the choice 2000

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interview: doug hannah
photo of doug hannah

Hannah was a Houston friend of George W. Bush. He provides insight on George's relationship with his family and about life in Houston in the 1970s. He speaks about Bush's "wild days" and reflects on how he was affected by and dealt with his father's celebrity.
What was George like as a boy? What was his demeanor?

My favorite story about George is that, the game didn't end till he was ahead, so it was hard to beat him, because if you got ahead and stayed ahead, you just kept on going till he caught up; and then as soon as he got ahead, you could quit and move onto a new game....Basketball, board games, knock hockey was a game that we played an awful lot of, and cards. You played till he was ahead, that was the name of the game.

What were his parents like?

They were more fun to be with than my contemporaries. They were fun people. Part of what made George so much fun to be with is that when you were with him, you got to be with his parents. It's not a mystery that they have been successful and that they have captured the attention of this country. They're entertaining, intelligent people, and great fun to be with. It was a reason to be at the Bush's house, you were with good people, thinking people, fun people, entertaining people.

What was his relationship with the other kids? What did they think of him?

I think everyone liked George. One of the magnetisms of his personality is that when you meet him, you like him. And that's a God-given talent. And I knew very few people who didn't like George. I mean, they just did, they liked him. He was fun to be with. They gravitated to him. He told good stories. He was a good listener. And people enjoyed being with him.

Was he political as a kid? Did he have qualities like that?

Any time we had a party, George made it a goal to speak to every person that came to the party, every single person, and spend a minute or two minutes or however long he wanted to. He didn't miss anybody. And to me, that's sort of an early introduction into the skills that it takes to be a truly good politician.... I'm not telling you I can explain why he did it...but I think it was natural. And, it was also a Bush trait: every Bush I have ever known was very good at working a room....It's got to be genetic, or passed down from a few generations...

In your conversations with him, did you ever notice that there was a fear that he would not live up to amazingly high family traditions?

He's not trying to impress anybody.  If he doesn't need to spend a dollar, he's not going to do it.  He's run the state that way.  I don't remember him being concerned or worried about that. But I don't think there was confusion on whether he thought he was capable of doing that. The Bush family, the Pierce family, the Walker Family, all had amazingly high expectations of people. But I think George thought he was up to it. And so, if you think that you're capable of living up to those expectations, then you don't have to worry about whether you can or not...When he set his goals, there was no doubt that whatever goal he set for himself he would accomplish. He wanted to be a captain of the basketball team at Andover--and he was. He wanted to be the head of his fraternity when he went to Yale--he was. He wanted to be a cheerleader at Yale--I don't know why--but he was. Most of the goals that he set for himself he accomplished. And there are not a lot of teenagers that can say that they've done that.

What is he like during his years with the National Guard?

I think he was on a high at that point. He was a pilot, he was flying...He was pretty proud of himself. I think he was a good pilot. I remember meeting with George and some of the more senior pilots that he traveled with. George was always the lowest commissioned officer that he ever traveled with. I didn't realize till years later how unusual it was that majors and captains would associate with a second and first lieutenant, but they were doing it...People enjoyed being around George. If you came to Houston and spent time with George, you were going to have a good time, and you were going to have it at a pretty high scale.

During these years, the early 70s, did he drink too much?

Not that I noticed. The overdrinking that he alludes to, which, he says he quit drinking by the time that he was 4o, which would have been in 1986--he may possibly have escalated the drinking that he was doing, prior to the times that I spent with him. But it was endemic of the group of people that we hung out with that overdrinking was not a problem. So it may have been when George started spending an awful lot of time alone, working for ... (inaudible) and working on ranches in New Mexico, and spending time in Midland, alone, that his drinking escalated, but it certainly was not like that when I knew him.

Does he have a temper? Did you ever see it?

He's got a short fuse, but there's not a lot of dynamite there. It comes and goes very quickly. It was there, as a kid, but very brief... Mrs. Bush and George and I had teed off one Wednesday morning, and she had invited the club champion to join us, so there was four of us. And the first hole went swimmingly. The second shot on the second hole, George hit a bad shot and cursed. And his mom, who regularly told him not to do that, said, George, don't do that again or I'm going to send you in. And George responded as you would expect a 2o year old to respond, and she was not amused, and sent him in--said--You go sit in the car and wait for us. We're going to play golf, and we'll be back when we get back. And off he went. He marched off, and sat in the car and waited for us. And it was an eye-opener, to me. If it had been me, I would have apologized, because I would have preferred to stay out there and play golf. But the three of us finished the eighteen holes of golf and came back and George was still sitting in the car. So she made her point...

Did you see him affected by the fact that his father was getting more attention:

Actually, the opposite. When is father went off to be the ambassador, that didn't seem to impress George very much. When his father went off to be the liaison in China, that didn't seem to impress him very much. When he came back and was head of the Republican Party, I don't know that he was impressed by that. I think he was impressed when his father was the head of the C.I.A. And I know he was impressed when his father was tapped to be the Vice President. That brings with it an aura of impressiveness, for sure. It was impressive to us that ... (inaudible) both of them, the way their lives changed. They couldn't just walk out to the golf course and play golf anymore. They couldn't just walk out and play tennis anymore, without an entourage of people carrying sub machine guns and little black pouches around. It was a different world... He and his father would golf and tennis regularly, at Christmas time and in the summertime, and always with an entourage. It was a change. I remember saying to George, I could not live like this. It would be a very tough way to live. Because I'd walk into the showers our country club and there would be Secret Service agents standing there. I mean, it was just insane. Your life becomes totally different when you reach that high an office.

How did George react to all the security and all the hubub about being the son?

Earlier on, George hadn't enjoyed that so much, but there was a transition, when you could see that he was enjoying it. And as recently as '92 or '93, I remember George coming to town, to play tennis, and his dad had said he would get him a partner and got Pete Sampras for him as a partner, and George enjoyed the hell out of that. So clearly, there's a transition where you say, I'm either going to let this overwhelm me or I'm going to sit back and enjoy this ride as long as it goes. And that happened, I saw that happen. And rather than being intimidated by it or bothered by the attention or bothered by the hubbub of moving in little clusters of people, most of whom are wearing hearing aids, you start saying, Well, I'm going to let this happen, I'm going to enjoy this, and move on.

Back in the days that you knew him, would you describe him as frugal?

Never pick up a check, never spent his dollar when he could spend somebody else's dollar. If somebody else was treating, he was there. Cheaper to go to somebody else's house for dinner than to go out to dinner. Cheaper to go to a deb party than to go out to dinner. Tight. Frugal. Cautious. I think tight's probably closest to the description.

What does that say about him?

Pragmatic. He's not trying to impress anybody. If he doesn't need to spend a dollar, he's not going to do it. He's run the state that way. I presume he'll run the government that way. I certainly approve of that. If somebody else will pay for something that you don't have to pay for, let them do it.

Is he smart enough to be president?

Well, there's actually two answers to that. One is, clearly, you do not have to be very smart to be president, that's not a criteria. We have way too much history of the opposite being true for us to say you have to be smart to be president. But George is sneaky smart, and I think part of his strength is, if you choose to think that he's not very smart, so be it. You're not going to worry about whether you think he's smart or not. But he's plenty smart. And it could be an absolute ally if your smarter than your opponents think you are.

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