The Patience of Jeb
When reporters sought comment for their Bush brother stories during their simultaneous campaigns for governor, George and Jeb were always blandly deferential -- Jeb saying how "proud" he was of George, and George saying that "Jeb is a good man."
There were some exceptions. At the 1996 Republican convention, Jeb told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times about the time George W. was "caught finger painting with something other than his fingers." (It is not clear how old the president was at the time of the finger-painting episode.)
George W. calls Jeb my "big little brother" during appearances (Jeb is five inches taller), and Jeb dutifully plays the goofy sidekick. He introduces George as "my older, smarter and wiser brother."
Like George W., Jeb loves to tout his admiration for his mother -- which is also smart politics, given her popularity -- but in a way that can occasionally be treacly. At his inaugural prayer breakfast, Jeb turns to his mother, shakes his head and lowers his voice. "When I came into the world and woke up, there I was, lying right next to Barbara Bush."
He was not as mischievous as George W., but could be bold and unpredictable. "Jebby is going to need some help I am sure," his father wrote in 1971. "He is a free and independent spirit and I don't want him to get totally out of touch with the family."
Like his brother and father, Bush attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. Jeb struggled with his course work, missed Texas and experimented with marijuana. He met his future wife as an exchange student in the Central Mexican city of Leon during his senior year. His devotion to Columba Garnica Gallo was avid and obvious from the start. It was also of great concern to his parents. "How I worry about Jeb and Columba," Barbara Bush wrote in a diary entry. "Does she love him?"
Jeb married Columba Feb. 23, 1974, in the University of Texas chapel. Columba was 20. Jeb was 21, the first of the Bush children to wed.
They eventually settled in Miami, where Jeb would begin a lucrative career as a real estate developer and become active in local Republican circles. As a pugnacious candidate for governor in 1994 -- his first run for elected office -- Bush called himself "a head-banging conservative" and expressed fondness for the TV show "American Gladiators." Women on welfare, he said, "should be able to get their life together and find a husband." He spoke of "blowing up" state agencies. In response to a question about what his administration would do to help African Americans, Bush's answer included the memorable words "probably nothing."
A firestorm ensued, one of many "distractions" that Bush would complain about during his campaign against Gov. Lawton Chiles. Another involved comparisons to his father, with one theory positing that Jeb's brashness was a clumsy attempt to forge his own political identity.
Then there was the unforeseen distraction: George W. Bush decided to run for governor of Texas, even though Jeb was assumed to be the Bush most likely to succeed his father in the family spotlight. In a show of pique, Jeb complained that the Bush brother act would render their campaigns "a cute People magazine story."
Except that Jeb lost, George W. won and Jeb's People magazine story was just starting.
A Full Day's Work
During the 1994 campaign, a reporter asked Columba Bush the name of the Spanish language book she was reading. "It is called 'Secrets About Men That Every Woman Should Know,' " she said. "We've been together 20 years and you stay that way by keeping the romance going."
In fact, their marriage was falling apart. By Jeb's admission, he had neglected his family. Columba's unease with public life had been clear during the campaign. She once complained within earshot of reporters that she "didn't ask for this."
Following his defeat, Bush underwent what he called a "personal transformation" that included a reevaluation of his political, spiritual and family life. Raised an Episcopalian, he began taking classes in the Catholic faith, Columba's religion. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1996.
He started a conservative foundation, worked with minority groups and began using words like "compassionate" in speeches. He ran for governor again in 1998 and won.
Even with his softer oratory, Bush blowtorched his way into Tallahassee. "A lot of people approach public policy as problem solvers," says U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), a former state House speaker and Bush's running mate in 1994. "And Jeb wants to solve problems. But he truly wants to do it in the most conservative way possible."
He introduced a host of what he called "BHAGs" -- Big Hairy Audacious Goals, a notion coined by leadership guru Jim Collins, author of "Built to Last" and "Good to Great." Bush urged his staff to set BHAGs in areas such as education, where he became the first governor to introduce a statewide school voucher plan.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company