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Power and Influence

You may already know about the connections between the Rockefeller organisation and the petrochemical industry in the United States but what you may not know is that Rockefeller also has over 200 investments in pharmaceutical/medical biotechnology companies, a fact further explored in the book "Rockefeller Medicine Men."

Furthermore, many key members of the current US Administration, Armed Forces, Judiciary, Federal Reserve Board and others are members of at least one of the following groups: The Bilderberg Group, The Council On Foreign Relations and The Trilateral Commission. The connections between George W. Bush and the Rockefeller organisation are set out in the following article from the New York Times:

Is There Room on a Republican Ticket for Another Bush?

By Sam Howe Verhovek, New York Times, September 13th 1998

With his father serving on international boards like the Rockefeller-financed Trilateral Commission, the candidate found himself hectored by groups who said he, too, was surely a tool of the New World Order. He finally had to go on record with his opposition to ''one-world government and one monetary system.''

George Walker Bush was visiting his parents in the White House one day when the talk turned to religion, which is precisely the subject that some powerful factions in the Republican Party want their Presidential standard-bearer to talk about, forcefully, in 2000. But Bush, sitting one day recently on a sofa in the Governor's office at the Texas State Capitol, says he is ''cautious about wearing my religion on my sleeve in the political process.'' And he offers this particular story to explain why.

''Mother and I were arguing -- not arguing, having a discussion -- and discussing who goes to Heaven,'' recalls the Governor, who at the time had religion very much on his mind. Having dealt with a gathering drinking problem by abruptly swearing off alcohol, he had vowed a renewed commitment to his family and his faith. Bush pointed to the Bible: only Christians had a place in heaven. ''I said, Mom, look, all I can tell you is what the New Testament says. And she said, well, surely, God will accept others. And I said, Mom, here's what the New Testament says. And she said, O.K., and she picks up the phone and calls Billy Graham. She says to the White House operator, Get me Billy Graham.

''I said, Mother, what are you doing?'' Bush continues, chuckling at the memory. ''Seriously. And about two minutes later, the phone rings, and it's Billy Graham, and Mother and I are on the phone with Billy. And Mother explains the circumstances, and Billy says, From a personal perspective, I agree with what George is saying, the New Testament has been my guide. But I want to caution you both. Don't play God. Who are you two to be God?''

For George W. Bush, a man who, in large part because of his famous name, shows up in most polls these days as the very early front-runner for a Republican Presidential nomination battle that is still more than a year away, it is an interesting story to choose to relate. Bush says it explains in part why he urged an end to ''name calling'' this summer when a fracas broke out over his party's decision to bar a gay Republican group from setting up a booth at the G.O.P. state convention.

''There are some great admonitions in the Bible, talking about, you know, don't try to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye when you've got a log in your own,'' Bush says. ''I'm mindful of that.''

And in his nearly four years as Governor of the nation's second-largest state, there has been strikingly little name-calling from George Bush. He talks constantly about being a ''unifier, not a divider,'' and few things seem to make him happier than forging a bipartisan consensus on some big bill. He has grown so close to some Democratic lawmakers that he once said there was ''no way in the world'' he could bring himself to campaign against them. Running now for his own re-election, Bush campaigns ferociously in Democratic strongholds like El Paso, where he breaks into near-fluent Spanish before a delighted crowd at a ''Viva Bush!'' rally and where the Democratic Mayor, Carlos Ramirez, introduces him as ''the best Governor of Texas that El Paso has ever had.''

For these and many other reasons, the 52-year-old eldest son of former President George Bush is riding a broad wave of popularity that, if current polls hold true, will carry him to a sweeping victory this November as the first Governor re-elected in Texas in 24 years, the first ever elected to back-to-back four-year terms. Already, more than 100 Democratic officeholders have endorsed him, including the state's Lieutenant Governor, a gruff political veteran named Bob Bullock, who announced his support for Bush's re-election even though he is godfather to the daughter of Bush's Democratic opponent, Garry Mauro, the state Land Commissioner.

But if all this bodes well for Bush's re-election prospects in Texas, and arguably for his prospects as a national candidate in a general election, it also raises some obvious and perhaps treacherous questions for the Governor. These are questions he would surely find tossed at him by primary opponents if, in a step he is widely expected to take, he runs for his father's old job. Just why do all those Democrats like him so much? What kind of a Republican is he?

Why, for example, have some of his fiercest battles been with his fellow Republicans? Some, including the state chairman of his party at the time, are still furious with the Governor over a tax proposal he devised that would have radically reshaped the state tax system, providing more money for some of the poorest public schools in part by slapping new taxes on some of the biggest industries. Reticent on abortion, disinclined to denounce homosexuals, a self-described fiscal conservative who is willing to spend money on new programs like a huge public-school reading initiative, Bush does not seem to be offering the orthodoxy that some Republican conservatives insist will be necessary in the party's candidate in 2000. For all the speculation right now over whether Bush will want to run for President -- speculation that has only seemed to grow more fevered as scandal engulfs President Clinton and threatens Vice President Gore, the Democrat with the most obvious Presidential ambitions -- the more intriguing question may in time turn out to be whether today's Republican Party wants someone like Bush as its nominee.

