TIME: You once said that to understand people you have to look at their family.
BUSH: You look at his family and where he was raised.
TIME: So let's start with your grandfather Prescott Bush. He was a patrician Connecticut banker and Senator, part of the old-line Yankee Wasp establishment.
BUSH: He was big, a very dignified person. When we went to dinner at his house, we wore a tie. I never wore a tie, only to church, barely. My dad would talk about my grandfather's lesson--before you enter public service you go out and make some money and take care of your family. But my grandfather believed money wasn't how you measured your life. If you had money it came with an obligation to serve. He once said that the most important thing a person could do was public service.
TIME: Your father seemed torn between being a scion of this New England gentry and being the Texan that he cast himself as.
BUSH: Someone once said of my dad that he got to Texas a little too late in life, he was already well bred. That wasn't the case with me!
TIME: But isn't there some of that old-line establishment blood left in you?
BUSH: Not really. I'm not inhibited by class lines. I can meet and get comfortable with anyone. In fact, I really never noticed that social elite structure.
BUSH: Well, I became aware, I guess, of some of this structure. But I didn't spend much time thinking about it. My grandparents were not--they lived that life in Hobe Sound and Greenwich--but they were humble people.
BUSH: I found them to be humble.
TIME: When did you decide to distance yourself from this background?
BUSH: I don't know if it was a conscious decision. It's a world apart. Greenwich to Midland. I often say of the difference between me and Dad is that he went to Greenwich Country Day and I went to San Jacinto Junior High. In Midland there was no class structure.
TIME: But you sure shared a lot of the same upbringing: Andover, Yale, even Skull and Bones. Did you have any qualms, say, about joining an elite secret club like Bones?
BUSH: No qualms at all. I was honored. I was fairly nonchalant. I didn't view it as a great heritage thing. I didn't take it all that seriously.
TIME: Demystify it a bit for those who might think it's a cross between a Masonic Lodge and the Trilateral Commission. Did your father show up for your initiation, like your grandfather showed up for his?
BUSH: Without revealing all the great secrets? I got a few of my old club mates who could demystify it right off the bat. My dad didn't tap me. Someone a year ahead of me tapped me. There was an entry celebration. I can't remember whether my dad showed up or not. I don't think so.
TIME: What was the most important thing about your family legacy?
BUSH: The unconditional love I got from my family liberated me. It gave me a sense of security. We were all at a church in Maine recently and the preacher asked whether anyone in the congregation had a perfect family, and the only hand that went up without hesitation was Dad's. It helped Jeb and me not be afraid of defeat.
TIME: Your family legacy surely also pushed you into politics?