November 11, 2014

"Former President George W. Bush once went on an awkward blind date with the daughter of then-President Richard Nixon."

"During dinner, I reached for some butter, knocked over a glass, and watched in horror as the stain of red wine crept across the table. Then I fired up a cigarette, prompting a polite suggestion from Tricia that I not smoke."

Aw, that's not so bad. Maybe I need to buy the book. Here. The story is that Bush's father hosted a dinner honoring the commander of Apollo 8, which had flown around the moon in December 1968, and invited young Bush, to mix with the various Washington people. Old Bush had an "ulterior motive": "I also invited Tricia Nixon. I thought it might be fun for you to take her to the party."

Bush was "briefly speechless":
"I’m going to have to get back to you on that," I said.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about flying to Washington for a blind date with the President’s oldest daughter. I mentioned the invite to several of my flight school buddies. They didn’t believe me. Only a fifty-dollar wager would quiet their needling. I called Dad back.

'Count me in,' I said.

On the appointed evening, I pulled up to the White House gate in my parents’ purple Gremlin, which was outfitted with Levi’s jean seat covers. A White House usher met me at the Diplomatic Reception Entrance and took me upstairs. I asked if the President was there. The usher said that he and Mrs. Nixon were traveling.

I awkwardly sat on the couches overlooking the Rose Garden and awaited my date’s arrival. Eventually Tricia emerged, and I introduced myself. We went downstairs and climbed into a white Lincoln Town Car. As we hit the seats, one of the Secret Service agents in the front swiveled his head and said, "Good evening, Miss Nixon."

Off we went to the Alibi Club , where we were seated at a round oak table. Being a swashbuckling pilot, I had taken to drink. During dinner, I reached for some butter, knocked over a glass, and watched in horror as the stain of red wine crept across the table. Then I fired up a cigarette, prompting a polite suggestion from Tricia that I not smoke. The date came to an end when she asked me to take her back to the White House immediately after dinner. When I returned to the party, my father was standing around chatting with a few friends.

“How’d it go, son?” he asked.

Before I could answer, one of his friends leaned in and whispered, “Get any?” I smiled.

“Not even close.”
So, he got drunk! And his parents had a purple Gremlin with Levi's jean seat covers. That's odd.

Anyway, Tricia went on to get married in 1971, and in 1976, George Bush met Laura and married her. 10 years after that Laura got George Bush to stop drinking. Tricia, like George, has never divorced.

ADDED: I originally had December 1968 as the date of the party, but astute commenters pointed out that Nixon did not become President until January 1969. The only date in the book  is December 1968, which, as the post now reflects, was the date of the Apollo trip to the moon. The Gremlin with the Levi's seats is — according to the Jalopnik piece "The Ten Strangest Special Edition Cars" — from the "early 1970s," and since Tricia got married on June 12, 1971, if Bush and Jalopnik have their facts straight, the party took place sometime in or just after 1970, when Bush was 24.

But did Bush get the facts right? Was this a real date or just 2 young people meeting and socializing as friends? I suspect Bush didn't give the date of the party because it was so close to the date of her wedding that it wouldn't make sense to call it a "date." You'd think he'd have fact checkers to nix the purple Gremlin. It's a nice detail, and maybe that's the way he remembered it, but this isn't one of those memoirs where the author is taking artistic license. He's writing for history, and he tells us so in the first paragraph of the book, where he talks about the historian David McCullough, whose daughter told him:
"You should know that one of my father’s great regrets in studying John Adams is there was no serious account of him by his son John Quincy Adams."

She knew, of course, my connection to John Quincy: We are the only sons of Presidents who have served as Presidents ourselves. "For history’s sake," she said, "I think you should write a book about your father."
Maybe someone will interview Tricia about that date, if she remembers it. I'd like a description of what George Bush was really like back then. It was 1970(ish) and he drove a purple Gremlin with Levi's jean seat covers, which must have been the car his parents bought for him, and it just screams "hippie." How long was his hair? Did he have a stereotypical hippie demeanor? What did he talk about? So he smoked and she expressed her displeasure. What was the rest of the scene like? I'm picturing something like Dustin Hoffman's character in "The Graduate," under pressure from his parents, taking Elaine out and deliberately showing her a bad time.

25 comments:

Rob said...

The date must be wrong. Nixon wasn't president in December 1968.

rcocean said...

So when did he quit smoking and become a health nut?

Sam L. said...

A purple Gremlin! For a member of the Ways and Means Committee! I see this as proof he wasn't stuck up or buying a car with campaign money.

Sam L. said...

Nixon was President-elect in December 68, so it must have been in early 69.

DanTheMan said...

John Kerry went into Cambodia in December 68 because Nixon ordered it.
It's seared into his memory. And he has the hat.

MadisonMan said...

The AMC Gremlin did not start production 'til 1970.

Ann Althouse said...

"The date must be wrong. Nixon wasn't president in December 1968."

