President George H.W. Bush: Quick with a Quip!

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George H.W. Bush visited Denver briefly in 1980 when he was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination. I was then a political reporter.  His staff told me he wouldn’t have time for a conventional interview, but an unconventional one was possible.

So I went to what was then Stapleton Airport to be picked up by a BMW, driven by the son of Michigan’s GOP governor. Mr. Bush was already in the back seat, where I joined him. We were driven around while I asked him a lot of questions, mostly about the many international crises that had developed around the globe. He was impressive: This former C.I.A. chief had clear-eyed, well-informed answers to all my questions. On both international and domestic issues, he was running as a pragmatic alternative to Reagan, deriding “voodoo economics” and other aspects of Reagan’s campaign. (He did not tell me that he had “the Big Mo,” his famous term for momentum.)

The next step was to attend a private reception that evening for Mr. Bush, where he was expected to speak. I drove to a very upscale neighborhood and entered a mansion, where I was led to a handsomely landscaped courtyard. A stage had been constructed, with velvet curtains on both sides. I was given a chair behind one curtain, and I noticed one of Mr. Bush’s senior advisers behind the other one.  When Mr. Bush came onto the stage, he looked over the glittering members of Denver’s high society, clinked the ice in his glass, and said, “Gee, it’s great to be back with the grass roots!”

The commemoration of Mr. Bush’s passing also reminded me of something I learned when I was working in Washington. A Democratic friend who had connections with Bill and Hillary Clinton told me that the two couples treated the White House staff very differently. The Bushes had always lived lives of privilege, and were accustomed to servants in their homes. So they quickly got to know those in the White House, treating them “like family,” one of them told my friend. But the Clintons came from much humbler roots and weren’t used to having “strangers” around them at all hours. They made no attempt to be friendly. My friend said that his White House contact conceded that they talked about the Bushes among themselves, and the Clintons may have suspected that the staff gossiped about them. This liberal hopes that the relationship changed as the years went on.

 ~Barbara Haddad Ryan

(OLLI Member and  OLLI Voices Team)

 

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