What was it like, in the mid-1960s, to be a Texas boy at Andover?
Johnson attended Andover and Yale with George W. Bush and was one of his DKE fraternity brothers. He speaks about the experience of being one of only a few Texas boys at Andover, and provides insight on Bush's role within the "family business" of politics.
Well, it was very foreign place. The days were shorter, the architecture
was different. It was a beautiful, beautiful place, but it was very hard, very
disciplined, very rigorous. I came from Ft. Worth, the governor came from
Houston. We were used to being the top of our class and the belle of the ball
and the smartest and the brightest and so forth, and then we went to a place
where everybody was much better prepared than we young men from Texas. And all
of a sudden we were at the bottom of the hill, not the top of the hill and
everything was a foreign land.
Once you got to know George W. Bush a bit, did you have a sense that
he was also experiencing the same kind of culture shock?
He was upbeat, effervescent, outgoing, energetic, and so he's a can-do kind
of always outgoing guy and always surrounded with people and not one to openly
sort of fret over his situation. But he...was challenged as much as the rest
What was he like at Andover? Was he an athletic star? The best
I think if you did a poll of our class, there were 240 or so students in
our class at Andover, and you asked them, "Name half a dozen of the most
memorable students, the people that have stuck in your memory the longest,"
I'll bet a large number of them would list George Bush in that group. It's
not because he was the Phi Beta Kappa student or the best athlete or the
longest runner or the greatest musician. He was involved in everything. It
was his energy, his verve, his interest in people, his friendships, his just
involvement in the school that was so distinctive.
And he probably had more friends there than anybody else, and not just in his
class or not just in the sports he played, but classes older and classes
younger. This was also true at Yale. He was involved in athletics. He likes
competing. He likes physical activity. He studies hard and then he'll go get
involved in a touch football game or he'd go get involved in a game of bridge
or Frisbee or some prank or another, or a pool game or something. Always,
always on the move. Lots of friendships, always upbeat. Lots of laughter.
But to a very memorable degree. Very memorable degree.
Is there a single quality to which you would attribute his ability to be
that kind of leader, that well-known?
No, I think it's a combination of qualities. I think the qualities to me
that were distinctive about George at Andover were qualities that he exhibited
at Yale and qualities that I see him benefiting from today, which are energy,
and interest in people, a facility with people. A sense of humor. An upbeat,
glass-is-half-full, let's get going, let's not reflect on what's not happening.
Let's get upbeat. Let's get going. Very upbeat. Energetic. People-oriented
person. George's interest in people is exceptional, and it's not a people
skill, it's not a developed ability to remember names. I think it all comes
from a real live, deep-seated interest in people.
When he campaigns, he insists on being able to get out and be with and mix with
the people in the crowd. In fact, it's one of the big political problems they
have in scheduling him because when he goes in and does an event, most
candidates would go in, give a speech, wave a couple of times into the cameras
and then adios. George is much more comfortable making his remarks, fielding
his questions and then getting out and working the crowd. Mixing and mingling
with the people, shaking hands. And if you'll notice the way he works the
crowd, it's not the casual looking over the person's shoulder, looking for the
next hand, looking for the door getting out. There's paying attention. He's
listening. He's genuinely interested in them. It's very hard to do. It takes
a lot of energy, a lot of time, but that's what he likes doing. And he's very,
very comfortable doing that and it gives him great energy and strength and it's
a way he has of communicating to the people there in that room.
One hears that over and over. That's not something he necessarily
worked on and developed because--
"This will help me politically," no. He was that way at age 15 before
anybody in his immediate family was involved in politics.
Did you have a sense that George had certain expectations imposed upon
him by his family?
No, I didn't. He was doing his thing, I was doing my thing. There was
no reference to "my dad," or "my grandfather," or "I've got to do this," or,
"I've got to do that." I mean, he was doing his thing. My sense about the
Bush kids is that they have been raised to be very independent of their parents
and very independent of each other...His mother and father have stayed very
much out of his schooling, his living, his marrying, his professional
My whole experience with him since age 15 is that there is this very
independent relationship between him and his parents and between him and his
siblings. That has been fostered by his parents. And has nothing to do with,
you know, not measuring up. It's just the way his parents have raised their
kids and it seems to have taken. I mean, because they all are doing their
individual things, are relatively independent of their parents, have their own
individual identities, don't tie their identities to who their parents are and
are independent of each other as well.
You also knew George W. at Yale. What were your impressions of him
during that time?
The first day that I remember was arriving in the plane and you got
suitcases and you get in the car and it takes you to New Haven, and getting
out, and there was no one there. And so I started looking around. I saw that
George's luggage was there, and I went around and sort of exploring the campus.
I had never seen the Yale campus before, so I was exploring the campus and I
went into an eatery there on the campus and in the back of the eatery in a big
booth was George and eight or ten people. There was a kid from Oklahoma City
and some people from Houston and some people from other states. George already
seemed to be in the middle of it, surrounded by people. It's an image that [is
a] very vivid image because it was the first time I ran into anybody that I
knew at Yale. It was one of my roommates and he already was surrounded by
eight or ten people...
George was involved in a lot of things. He always liked being active. He
liked playing sports. He played intramural football in the fall and he played
I think intramural basketball in the winter. And he played freshman baseball
in the spring. And then he played rugby, varsity rugby-- I think it was a club
sport at the time, in his last couple, three years at Yale.