Many party foot soldiers, still angry over the way they feel the 1996 nominee, Bob Dole, essentially ignored abortion, school prayer and other issues they care most about, are determined to find a candidate who will carry the torch -- or else. Many use Dole's name as a verb, and not in a nice way -- ''We won't get Doled again,'' they say.

Bush insists that he is a cultural conservative and promotes what he calls ''the responsibility era.'' But candidates are already lining up to his right, including the deep-pocketed Steve Forbes, the flat-tax fanatic of 1996 who this time around is making an all-out pitch to social conservatives. Forbes describes a ban on the procedure known as partial-birth abortion as his foremost priority, ''the first step toward putting abortion on the road to ultimate extinction in the United States of America.''

Bush describes himself as ''pro-life,'' supports the partial-birth abortion ban and pledges to propose a bill next year requiring parental consent for a minor's abortion -- ''issues over which we can make a difference,'' he says. But on the basic question of the right of most women in most circumstances to obtain an abortion, his position is that the Supreme Court has already settled the law. And, to date, he has not pledged any kind of crusade to sweep away those rulings; whether he might do so in the heat of a primary campaign remains an open question.

The Bush balancing act will be infinitely tougher to sustain in the glare of the national stage. And how odd it seems, at least to some, that so many Republicans might look to a man named George Bush as their savior, given that George Bush lost it all for the party just six years ago.

President Bush was at a steakhouse in council Bluffs, Iowa, one October day in 1994, reminiscing with some supporters from the old days, when he excused himself to take a cellular telephone call. The father was intently following the progress of two of his sons, George and Jeb, in their respective gubernatorial campaigns against savvy Democratic veterans in Texas and Florida, and new poll numbers were just in.

''He came back and he said, It looks like Jeb's O.K., but I'm worried about George,'' recalled Gordon C. James, a member of the White House advance team in the Bush Administration. ''He was upset about it.''

Both races looked close, but like a lot of people, the President saw evidence that Jeb (a nickname John Ellis Bush takes from his initials) would pull it out over Lawton Chiles and that George's race against a popular incumbent, Ann W. Richards, was just too uphill a fight.

As things turned out, though, some invisible law of political primogeniture seemed to kick in -- the older brother won and the younger did not. (Late this summer, however, while George W. is cruising toward re-election, Jeb is, according to the polls, comfortably ahead, too, in his second bid for the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee.) Back in 1994, in seeing the softer-spoken, genial Jeb as the more likely success in politics, people in the Bush family were relying on much more than polling data. It's not that George W. wasn't as determined to win as any Bush. ''I think the major word to describe George W. circa 1993 and the governorship was competitiveness,'' said Chase Untermeyer, a longtime family friend and former Presidential personnel director. (Asked to compare George W. and his father in this regard, Untermeyer said with a laugh: ''It is such a competitive family, it's hard to make those shadings there. That's a driven situation.'')

But if George W. Bush was driven, he was also known for a sharp tongue and temper -- the ''Roman candle of the family. . .and likeliest to burn the fingers,'' as he is aptly described in Richard Ben Cramer's ''What It Takes,'' the exhaustive account of the 1988 Presidential campaign. When the Queen of England came to a White House dinner, Barbara Bush sat George W. at the other end of the table, just to make sure he didn't say anything undiplomatic to Her Majesty. He was the pit bull brought in to deliver the bad news to the President's pit bull of a chief of staff, John Sununu, when it was time for Sununu to leave the White House. And Bush, an unpaid adviser to his father, quarreled with reporters during the 1992 campaign, frequently accusing them of having a bias against the President.

Even Bush doesn't bother to deny that he was brusque in those days.

''I love my Dad, and it should not surprise you that I was a fierce warrior on his behalf,'' he said, as his campaign plane rumbled over the central Texas prairie one day this spring. ''And if that ruffled people's feathers, so be it. There's a big difference between being the son of a candidate and being the candidate. And I understand the difference.''

And certainly, there was a difference by the time George W. began his campaign for Governor in 1994, a bid he contemplated four years earlier but passed up, in part over concerns that running with his father in the White House might look too opportunistic -- and be too embarrassing to all the Bushes if he lost.

Running against Ann W. Richards, the feisty and sharp-witted incumbent who once famously derided his father as ''poor old George,'' born with a ''silver foot in his mouth,'' Bush would seem to have had ample reason to lose his cool. In the course of the campaign, Richards called him ''Shrub,'' ''that young Bush boy'' and ''some jerk,'' and joked that he was ''missing his Herbert'' (a reference to his father's two middle names). Richards frequently said that if Bush's name were George Walker, without the Bush, no one would even take his campaign seriously -- a point not without merit.

