George W. Bush was head cheerleader in high school,A there have been other presidential candidates who have dressed in drag, flaunting their legs from beneath a (fairly short) white skirt. But George W. Bush is probably the only one who has done it in front of a camera.
A photograph showing George and friends wearing wigs and employing falsies to fill out their sweaters appears in a yellowed copy of the school newspaper of Phillips Academy here in Andover, near Boston. It was 1963, and George, then a high school senior and head cheerleader, was leading a skit intended to mock rival schools.
Governor Bush’s student days were in most respects supremely undistinguished, and anyone hoping to find reassurance about his candidacy through signs of great intellect or gravitas in those years will be disappointed. There were many other students then who seemed far more likely to emerge as political leaders.
Yet there was one important area where young George did excel: people skills. It was in high school that he first seemed to cultivate them and exhibit them, using the tactics that show through in that photo — wisecracking showmanship — to carve out an identity for himself, an identity that is more subdued today but otherwise intact.
It was also then that George W., while forging countless loyal friendships, also began to turn some people off with what they saw as arrogance, emptiness and a tendency to smirk and be dismissive.
In his stump speeches today, Mr. Bush comes across not as a policy maven or intellectual but as a politician motivated in large part by optimism and a yearning to “lift the spirit of America,” as he puts it. In all this, there is perhaps an echo of a boy at Andover long ago who finally found his niche by building coalitions across cliques and lifting the spirits of his school.
In an institution that respected brains and brawn, George seemed to overflow with neither. He was a mediocre student and no more than a decent athlete, and he paled in comparison with his father and namesake, who had been brilliant at everything he did.
Yet, in the end, George found alternative ways to claim the stage and become popular. Against the odds, he emerged by force of personality as a significant figure on campus.
No one thought of George W. Bush as a future politician, and he seemed oblivious to the civil rights struggle and other issues of the day. But he worked hard to remember everyone’s name and managed to worm his way into the limelight. Early on, he showed one of the most fundamental political skills: the ability to make people feel good.
“You can definitely see the germination of leadership there, even though the activity was not anything you would call political,” said Randall Roden, a childhood friend of George who also attended Andover. “He was learning those skills, or perfecting them, at Andover.”
Portraits of the youthful George W. tend toward the extremes, presenting him either as a paragon of decency, street smarts, charisma and quips, like some Republican John F. Kennedy, or else as a spoiled dolt who (as was said of his father) was born on third base believing that he had hit a triple. Yet the George whom classmates recall is no such caricature, one way or the other, but rather the more complex image of the nervous, excited and exuberant boy with a thick Texas accent who showed up for classes at Andover in September 1961.