He was a hard working student. Probably was in the middle of his class at
Yale, which was quite an accomplishment. I say that because that's where I
was, and I had to work hard to get there and stay there. Again, lots of people,
lots of friendships. People older, people younger. That was a noteworthy part
of his experience at Yale... He was not a politically active person at Yale.
There were Young Republicans and Young Democrats and Young Communists and Young
Martians, and there were lots of different political groups there. George was
not involved in any of them. I don't know that he went to hear any of the
political people that came on campus to speak. I don't know that he went to
any of those. He just exhibited no interest at all in politics at that
You also pledged Deke( DKE)with him. Do you have any stories about that
I remember the first time they gathered all the new pledges together.
There were 50 of us, and they sat us down in this one big hall and they were
telling us that we were the sorriest bunch of pledges that they had ever heard
of, that normally most pledge classes are very tight and very supportive of one
another, and we were 50 individuals and were not interested in each other and
there was no unity in our class. And they said it was really quite deplorable.
To make this point to us, they started calling on people to get up and name
their fellow pledge members. And they called the first person, and he named
four or five. And then he didn't know anybody else's name, and they told him
what a sorry human being he was and how little he cared about his pledges.
Then they called on somebody else and he named eight or ten but didn't know
Anyway, the third or fourth person they called on was George. He got up and
named all 50. There was this hush that fell over the room. It was really
remarkable and it wasn't that he had studied the 50 names beforehand. He
probably knew 35 or 40 of the people before rush ever began and met the other
10 or 15 the previous week as they were all going through rush. His
relationships had spread out over his class to where he just knew all the
people. And again, it wasn't a study deal. It's just that he had that much
interest in knowing everybody, and everybody knew him and it was really
incredible. The members of the fraternity decided they would come up with some
other exercise to tell us how sorry we were and not go with the
how-many-people-do-you-know trick anymore.
George Bush Sr. ran for the Senate during this time and lost. Do you
remember what G. W.'s reaction was?
What I remember is, it was the first time that I ever saw George do
anything that directly reflected the fact that his father was interested in
politics. He left school for the weekend to go home to Houston, was home
through the election night. He was in Houston for like four nights, and he
came back the next day and commiserated for about a second and a half over the
fact that his dad had lost, and then it was business as usual. There wasn't a
lot of hand wringing and a lot of "Oh, woe is us." It was, "Okay, off we go to
the next whatever." And I suspect-- What I've understood his-- What I've read
about his father's reaction to that defeat and his father's reaction and
mother's reaction to defeat in '92, it was very, very similar. "Let's don't
hang out heads. Let's get on with it." And George's reaction was very similar
He certainly seems to be protective of the family name. Some might
even suggest defensive?
George is protective not of the name, George is protective of the people.
When you attack people that George loves, you're attacking him and he's very
territorial about his parents. And was the attack dog in whatever it was, '88,
when he was working in his dad's campaign in Washington. And took great
offense at critical remarks made about him by members of the press. And it's
not a protection of the name, of the aura, of the family. It's a protection of
those individuals. His mother, his father...
[But] let me make one more comment. The reaction to the defeat in 1964, none
of George's self-worth was tied to his father's political fortunes. Who his
father was, or he wasn't. Who he was in business, who he was in politics.
George had his own thing going. George Bush from Houston, Texas. And so
whether his father succeeded or not had little to do about whether George
succeeded or not. I never have ever seen any attempt by either George's
parents or George himself to link up who he was and who they are. That gets
back to that independence that engendered him, within that family.
Do you have the sense that his running for president has always been
part of his plan, that it's something he's always wanted?
No, no. When he decided to run for governor, I don't think he had any
thought at all about running for president. He wanted to be a real good
governor. When he decided I think it was towards the end of his first term as
governor, that they were doing some polls about likely presidential candidates
four years hence and I was in the room when Karen Hughes as communication
director came in and said, "Governor, you're not going to believe this.
They've got this poll out about likely presidential candidates and you're in
the lead. You're the favored candidate for four years from now." And there
was just total disbelief and it appeared to me that the thought had never
entered his mind until there started to be some feedback from the populace that
they wanted George W. Bush to run for president.
So as it became more and more real and more and more a possibility and more and
more plans being made to run or not, a lot of people tried to talk him out of
it. Very close personal friends of his and Laura's tried to talk him out of
this. And one woman in particular, a good friend of theirs for many years,
just pleaded with him not to run. It would so irrevocably change their lives
that she just asked them please not to run. "Don't do this to yourself." And
his response to her was, "Look, I share your concern. But if I don't run, who
else is there? If not me, who? Who do we want-- Who are we going to be
pleased with as our next president? We-- I would love to think that there's
somebody else out there that we could all get behind, but I don't know who that
My take on that was that there is this calling, this sense of there's a need
there and I, George W. Bush, have some of what it takes to satisfy that need.
He has no misconceptions about Washington is equal to Austin. That what he has
been so successful at working with people here in Austin, he can be equally
successful in Washington. But I guarantee you that he has a sense that he can
be much more successful than some recent presidents have been and bring some of
that bipartisan relationship and a focus on end results and depoliticization of
it. But I think he's fully aware of what the differences are between
Washington and Austin. And believes that much of what-- In the same sense that
he has brought great, positive change and a great track record to Texas, he can
bring similar progress and change and accomplishment for the country. Not for
him, but for the country.
And does not believe that there's anybody else out there that could do that in
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