All the barbs and his prior reputation notwithstanding, Bush turned in a truly remarkable performance. He did not lose his cool at all, and at times he laughed right along with Richards, basically telling voters that she sure was a funny lady, whom everybody enjoyed, but that he came from a party and held to a conservative philosophy that were more in line with what Texans wanted in government. (Not that Bush wasn't out for revenge: as he explained at the time, his strategy was to ''kill her with kindness.'') And for a man who had seemingly wandered through much of his 20's and 30's, and who conceded that the main question surrounding him was, ''What's the boy ever done?'' he ran a thoroughly disciplined campaign. Mindful that his father had lacked a coherent message in 1992, Bush offered voters a precise, four-point plan for better government: more control for local school districts, stricter provisions for welfare recipients, tougher juvenile-justice laws and reform of the state's tort laws. He never deviated from the message. And while hardly the most scintillating set of political themes ever developed, it allowed him to sidestep other issues, particularly abortion.

While his own state party platform advocated prohibiting abortion except when a pregnant woman's life was at stake, Bush's official position put the matter in a different light: ''The United States Supreme Court has settled the abortion issue: there will be abortions in Texas and the rest of the United States. I believe the best public policy is to encourage fewer abortions through strong adoption laws and by sending a clear abstinence message to our children.''

As Bush tells it now, the only painful episode from the campaign was a brief flap over an interview he gave an Austin reporter about religion, in which he reiterated his own personal belief that the path to Heaven leads through acceptance of Christ as one's personal savior.

''It was, of course, picked up and politicized -- you know, 'Bush to Jews: Go to Hell,' '' he recalls. ''It was very ugly. It hurt my feelings.''

On election night, buoyed by the Republican surge that led to the takeover of Congress, Bush won going away, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, ran a campaign with a much sharper conservative edge, speaking out against abortion and selecting a Christian Coalition ''legislator of the year'' as his running mate. To someone who briefly watched him campaign in 1994, the difference this year is striking: he seems to have taken a page from his brother, offering a much more upbeat message, reaching out to minority groups, emphasizing education and greater ''compassion'' in state services.

Taking a break from a sweltering day of campaigning this summer in West Palm Beach, Jeb Bush let out a tight laugh as he gave credit to his big brother for proving himself ''the better politician.''

''He ran on four or five items or whatever it was, and he stayed focused on that,'' said Bush. ''And that is a great lesson in politics.''

Jeb Bush said he speaks to his brother about running for the White House only ''in the contingent, in the conditional,'' but adds that he has no doubt that his brother has ''the right stuff'' to be President.

And what if anyone tries to run to George W.'s right, by emphasizing abortion or other specific social issues?

''I think they'll fail,'' Jeb Bush said, ''because the broader moral questions are the ones that concern the great majority of people out there that fit this criteria of 'cultural conservatives.' It is so sterile to talk about the things that the press in this state wants to try to create, or my opponent. Basically the same thing. There's all this Christian right, and abortion. These are not the issues that drive people's concerns. They want to know, how do they get the support to make sure their children don't take drugs. They want their schools to be safe.

''I'm very confident,'' he added, ''that George Bush will be very successful if he stays the course with his message.''

The Governor of Texas likes to say that the fundamental difference between the two George Bushes is that his father attended Greenwich Country Day School, while he went to San Jacinto Junior High School in Midland, Tex. Born in 1946 in New Haven, George and Barbara Bush's first child, young ''Georgie'' was along for the famous journey when his father struck out for West Texas in a 1947 Studebaker. He was a mischievous boy with a passion for sports, especially baseball, and a penchant for wisecracks that may well have its origins in a family tragedy. George was 7 years old when his sister, Robin, 3, died of leukemia, and both of his parents told friends that George seemed to develop a joking, bantering style in a determined bid to lift them from their grief. (There are five Bush children, four sons and a surviving daughter.)

He did spend many formative years in Midland, and attended the public schools there. But while his identity as a Texan has never been mocked to the degree his father's was, the younger Bush has preppy credentials that parallel those of his father: he went to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and to Yale University. In fact, much of Bush's life seems to be a slightly eerie, and not always successful, bid to retrace the footsteps of the famous father.

''You have to really understand how much his father was loved and respected by so many people to understand what it would be like to grow up as a namesake, the son of George Bush,'' said George W. Bush's first cousin, John Ellis, a Boston-based marketing and advertising consultant who is close to the Governor. ''There are all these parallels in his life. 'He went to Andover, went to Yale, went to West Texas, ran for Congress, and at every stage of that he was found wanting. To go through every stage of life and be found wanting and know that people find you wanting, that's a real grind.''

To Bush's critics, his prolonged rowdy days and his unspectacular early career make his later political success -- in which simply having the name ''George Bush'' was undeniably a crucial, perhaps the crucial, element -- all the more irritating, and undeserved. But in Ellis's view, his cousin's later achievements, which came after his marriage and his decision to quit drinking, are all the more impressive in light of the wayward years.

''He gathered it together,'' said Ellis. ''George was on the road to nowhere at 40. At the age of 52, he's the front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination. That's a pretty incredible turnaround.''

