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Lamont has high praise for Bush, but the wrong one

Governor-to-be Ned Lamont remembered the late President George H.W. Bush as he said, “We will miss our native son. New York boasts seven presidents, Ohio five and Connecticut boasts George Bush.”

It was a nice sentiment, but Lamont was talking about the wrong George Bush.

George H.W. Bush, who died in his Houston home Nov. 30, was raised in Connecticut and educated in Greenwich and New Haven but he isn’t “our native son.”  

To achieve that lofty status, you have to be born here and Bush 41 was born in Milton, Mass. This makes him one of the four Massachusetts native sons who grew up to be president. The others are father and son John Adams and John Quincy Adams and John Kennedy, giving George H.W. the additional honor of being the only president born in Massachusetts who wasn’t named John.

So, the Bush Lamont said all those nice and historic things about was really the other George, George Walker Bush, who was born in New Haven.

Neither newborn Bush spent much time in his native state. Bush 41 got out of Milton at the age of six months when his parents moved to Greenwich and 43 left New Haven at 2 when his parents moved to Texas.

But on a visit to his Milton birthplace in 1997, Bush 41 confided that his brief time there was not insignificant. “I was potty trained in six months, however, right here in this home. It’s a remarkable historical fact that will live on forever,” he told the Quincy Patriot-Ledger.

Despite his unfortunate nativity, the first President Bush was much more of a Connecticut guy than the one who was born here. GHW grew up in Connecticut, went to the Greenwich Country Day School until he was 14, met his Barbara, a New York native, at a Greenwich Country Club Christmas dance and returned to the state after heroic wartime service as a teenaged Navy pilot to attend Yale.  

And that’s where the native Bush entered the picture.  George W. Bush was born in 1946 in what was then Grace-New Haven and is now Yale-New Haven Hospital. His first home was 37 Hillhouse Ave., a one-family house that had a dozen apartments for veterans and their families and now houses the Yale Economics Department.  

But as soon as GHW graduated in the Class of ’48, the family set out for Texas, where he hoped to make it on his own. Both Georges did make it — including the presidency — as Texans.

In fact, when he ran for president, George W., our native son, didn’t want to talk about his birth deep in the heart of New Haven. On Dec. 24, 2000, 12 days after the Supreme Court confirmed his electoral victory over Al Gore, I wrote about the president-elect’s reluctance to acknowledge his birthplace in the Sunday New York Times. 

Checking the Bush presidential campaign website, I learned he “was born on July 6, 1946, and grew up in Midland and Houston, Texas.” That detailed biography included the names of his dog, Spot, and three cats, India, Cowboy and Ernie, but no mention of his birthplace. A spokesman at the Bush national campaign headquarters in Austin could not tell me why Bush consistently omitted the identity of his birthplace. But he did.

Campaigning with Dick Cheney, his running mate, in Cheney’s hometown of Casper, Wyo., Bush reveled in their Westernness, telling the crowd, “Dick was born in Nebraska and I grew up in Midland, Texas.”

When I called his father’s presidential library at Texas A&M to see if they had a copy of W’s birth certificate, the archivist told me being born outside of Texas wouldn’t help a politician get elected in Texas. Then he emailed the Connecticut birth certificate that illustrated the story in the Times. 

As a presidential candidate, the elder Bush performed much better in Connecticut than the native son. In 1988, Vice President Bush easily defeated Michael Dukakis in the state by five percentage points, 52 to 47. But he wasn’t as fortunate in 1992 when spoiler Ross Perot attracted 22 percent of Connecticut’s voters and helped Bill Clinton win with 42 percent of the state’s vote to Bush’s 36.

But George W couldn’t even split even in the old, home state. In 2000, Bush lost the state’s Republican primary to John McCain before Al Gore and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman took Connecticut by 18 points over Bush and Cheney in the presidential election. 

W did a bit better in 2004, losing to John Kerry by only 10 percentage points, 54 to 44.  

This leaves Bush the elder with another Connecticut distinction. He was the last Republican presidential candidate to carry Connecticut — 30 years ago if you’re counting.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.