Thanks. I've reworded it. The date given was for the Apollo flight, not for the party.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

Nixon didn't have to be President for an astronaut to fly around the moon. Y'all are getting the date reference wrong.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Skyler said...

I remember in 1968 I was in kindergarten and our teacher seemed really happy Nixon was elected. She spent a lot of time telling us about him and I learned that he had a beautiful daughter named Tricia. I almost never have heard her name mentioned since, except to learn that she was getting married a few years later. I'm guessing she must have had her head on straight to keep out of the news.

St. George said...

The biography gets a rave in the Wall St. Journal here

The senior Bush, his son reminds us, is well-known for making friends and keeping them. “In an era characterized by bitter partisanship,” he writes, “George Bush set an example as a man who put civility and decency ahead of the ugliness of politics.” When his Democratic friend Dan Rostenkowski was convicted of corruption, he called him in prison “hoping to lift his spirits.”

and

As president, Bush senior was unfailingly kind to the stewards, Secret Service agents, cooks—anyone who worked at the White House. While he was CIA director in the late 1970s, he took the employee elevator, not the one reserved for the director. He traveled to CIA bureaus around the world to talk to station chiefs and analysts. He hated what he called “bigshot-itis.”

One doubts anyone will write such things about the present inhabitant of the White House.

Michael K said...

I was hoping the book would explain the tax increase that doomed his fathers re-election. I still believe the Democrats, and his pal Rostenkowski, made a deal to support the Gulf War in return for a tax increase that they suspected would kill his re-election.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

It would be fun to hear Tricia's side of this story.

FullMoon said...

Some asshole reporter asked Bush Sr. about a rumored affair. Bush replied with appropriate contempt "I will not dignify that question with an answer"

Big Bill Clinton talked about his underwear on MTV

Big Mike said...

American Motors introduced the Gremlin in 1970 but according to Wikipedia the "Levis" interior option wasn't introduced until the 1973 model year, which was after Tricia was married. I recollect that the exterior was painted a shade of blue to more or less match the interior, but I could be mistaken.

Dave Duffy said...

Tricia Nixon was by far the best looking of any of our President's daughters. Gadzooks, no wonder Bush fumbled.

David said...

"It would be fun to hear Tricia's side of this story."

Tricia did not drink, but she was flat out stoned. Remembers nothing of most of those years. David Eisenhower finally persuaded her to give up drugs.

Quaestor said...

Althouse wrote: So, he got drunk! And his parents had a purple Gremlin with Levi's jean seat covers. That's odd.

Here's a snapshot of one, somewhat worse for wear, but in one piece. And not quite purple, more of a lavender, but if you're a two-fisted, hard-drinkin' fighter jock it's purple. That door is amazing. I've searched around and have surmised that factory-stock Gremlins all came with conventional doors. This must be a rare pimpmobile conversion. I don't know whether I'd want to "date" any lady associated with gentleman of leisure who drove such a car -- not confidence-building, if you get my drift.

Saint Croix said...

Tricia Nixon was by far the best looking of any of our President's daughters.

My vote is for Jenna Bush

Tricia Nixon was good looking, but what really struck me in her wedding photo is how proud her dad is.

Ann Althouse said...

"That door is amazing."

That must be some retrofit. The Gremlin was a cheap car with normal doors. It wasn't very good, so it was always puzzling why people had them. There were other cheap cars — Pintos and Vegas. People got Gremlins because they wanted something that looked weird.

Eric said...

As president, Bush senior was unfailingly kind to the stewards, Secret Service agents, cooks—anyone who worked at the White House.

Quite a contrast with Hillary.

Eric said...

In 1972 you could buy a Gremlin with a five liter V-8. People bought it because it had a lot of power for a car that small.

Brando said...

This would be a neat setup for a TV show--young George W Bush. Each week it could have him going through the adventures of a young son of a political player in the late '60s, interacting with various other characters he'll encounter later--maybe having a young John Kerry offer him a pamphlet as he's walking by a protest, or a young Hillary asking him for directions to the Watergate hearings.

Why has TV not come up with this?

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, people didn't buy Vegas because they rusted out on the showroom floor and because the first buyers discovered that the nickel-treated aluminum block didn't hold up as advertised. After a while the cylinders got out of shape and the cars started to burn oil. Pintos were hurting for legroom and were underpowered by late 1960s standards. Gremlins had a strong, durable engine and decent front legroom.

Larry J said...

St. George said...

As president, Bush senior was unfailingly kind to the stewards, Secret Service agents, cooks—anyone who worked at the White House. While he was CIA director in the late 1970s, he took the employee elevator, not the one reserved for the director. He traveled to CIA bureaus around the world to talk to station chiefs and analysts. He hated what he called “bigshot-itis.”

One doubts anyone will write such things about the present inhabitant of the White House.


You can tell a lot about a person's character by how they treat their subordinates, wait staff, and people in no position to advance themselves.