Bush himself does not deny that he is a classic late bloomer; he refers to the ''nomadic years'' of his youth and once explained he ''kind of floated and saw a lot of life'' throughout his 20's. He even jokes about all this, though one wonders if the stand-up monologue he delivered to a howling audience this past winter at Washington's elite Alfalfa Club, with his father present, had just a tinge of bitter truth to it.

''Can you imagine how much it hurt,'' said George Walker Bush, ''to know that Dad's idea of the perfect son was'' -- and then he paused before delivering the line that brought down the house -- ''Al Gore?''

At Yale, just like his father, Bush was in the secretive Skull and Bones club. He was president of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, though, as a less-than-diligent student, he did not follow the old man into Phi Beta Kappa. In any event, he says he did not like a lot of the ''intellectual arrogance'' and ''snobs'' at Yale, and he cites one incident as particularly galling.

Several months after his father lost the 1964 Texas Senate campaign to Ralph Yarborough, the incumbent Democratic populist, Bush said he met Yale's prominent campus chaplain.

''I ran into William Sloane Coffin, who was the preacher at Yale, supposedly the guy that was there to comfort students,'' said the Governor. ''I introduced myself and he said, Yeah, I know your father, and your father lost to a better man.''

Even today, 33 years later, Bush is clearly offended by the statement, and it is one of the many reasons, he says, that he couldn't wait to get back to Texas, after his graduation in 1968: ''Texas people are more polite. I don't think a Texan would do that to a son.''

When Bush talks about his father, this is not the only trace of bitterness. Victory in the gulf war, he told Texas Monthly, was ''one of the great achievements of the 20th century, and it had a shelf life of about a month.'' He is also still bothered, as he later puts it in an interview, by the ''factors that caused this good man to get defeated.''

And he raises at least one that could well resurface in some fashion: ''Patrick J. Buchanan handing the baton, the proverbial political knife, off to Ross Perot -- the kind of isolationism and nativism and very harsh attacks against George Bush. You die a death of a thousand cuts in the political process.''

George the younger obviously loves and reveres his father, and he has plenty of characteristics -- the impish half-grin, the chop in the air, the passion for foods that gross out some of his staff (bologna sandwiches, in his case) -- that strikingly betray his genes. And yet, President Bush has been curiously absent from his son's campaigns and oratory. Barbara Bush shows up much more often. One of the Governor's stock campaign jokes involves going to get his hair cut, and having the barber marvel: ''I can't believe I'm cutting the hair of the son of Barbara Bush.''

Partly, the Governor simply wants to be seen as his own man -- not ''just another rich son of a Bush,'' as the Texas populist Jim Hightower describes him. And for his part, the President ''almost makes it a point not to advise him too much, on the theory that people would say, 'Hey, you're just Daddy's boy,' '' said George Strake, a former Republican state chairman in Texas and a Bush family friend.

But there is clearly another undercurrent here. While President Bush remains personally popular with Americans, any prominent role in a national campaign could resurrect the ambivalence many Republicans felt about him. And it could lead to questions about just how his son differs from him politically, if at all.

Neither Bush nor his top aides will even take much of a stab at that. (One, insisting he not be quoted by name, offered this thought: ''I think the father was more of a noblesse oblige politician, while George W. Bush is a conviction politician.'' Hardly a comparison to flatter the old man.) President and Mrs. Bush declined requests for an interview for this story. But a couple of weeks ago, a two-and-a-half-page letter from Kennebunkport came whirring across my fax machine, a response to a series of written questions. In it, President Bush wrote of the ''enormous pride'' he felt as he watched two of his sons make their way in public life. ''Both Jeb and George were at my side in some pretty tough times,'' he said, ''and they know firsthand what Teddy Roosevelt's 'Arena' is really like. I hope they never say, 'It's not worth it.' ''

The former President said he was reluctant to speak out on issues these days, ''because I don't want some reporter from Washington rushing down to one of our sons after I stake out a position on an issue saying: 'Your Dad says so and so.. . . Why don't you agree?'

''I had my chance,'' continued Bush. ''Now it is their time and I am determined to stay out of the way. To support them where they want me to. But not to inadvertently cause complications for them.''

George W. Bush knows that if he runs, everybody will be asking questions about his relationship with his father. ''Doonesbury'' has already given the Governor his cartoon identity: a junior-size point of light. The Governor says he's neither concerned nor interested. ''These are the kind of psychological analyses that I'm not really thrilled about talking about,'' he explains. ''It's not my thing.

''You occasionally read about, 'Well, he must prove himself' '' -- the Governor draws out the words with a theatrical flair -- '' 'to be different from his father.' The voice is out of Washington, and the Echo Chamber. 'Well, he must distinguish himself' '' -- more emphasis --

'' 'from his father.' Well, therein lies the dilemma. But I don't listen to them. Because all I've got to do is be myself. By being myself I will distinguish myself from my father, because we're two separately different people. I've got half my mother in me and half my father in me, which is a pretty interesting combination.''

