Bush Brothers: George W., Jeb Run to Right of Their Father

Article excerpt

Like most Republicans here, retired oil executive Clark Bissett has long admired former President George Bush, who used to hunt quail in the fields outside this tiny south Texas town.

But when Bush's eldest son, George W., brought his campaign for the Texas governorship to a farm bureau rally here recently, Bissett assessed him an improvement on the old man. "I find him to be a little more aggressive, a little more outspoken," he said.

That description, in fact, fits both George W. Bush and his younger brother Jeb, who two weeks ago brushed aside his last challenger for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Florida.

More articulate and confrontational than their father, the brothers exemplify the generational drift to the right in the Republican Party. Although President George Bush often seemed uncertain of his ideological compass, his sons are running confident campaigns on the cutting edge of conservative thought - particularly, values issues centered on out-of-wedlock births, welfare and crime.

In style and appearance, the brothers echo their parents, George and Barbara Bush; but in their language and agenda, they sound more in tune with conservative social theorists like William J. Bennett and Charles Murray.

"This . . . blaming those of us who try to live decent lives for society's ills has got to end," says George W. Bush.

Says Jeb Bush: "We have to dismantle the welfare state if we have any chance of solving our crime problem."

Both Bushes are locked in difficult battles against older, moderate Democratic incumbents: Lawton Chiles in Florida and Ann Richards in Texas. With polls showing both races close, each could turn on the same question: In these increasingly conservative and Republican states, will voters put more weight on ideological affinity or on experience.

As in many families, the Bush brothers are defined mostly by their contrasts - as if Jeb, seven years younger at 41, filled in the spaces left by his exuberant, impetuous older brother. "George is aggressive, highly energetic, very quick-witted, quick to make decisions," says their younger brother, Neil. "Jeb is very serious, always has been. When someone presents an issue, he will study it and study it and come to a conclusion."

Born in July 1946, George W. Bush is six weeks older than Bill Clinton. He spent his childhood in west Texas, then followed his father's path through Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale. After college he comfortably drifted, living the high life in Houston and casting about for direction. He unexpectedly enrolled at Harvard Business School - earning an MBA - and then, just as unexpectedly, followed his father's example again and returned to west Texas to start his own oil exploration firm.

Through the 1980s, he rode the waves of the oil business with only modest success: On two occasions he was forced to find larger suitors into which to merge his struggling exploration firms - transactions that Democrats now suggest offered inflated prices to rescue the then-vice president's son. …