The Benetton-Ad Presidency

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He has always been a gutbucket populist egalitarian. That was, in part, a Texas rebellion against the starchy Greenwich, Conn., aristocracy of his family, but it was also hardwired, a consequence of Bush's native predilection for studying people rather than books. His bright-line test was intellectual pretense. If you weren't stuffy, you were O.K. "George's little Texas group [was] more friendly than their Northern counterparts," an African-American classmate at Andover is quoted as saying in Peter and Rochelle Schweizer's comprehensive family history, The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty. "With respect to the African-American guys in class, he got along very well with them."

His feelings about women were, undoubtedly, more complicated and strongly influenced by family history. There is an innate fierceness to the Bush women. When the President's mother first came to the family, her mother-in-law was worried that Barbara wasn't tough enough because of her diffidence on the tennis court: "She won't play net!" The family's assumption was that women were as strong and smart as men and superior when it came to loyalty. "He was influenced by growing up where he did, too," says Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who maintains that women in Texas were different from their prissy Eastern and Southern sisters. "We have a tradition of strong women who ran big ranches and businesses." There is still a fair amount of free-range machismo in Texas, Hutchison concedes, but the President is different from most men: "He doesn't talk to a woman as if he's talking to a woman. He doesn't trivialize or condescend. He never condescended to Ann Richards when he ran against her for Governor. Women notice that."

There is a difference between egalitarianism and liberalism. "He's a small-D democrat," says John DiIulio, who served as Bush's director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives--and left because of the Bush Administration's inability to act on its promises to the urban poor. "He really loves people, and he doesn't discriminate." But there is a disconnect between sentiment and action. Bush talked passionately about faith-based social programs but wasn't willing to make the necessary compromises to get his plan through Congress. Often, the President's small-D democracy leads him to conservative conclusions. He doesn't make distinctions by race, and therefore he doesn't take much stock in programs, like affirmative action, that do. He sees poverty as the absence of opportunity, not as a racial issue. He believes a better education will rectify the difference.

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