When the younger Bush got back to Texas in 1968, he joined the Texas Air National Guard and for five years spent some weekends and longer stints flying fighter jets. His unit was never called for service in the Vietnam War, and by enlisting in the guard, he was automatically removed as a candidate for the military draft, an issue that flared briefly in the 1994 gubernatorial campaign and undoubtedly would again in a national race.

In 1992, gearing up for his Texas campaign, Bush told The New York Times that while he was prepared to serve, he had trouble remembering what his position was on the war when he was in college. While that may sound implausible, people who knew him at the time said that Bush indeed showed virtually no interest in public policy, or politics. It seems inconceivable, for instance, that he could ever have written anyone a letter brooding over how to ''maintain my political viability within the system,'' to use the memorable phrase from a 1969 letter sent by a young man named Bill Clinton, born the month after George W. Bush, to the director of the University of Arkansas's Reserve Officers Training Corps program.

What most seems to have marked the decade after Bush graduated from college was his wandering, carousing nature. He held a series of jobs, working on an offshore rig and (miserably) for an agricultural-firm, and mentoring inner-city youth in Houston. But he was best known as a major-league partygoer, often seen driving around town in his Triumph and in the company of attractive young women.

As Governor, Bush has clearly succeeded in drawing a rather huge zone of privacy around the question of just how wild his wild days were. He declines to answer specific questions about matters like drug use.

''There were things I did that were mistakes,'' he said. ''But I think inventorying mistakes is a mistake. I think they send wrong signals. I think they undermine the message.

''I'd be the first to admit that I did irresponsible things when I was young and irresponsible,'' he continued. ''I've assumed the mantle of being a Governor and a father in a responsible way, and the signal we ought to send to our children is that in spite of what happened in the 60's and 70's, we have learned some lessons. And the lesson ought to be, don't be using drugs and alcohol. Learn the lessons from the past.''

There is something potentially incongruous about this self-described promoter of ''a responsibility era,'' one who seems to have indulged freely in his past, now routinely lecturing high-schoolers to ''abstain from sex until you've found the person you want to marry.'' And when Bush stepped ever so gingerly into the White House sex scandal, saying recently he felt ''embarrassed for the country,'' Lanny J. Davis, a Clinton adviser, leapt in with a response. Noting that he had been at Yale with Bush, Davis said on national television that the Governor ''shouldn't throw stones.''

On the other hand, Bush's message is reflective of the country at large: he is, after all, just one of countless tens of thousands of parents who came of age in the 1960's and are now saying much the same thing to their kids. In a generally laudatory piece about Bush's campaign for values in this summer's edition of City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, Tucker Carlson suggested that Bush may in fact be the perfect spokesman for ''the politics of virtue.''

''Before his marriage, Bush had a reputation (from all accounts, deserved) as something of a wild man,'' Carlson wrote. ''When he speaks, it is as a grizzled veteran of the sexual revolution. But he is a changed man.''

In his letter, President Bush made a point of dismissing the notion that his son ever seriously lost his way in any of these years.

''I asked Barbara to read this letter,'' wrote the President. ''She asked me to add that, like me, she never felt George was a problem -- that he never had trouble 'finding himself.' She believes, as I do, that 'the wild young man' thesis is greatly overblown.

''George really never had trouble 'finding himself,''' Bush added in the next paragraph. ''He had some happy times, but none of this 'worried' Barbara and me. He never lost his bearing. He always came home.''

In 1973, George W. Bush decided he wanted to become serious about a business career, and he entered Harvard Business School. Two years later, this time driving a 1970 Cutlass, he retraced his father's 1948 route and headed back south and west toward dusty Midland, though given his family contacts, this was hardly a journey into the great unknown.

Bush's plan was to jump into the oil business, but before long he was jumping into other things as well: marriage and politics. In 1977, he married Laura Welch, a librarian and schoolteacher from Midland who is, by wide agreement, a crucial influence in both the Governor's personal transformation and his political success. With a down-to-earth style, an infectious sense of humor and campaigns reminiscent of her mother-in-law's, for breast-cancer awareness and literacy, she is wildly popular in Texas.

Having rarely even been in the area for a decade before his return, Bush made a brash decision when the 44-year incumbent Democratic Congressman, George Mahon, announced his retirement that same year. At the age of 31, Bush declared for the seat, and he and Laura were off on what they call their extended honeymoon.

''We had a really great time,'' recalls Laura Bush with a hearty laugh, during an interview at the Governor's Mansion in Austin. ''It was a great way to spend the first year of marriage. We drove up and down the Panhandle of Texas, from Hereford to Midland.''

In that campaign, Bush got his first taste of themes that plagued his father's own races in Texas, which included two losing bids for the United States Senate. George W.'s Democratic opponent, Kent Hance, now a friend and supporter, cleverly played up Bush's prep-school, Ivy League credentials, which didn't exactly go over big in rough-and-tumble places like Odessa.

