Where Was George?
The president was dressing for a speech to a $1,000-a-chicken-breast fund-raising dinner in Houston on Halloween, 1991 when his press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater , sent him a story from the day's harvest of wire-service cuttings. Bush scanned it. He had taken yet another partisan shot, this one from Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell, for his seemingly untroubled view of America's economic distress. The charge that he was doing too little to put things right was routine stuff, even for a man as thin-skinned as the president; the bolder of his advisers were telling him as much, in terms more polite but no less urgent. What put Senator Mitchell's comments over the top was that he had likened Bush to Herbert Hoover.
Till then, Bush had ignored repeated warnings to come out fighting for his presidency or risk losing it; it was a measure of his resistance, and his team's growing frustration, that they felt it necessary to use guile to move him where open diplomacy had failed. This time, the ploy worked. The president was steaming nicely when he and Fitzwater encountered one another an hour later in a holding room at the Sheraton Astrodome hotel.
"Well, Marlin," Bush said, his smile veiling his anger, "you're trying to cause trouble by showing me this before dinner."
"I was trying to get you fired up, sir," Fitzwater answered, smiling back.
"One of these days, we're gonna have to get into this," Bush said, heading for the dais.
By "this," he meant politics, and he did get into it for one rare time that night, to electric effect. The event, before he went on, had bordered on disaster. The night was cold, the local economy sour, and enthusiasm low for writing checks to the homeboy president. A large empty space yawned at one end of the ballroom, where a dozen tables had gone unsold, and the open display of passion was as wanting as at a symposium on semiotics. The audience barely feigned interest in the warm-up speeches. "It's called quiet confidence," a young advance