Heirs Apparent; the Triumphs and Tragedies of First Families

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Heirs Apparent; the Triumphs and Tragedies of First Families


Byline: Cynthia Grenier, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It seems we have a presidential child, George W. Bush, to thank for the engaging "All the Presidents' Children: Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families." When Doug Wead, who worked for him back in 1988, posed the question "Want me to do a paper on presidential children?" Mr. Bush replied "Sure."

Mr. Wead completed the 44-page report within three weeks, but the research on those pages left him seriously troubled. He discovered that presidential children faced higher than average rates of divorce and alcoholism, even premature death. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a father of six, is quoted in the preface saying that, "One of the worst things in the world is being the child of a president. It's a terrible life they lead."

Interestingly, the dark side of the lives of so many presidential children did not spook George W. even when Mr. Wead presented his documentation. At that time, the author pointed out the singular similarity between the families of FDR and George H. W. Bush: Both presidents had five children, four boys and one girl; both had another child who died young. One Roosevelt son went West, just as Neil Bush had done, one went to Florida like Jeb and finally, FDR Jr., the firstborn and namesake, went home to New York, where he ran for governor.

In 1988, there had been discreet talk among Bush friends that George W. was planning to return to Texas to run for governor. Not unnaturally, George W. wanted to know if FDR Jr. had won. Mr. Wead told him no, "In fact, no presidential child has ever been elected governor of a state."George W. groaned, but six years later he was elected governor of Texas and reelected in a historic landslide with 69 percent of the vote.

Nine years after that discussion, when Mr. Bush was leading in the national presidential preference polls, Mr. Wead asked him what he was going to do. "I'm not going to run," he declared. As to why not, he answered Mr. Wead, "Because of the girls," referring to his twin daughters. "They would be in college then and it would ruin their lives." Mr. Wead posed the question, "Did it ruin your life?" George W paused, "No. It made my life."

Chapter One is titled "The Curse of the Heirs Apparent," and, scanning the 176 years separating the firstborn son of a president to be elected president from the next firstborn son of a president to attain that status George W. …

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