mr. Bush would face off against the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, a congresswoman from New York. He wrote to her on July 12, 1984:

Dear Geraldine,

It is a good job. Congratulations on your selection. Good luck — up to a point.

In 1987, the Reagan administration was consumed by the Iran-contra scandal, a controversy that did not go unnoticed by Mr. Bush’s mother, Dorothy. Mr. Bush tried to assure her in a letter dated Jan. 11:

Dear Mum,

Loved your post-visit letter; but let me clear up one point. The President did NOT know about the diversion of funds to the Contras. … Don’t worry about all this stuff, please.


Though his letter writing shows a facility with language, his speeches were not always well received. He turned to the speechwriter Peggy Noonan for help with his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988. He gave her a staccato list of his traits and what he hoped to do:

I’m just me!

Know where I want to go — Have the experience to get there:

Jobs, peace, education

I know what drives me-comforts me: family, faith, friends.

As president, Mr. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq after its strike in Kuwait. In his diary on Feb. 14, 1991:

K-Day is approaching, and I feel quite content. I wish it were tomorrow. I have no qualms now about ordering a ground war — none at all.

After the war had been won, Mr. Bush turned his attention in June 1991 to another matter: his funeral.

I want the song “Last full Measure of Devotion” sung by a good male soloist at any church or memorial service. Gravestone — the plain stones we see at Arlington. I would like my navy number on the back of it. … Also on the stone in addition to what I already requested: “He loved Barbara very much.”

His relationship with the news media was at once close and cordial but also had some serious friction. On April 23, 1992, he wrote of being concerned about the latest “Devroyism,” a reference to an article by Ann Devroy, who covered the White House for The Washington Post.

This article read like ‘influence peddling’ and I am disturbed by that.

But when Ms. Devroy was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Bush wrote her a long letter of encouragement on July 26, 1996:

You know that, for there was a tension; perhaps an inevitable tension, that clouded things between us — never a visceral dislike, but a tension. I was the out of touch President, the wimp; you were the beltway insider who thrived on who’s up, who’s down — who will be fired, who will win. …

Strangely, wonderfully, I feel close to you know. I want you to win this battle. I want that same toughness that angered me and frustrated me to a fare-thee-well at times to see you through your fight.


On Aug. 1, 1998, he advised them both to ignore any negative accounts in the news media, especially those that made fun of his own occasional mangling of words:

Do not worry when you see stories that compare you favorably to a Dad for whom English was a second language and for whom the word destiny meant nothing.

When George W. Bush’s election was settled by the Supreme Court in 2000, his father wrote a letter to the longtime friend, Time magazine columnist Hugh Sidey:

The fat lady sang. The ordeal ended. And now a huge new chapter in the lives of the Bush family opens up.

That new chapter included another war in Iraq, this time ordered by his son, and Mr. Bush wrote him an email on the day that Saddam Hussein fell from power:

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.

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