Don’t Invite George W. Bush to Your Gala

Hosting a fundraiser? You might think twice before asking the former president or his wife to participate.

There are both perks and problems that come with having a former first family in the hood. Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rodger Jones learned firsthand about the downside of life with the Bushes. It happened in March at the Israel Bonds fundraising dinner at the Omni, where he was a guest of former News editor Bob Mong. The night’s draw was a conversation between George W. Bush and Israel Bonds national campaign chair Fred Zeidman (who got $60 million in commitments on the night). 

Rodger “scribbled notes with a complimentary Israel Bonds pen,” as he put it, and dutifully reported Bush’s describing former premier Ariel Sharon as “an interesting old bird. He was one tough dude. Of course, his English wasn’t very good. But mine isn’t either.” Bush also reiterated his support of Israel.

But Jones’ blog post about the event got the Bush team steaming. The 1,500 guests had been admonished against “recording” the chat. Onstage Bush himself said that he did “not want to read his assessment in the Dallas Morning News.” The episode was a public skirmish in the ongoing battle between local media and the Bush Brigade.

When the Bush clan moved back to Dallas, they took top place on fundraisers’ wish lists. But soon people learned that a Bush appearance was a double-edged sword. Initially, organizers envisioned busting financial goals and hitting the publicity jackpot. Then they learned the Bush caveat: pre-event PR was okay, but event coverage itself was to be very limited, if allowed at all.

Eventually, the Bushes’ shyness started to wear even on loyalists, and the media began to lose interest in Bush events. Even if coverage were allowed, there would have been nothing to report; not much was said. Bush talks tended to be filled with the same old jokes and family updates about the twins, the granddaughter, Barb, and George H.W., though W has wandered off script a few times.

Earlier this year, the belt of control tightened even further, with Secret Service excluding media from VIP receptions. And if a member of the media did manage to get within talking distance of a Bush at an event, handlers interceded. Event planners whispered that the recent antics of the Secret Service elsewhere (hiring prostitutes in Colombia, crashing cars at the White House, etc.) had made local operatives antsy and more controlling. Others noted that the Bush clan was circling the wagons because W’s brother, Jeb, was preparing to run for president. Off-the-cuff remarks might not serve that effort well. 

For now, it looks like event planners should just use large cutouts of the Bushes instead of the real thing. They’re picture-perfect, they’re media-friendly, and they won’t require Secret Service approval.

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