With his father serving on international boards like the Rockefeller-financed Trilateral Commission, the candidate found himself hectored by groups who said he, too, was surely a tool of the New World Order. He finally had to go on record with his opposition to ''one-world government and one monetary system.''

''And if the Trilateral Commission supports those things,'' he explained at the time, ''I'm sure my father is a dissenting voice.''

Bush lost, and, any political aspirations of his own put on hold for the next decade and a half, he burrowed into the oil business, founding an exploration company and digging into mineral records. He was still known as a big party guy, and his friends gave him no end of a hard time about being both a tightwad and a notoriously sloppy dresser.

''George would wear anything anyone would give him,'' said Dr. Charles Younger, an orthopedic surgeon in Midland and a longtime friend.

As the holiday season approached one year, his friends all got together and collected a sheaf of tacky corporate Christmas cards from West Texas oil firms, then conspicuously crossed out the company name under the greeting and replaced it with ''Merry Christmas, from George and Laura Bush.''

''The funny thing is, I think at least half the people who got them probably thought it was for real,'' Younger said, laughing. ''It just looked like, Here's that cheapskate Bush at it again, trying to save money on his Christmas cards.''

But if Bush was a funny character with a pack of friends and a fondness for good times, there was, by his own account and that of his wife and friends, a problem with alcohol. He had drunk a lot for years, and at times his boisterousness became downright obnoxious: in one infamous incident, a well-lubricated Bush nearly gave an old friend of his parents a heart attack at a cocktail party, when he stumbled up to the matronly, elaborately dressed and coiffed woman and said to her, ''So, what's sex like after 50, anyway?''

In another incident, at the age of 26, he ran over a neighbor's trash can and, according to a story that circulated in the 1994 campaign, challenged his perturbed father to go ''mano a mano'' when the senior Bush came out to inspect the damage. Bush now says the story originated as a joking account by his mother, and has been exaggerated.

''It wasn't a fight,'' he said. ''It was an incident where I drank too much, I believe was the background. It was kind of a feisty guy talking to a father, and he kind of dismissed me, I guess was what happened. I can't remember the exact words.''

Laura Bush says she wanted her husband to give up drinking, a request she says she made not constantly, ''but every once in a while, after some night that wasn't particularly great.'' Friends say the marriage was seriously strained, though the Governor denies accounts by some that Laura gave him some sort of ultimatum.

''Jack Daniels or the road?'' Bush said. ''I don't think so. I don't remember that. No. She's a pretty patient person.''

In the end, Bush dealt with the problem in a characteristic way: decisively, impulsively and without much evident introspection, at least that he has shared publicly (unlike, say, his predecessor in office, Richards, a dedicated member of Alcoholics Anonymous who openly and widely discussed her problems with alcohol).

On a summer night in 1986, spent with his wife and friends at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs in celebration of his and some friends' 40th birthdays that year, Bush partied heartily. He woke up with a raging hangover. To his stunned friends, he simply began announcing that he had made a decision never to drink again.

It was a spontaneous pledge but one he has kept, says Bush. As he put it to me a few years ago when I was preparing a story about the contrasting ways in which he and Richards viewed addiction-treatment programs in the state prison system (in sum, he has much more faith in the cold-turkey approach): ''I quit for the rest of my life and if you catch me drinking, it's not going to be a good sign for your old buddy George.''

To this day, Bush says he does not know whether he is or was an alcoholic. He thinks not, but he isn't really interested in exploring the subject. ''I'm a high-energy person, and alcohol competes with your energy,'' he said. ''It really does. So I quit.''

During this time, Bush also got serious about the oil business, prospering in the boom and skirting, like just about every other oilman in Texas, financial ruin in the bust. His company merged with another, struggled and in 1986 merged with the Harken Energy Corporation of Irving, Tex., in a deal that gave him a financial interest, directorship, consultancy and access to below-market interest rates to buy more than $500,000 worth of stock.

With his father in the White House as Vice President, Bush's break raised some eyebrows at the time, even more so when the little-known Harken, which until that point had virtually no experience in overseas exploration, won a lucrative contract to drill for oil in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf. He also sold a large block of stock just before the company announced poor quarterly earnings, raising questions of whether he improperly used inside information. He was never charged with any wrongdoing, nor found to have traded on his father's position to help the company.

By 1987, with his father set to launch a Presidential campaign, Bush was immersed in politics and spent months traipsing around Iowa and New Hampshire, making contacts that may come in handy in 2000. He coordinated the job of making sure that Bush loyalists were rewarded in the new Administration.

But the younger Bush, expressing distaste for Washington and perhaps with an eye on his own political future, moved back to Dallas in 1989, getting involved in the venture he repeatedly pointed to in his 1994 campaign as his signal accomplishment: the new ballpark for the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Part of a group that purchased 84 percent of the Rangers that year for $86 million, Bush's own personal investment was barely more than $600,000. He was made one of two managing partners, a high-profile job that gave him frequent media exposure, at least on the sports pages in Dallas and Fort Worth. He was a constant presence at games, somewhat indelicately explaining that he thought it important for ''folks to see me sitting in the same seat they sit in, eating the same popcorn, peeing in the same urinal.'' The major project during Bush's time with the club was the planning and construction of the Ballpark in Arlington, one of the new generation of old-fashioned baseball stadiums to which fans have flocked in recent years. When he ran for Governor in 1994 and faced questions about his record (''eight games out of first,'' ran the joke), Bush cited the park, more than a bit plaintively, as proof of his ability to plan and execute big things.

