The Patience of Jeb
When she is asked last week if her husband came close to not running, Columba Bush gives a firm answer. "No," she says.
"He always wanted to run."
They never talk about politics, Columba has said, and while many political couples say this, Columba's detachment from her husband's political self is striking.
No one can understand a marriage from the outside, but the occasional tidbit escapes about the Bushes. Jeb has volunteered that Columba is the only woman he has ever slept with. They attend church and pray together. They go out for Mexican food.
Their three children are all grown and out of the house -- the youngest, Jebbie, 19, is a freshman at the University of Texas.
The governor tries to be home by 6:30 p.m. and returns to work afterward, often via e-mail or phone. He holds policy meetings on Saturdays and plays golf early Sunday mornings.
They have a black lab named Marvin and a Siamese cat named Sugar. Sugar reportedly sleeps on the governor each night. But Jeb disputes this, and it is a matter of enough import that he breaks his silence.
"Jeez," the governor writes in an e-mail. "Sugar sleeps on a red blanket at Colu and my feet every night.
"This is going to be quite a profile. I am not worth it."
He ignores a follow-up question.
Bush has made "strengthening the family" a signature BHAG of his second term. "It is my ambitious goal to provide the catalyst, in small ways and large, that will bring our families together," he says in his inaugural address. "I, for one, intend to begin with my own family."
"I wasn't saying that I'm a horrible dad," Bush told reporters after the ceremony. But Noelle Bush's drug problems and Columba's discomfort with public life bring questions about Jeb's priorities.
On the day Noelle was arrested last year, people wondered how he could adhere to his existing schedule. Or why he wasn't with his daughter in court last October, when she was sentenced to 10 days in jail after crack cocaine was found in her shoe at her drug treatment center. Jeb said he stayed away so it wouldn't appear that he was trying to influence the judge.
"I think he has his arms around his family situation," says Al Cardenas, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a longtime Bush ally. "But you can't say he spends as much time as he'd like to. There's no doubt when you live that intensely to serve others, you have to constantly balance things. You have to sacrifice."
Whatever strain his family has placed on Bush, a former aide says, he suffers alone. He prefers realms -- such as government -- where he can achieve tangible results.
He has convened a panel of advisers to make suggestions about strengthening marriages. "Real-life family situations are messy and gray," the former aide says. "So I think Jeb prefers talking about family challenges in terms of public policy."
Last Saturday at 12:43 p.m., before embarking on a trade mission to Spain, Jeb Bush responds to a final e-mail from The Post. The seriousness of his marital problems had been overstated, he writes. "I worked very hard to get elected in 1994 and had to spend too much time away from home. There were no marital difficulties beyond the normal." He says he spends more time with his wife as governor than he did before.
"I still work hard, maybe too hard, but I organize my life better to hang out with Columba. I stay in regular touch with my kids. I wish we could do more things together. When we are all together is when I am the most happy, by far!"
By Jeb Bush's rendering, the picture is clean. He loves his job, he loves his family. The melodramas and the subtexts are a media invention.
"You are very correct about my views on navel-gazing," Bush says, concluding his e-mail, fully engaged, albeit facelessly.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company