There has been nothing quite like it in history, an 80-year-old couple with three artificial hips between them, cheering, coordinating, rushing, talking, chuckling and helping shape the biggest power game of our time, of which, of course, they are the godparents--the Republican National Convention.
After it was all over, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara pronounced themselves a little weary (he slept through his usual 5:45 a.m. rising time once home) but happy. Last convention? Barbara: "Yes." The ex-President: "No." Situation to be negotiated.
They held down the presidential box for three days while their oldest son, President George W., campaigned his way to New York and their second son, Florida's Governor Jeb, battened down his state for another big blow, Hurricane Frances. They watched with pride as half a dozen relatives caucused in delegations from Maryland, Connecticut, Missouri and Rhode Island. When Bill Marriott, the hotel impresario, sprang for a Bush-family dinner at the downtown Ritz-Carlton, 96 people jammed the room. "Lot of unfamiliar straphangers in there," declared the former President.
The Bush family is such a national force that even the former President at times has to pinch himself and wonder. He was standing in Madison Square Garden and watching his son George W. He leaned down and said to Barbara, "Do you realize our son is President of the United States?" Whether George W. was President or not, the father could still cast a critical eye his son's way. "Great speech," he said. "But maybe a little too long."
Barbara proclaimed she was "amazed" how the family members had matured in four years. At the last G.O.P. Convention, she fretted that grandson Pierce Bush, then 14, the outspoken son of Neil, had developed an affection for television cameras, and they for him. "I hope he does not peak too soon," she said. This time around, she found Pierce, a freshman at Georgetown University, to be on a commendable schedule of maturity. He appeared without a ripple--many pounds lighter and far more restrained--on Larry King Live with his grandfather Bush and uncle Marvin Bush. "Doro was Miss Shy," said Barbara about her daughter Dorothy Koch. "But this time, she was all over the place," at caucuses, on television, and when protesters cried "murderer" and "killer," she soldiered on, once being taken in tow by a concerned New York City cop.
When the former President read about one New York City policeman who was knocked down and kicked by protesters, he got a call through to the man, Detective William Sample, who was scheduled to be promoted. Bush thanked him for his courage, congratulated him on his new rank and was delighted when the fellow said matter-of-factly, "I'll be down at my desk tomorrow a proud sergeant."
Bush 41 had Maria Shriver beside him when her husband Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched his zinger about "economic girly men." The ex-President loved it but restrained his urge to jump up or shout because it had to be tough for Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan, who was just at the Democratic Convention. He scurried around and got a couple of ARNOLD signs for her young kids.