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Playing Politics

In 1978, George made a halfhearted stab at politics when he ran for an open Congressional seat. Maybe he didn't know what else to do, other than try to follow in daddy's footsteps. But Bush's heart wasn't really in it. Ultimately, it just didn't matter to him whether he would represent West Texas in the House of Representatives. And although he liked campaigning and showed an aptitude for it, his Democratic opponent mopped the floor with him.

Bush's rookie mistakes didn't help. At a candidate forum early on in the race, Bush told the crowd: "Today is the first time I've been on a real farm." That didn't exactly impress the rural voters.

And his decision to show himself jogging around a track in one of his television spots only underscored how out-of-touch he was with the common man. Almost nobody jogged in West Texas.

And in the debates, Bush tried his best to come off sounding smart and serious. He made references to complicated economic policies. Many voters in the 1978 campaign were turned off by George W. Bush's rich boy image. They correctly figured him for some kind of ring-in east coast preppy pretending to be a Texan.

George's opponent pegged him immediately as a spoiled rich kid from New England. A faux Texan. A Yankee carpetbagger. In contrast, the Democrat assumed the role of the earnest-but-friendly local boy. He constantly harped on George's elitist upbringing, as evident in this radio ad:

"In 1961, when Kent Hance graduated from Dimmitt High School in the 19th congressional district, his opponent George W. Bush was attending Andover Academy in Massachusetts. In 1965, when Kent Hance graduated from Texas Tech, his opponent was at Yale University. And while Kent Hance graduated from University of Texas Law School, his opponent -- get this, folks -- was attending Harvard."

The Democrat began telling crowds: "Yale and Harvard don't prepare you as well for running for the 19th Congressional district as Texas Tech does." It really got to Bush. He complained to a local newspaper about being pigeonholed as the outsider:

"We've been attacked for where I was born, for who my family is, and where my money has come from. I don't think that's fair."

Although he was gaining on the Democrat near the end, Bush lost the race. But the experience taught him everything he would someday need to mount an effective campaign. He discovered that voters aren't looking the smartest candidate, or the guy with the most experience. They want somebody who makes them comfortable. Somebody who's one of them. A regular guy.

He filed away all of that information in his head, and then turned to business.

George At Work

People like to assume that George got rich from oil speculation. It's a simpler and more inspiring explanation than the truth. He did launch an oil business, Arbusto Energy, in 1978. But it was a financial disaster from the very beginning and never turned a profit. Fortuitously, it got swallowed up in a 1982 merger with another energy company named Spectrum 7. The merger was engineered by a couple of Bush family friends. For some reason they opted to rescue the son of the Vice President of the United States from his own financial catastrophe and make him the CEO of the merged entity.

Four years later, Spectrum 7 was itself floundering underneath $3 million in debt. Which is when Harken Energy, yet another company run by a family friend, came in and bailed out Bush's enterprise a second time. George was given a fat wad of stock options and a $120,000 annual salary, but no actual work to do.

Technically, Bush's official capacity was as a member of the company's audit committee, charged with overseeing the major deals and transactions to ensure that everything was on the up-and-up. But as the son of the U.S. President, Bush's true function was to act as a lure for investment money. His task was schmoozing business contacts and outside investors, interested in converting cash into a friendly acquaintanceship with the President's offspring. And he was good at it. Hi, my name is George Jr. My Daddy lives in the White House. Let me show you around.

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This page was last updated Thu Feb 10 15:36:08 2005 Pacific time