''My biggest liability in Texas is, What's the boy ever done?'' he told one paper. ''So he's got a famous father and ran a small oil company. . . .Now I can say I've done something. Here it is.'' To another, he explained: ''When all those people in Austin say, 'He ain't never done anything,' Well, this is it.''

The granite-and-brick Ballpark is indeed a thing of beauty, and attendance at Rangers games soared. That the park was built with the help of a voter-approved half-cent sales tax as well as with eminent domain proceedings that generated local controversy has led Bush's critics to suggest that his one self-described big thing is curiously inconsistent with his conservative message.

''Whether the public interest issue is taxes, size of government, property rights or public subsidies of private sports ventures,'' editorialized the liberal Texas Observer in a May 1997 article headlined ''Stealing Home,'' ''Bush's personal ownership in the Texas Rangers baseball team has been wildly at odds with his publicly declared positions on those issues.''

Whatever it says about his political philosophy, his relatively small initial investment with the Rangers has turned out to be immensely profitable, leading to recurring questions about whether his corporate friends found a clever way to set him up financially and thus free him up for politics. Under his contract, his interest grew by an additional 10 percent as compensation for his service as managing partner. That overall partnership merged with other investors and this year the whole ownership was sold for $250 million, a deal netting Bush $14.9 million.

Given the taxpayers' subsidy, this enormous profit has generated criticism from Commissioner Mauro, Bush's gubernatorial opponent, who calls it ''plain old corporate welfare.'' Bush said the ballpark is generating tax revenues that more than offset the original sales-tax increase, and his office describes the overall deal as a ''win-win'' situation for both Bush and Arlington taxpayers.

Dissuading all other Republicans with his famous name and powerful access to campaign funds, Bush got the gubernatorial nomination in 1994 unopposed. It ventures far into the realm of psychology to wonder just how much Bush was -- is -- motivated by proving himself worthy of his famous name. While all this is precisely the kind of ''psychobabble'' that both George Bushes insist they don't indulge in anyway, Ellis, his cousin, thinks it is ultimately off base.

''I really think the opposite is true here,'' said Ellis. ''What he was caught in for a long time was an 'I'll never be good enough, I'll never be good enough' deal. At some point, though, he decided, 'I'll just take what I've got and we'll see what we can do with that.' People will say he's running to prove something to the old man, but the thing that really liberated him was the realization that he didn't have to be his old man.''

When Bush became Governor, he did not immediately set off to exhibit bold acts of leadership or alpha-male dominance. In fact, if anything, what most characterized his first session with the Legislature was the sense of deference he brought to bear.

In truth, the position of Governor in Texas is constitutionally a very weak one outside of its bully-pulpit possibilities. And as a newcomer in a body controlled at the time by conservative Democrats, Bush quickly figured out the best way to get things done. Rob Junell, a representative from San Angelo and one of many Democrats who have endorsed Bush this time around, says: ''People that have made a lot of business deals care about the bottom line -- what they're concerned about is, let's close the deal. He's a pragmatist. If there's a problem, he wants to know, how is the best way to solve it.''

Bush was also clever enough to have stuck with his four-point program, based on his campaign themes, that was relatively noncontroversial and immensely achievable.

Given this approach, the big surprise was how Bush approached the second session of his tenure, in 1997. (The Texas Legislature meets every other year, for no more than 140 days.) In baseball terms, having punched out a bunch of singles in 1995, Bush now decided to swing for the fences.

Spurred in part by a seemingly endless fight over school financing in Texas, in which courts have declared that the state's system of supporting public education is flawed because of the vast disparities in taxable wealth among its hundreds of school districts, Bush came up with a radical plan. He devised a $3-billion-a-year cut in local property taxes, partly offset by a series of new state taxes to finance the schools, including a half-penny increase in the state sales tax and an unprecedented tax on professional partnerships -- lawyers, accountants, doctors and others.

While many surprised and pleased Democrats rallied to the plan, conservative Republicans went ballistic. ''I couldn't believe it,'' said Tom Pauken, the state Republican chairman at the time. ''I thought it was a Democrat tax hike. On balance, in the long term it opened the door to 70-plus new taxes. It would have been a substantial tax hike.''

To be fair to Bush, the plan, at least in the form he presented, amounted to a net tax cut of around $1 billion and, his overhaul defeated, the Legislature simply cut property taxes by that amount. But when he ran for Governor, Bush said he opposed increasing the sales tax, and one anti-tax group drummed up a pledge to that effect, which he endorsed. Did he violate, as many conservatives believe his father did, a sacred tax pledge? Is this, as critics in Texas say, a ''son of no-new-taxes debacle''?

Bush said he has no qualms about dealing with the issue if he runs for President. ''Fine, bring it up,'' he says. ''And I will be able to say absolutely clearly, that Governor Bush, under my leadership, we had the largest tax cut in the state's history.

''As I understand it,'' he added, ''the text said, I would not raise a sales tax. In other words, I would not increase taxes. That was the spirit of the letter, and my proposal cut taxes. That's what's important for the people to understand. I will not raise taxes.''

Despite his popularity, Bush is potentially vulnerable in other areas. From the left, many criticize Bush for using virtually all of the state surplus for a tax cut. ''It could have been spent on a lot of needy areas in this state that have been underserved,'' said State Representative Sylvester Turner, a Houston Democrat. ''Health care for children. Education. Environmental issues. There are a lot of unmet needs.''

Governor Bush is a strong supporter of the death penalty and has presided over a record number of executions, including that of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman put to death in Texas since the Civil War and whose case sparked an international uproar earlier this year. Bush's stance is broadly supported in Texas; it could conceivably cause him problems in a general election in less conservative states, though not, most likely, in the Republican primaries.

And while other Governors with an eye on the White House, including those in Wisconsin and Michigan, have devised sweeping job-training programs aimed at getting recipients off welfare, Texas lags in that area, in large part because its welfare payments are so low that there is little money available for such approaches. Bush applies the following spin to the state's relatively minuscule welfare stipends: ''If you're trying to move people from welfare to work,'' he says, ''that's exactly where you want your payments to be.''

During his years as Governor, Bush has grown far more comfortable on the hustings. He is capable of moving an audience with words like this: ''Today's challenge lies not so much outside our borders as inside our souls.'' And he can make them laugh, as when he cites his travails as the father of twin teenage daughters, Barbara and Jenna. ''No one warned me!'' he says in mock horror. ''There are not enough D.P.S. officers in Austin to protect my fellow Texans from these new drivers.''

Around the Capitol, his style is jocular and informal, and he is not exactly known as a policy wonk. It is not lost on visitors that his office is lined with cases full of baseballs, not books. Meetings with Bush do not drag on into the wee hours. ''Like a lot of great leaders,'' State Senator Teel Bivins, a Republican from Amarillo, jokingly says, ''he has about a 20-second attention span. He listens to your issues, analyzes, gets to the heart of them, makes a decision, gets bored and is ready to move on.''

Everywhere he goes, the Governor is asked if he will run for Dad's old job. He says he genuinely does not know. ''The bubble,'' he says, summarizing what he calls the case against going for it all. ''It's the perpetual bubble. It's not a one-time bubble. It's life.'' Or, as Laura Bush cheerfully puts it: ''It's sort of a stretch for me, because I could just as soon, you know, hang around and work in the yard.''

Bush says that if he runs, it will be because he has a clear and compelling idea in his mind of where he wants to take the nation -- and not because he wants to avenge his father's defeat in 1992. ''You can't lead people from a pessimistic or revengeful point of view,'' he says.

The general consensus among the Governor's friends is that, inevitably, he will run. It's in the family's blood. If Bush does run, he is likely to encounter little trouble finding money. He is already generating huge amounts from out of state. (Nearly half of his most recent four-month haul of $4.4 million came from outside Texas.)

There is certainly a case to be made against George Bush. There are entire realms of policy -- like, say, foreign policy -- that he has simply never dealt with. Albert R. Hunt, a Wall Street Journal columnist, recently observed that that Bush would be the Republicans' ''most inexperienced nominee since Wendell Willkie in 1940.'' As the nomination fight gets under way, Bush is unlikely to start off with the firm blessing of the religious right. ''I don't think that George W. Bush would be the favored candidate of the religious right under any circumstances -- he's far too moderate for them,'' said John C. Green, a professor at the University of Akron and an expert on the religious right in American politics. ''He could be their second choice, or their third or fourth or fifth. That's the big question.''

The Governor does have an important bridge to at least one faction of religious conservatives: not the militantly rather-be-right-than-be-President set, but the more pragmatic wing embodied by Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and current political strategist, with whom Bush talks frequently. Many Republicans think Reed is likely to settle on Bush as a candidate who can advance at least part of the agenda of religious conservatives -- and actually win a general election. On the record, Reed would say only that the Republican Party is likely to have ''an embarrassment of riches, a heck of a lot of great candidates out there'' in 2000.

There is also the question of groundwork. A spokesman for Lamar Alexander, for instance, notes that the former Tennessee Governor, who ran in 1996 and plans to do so again in 2000, has spent an average of a few days every month in both Iowa and New Hampshire these past few years. Since becoming Governor, Bush has literally not set foot in either state. That may mean a great deal, but then again, it may not.

''What someone like Lamar Alexander could do with 1,000 lobster dinners in New Hampshire, someone like George Bush could walk in and do on the first day,'' says Alex Castellanos, a Republican consultant. ''Because he's not George W. Smith. He's George W. Bush.''



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