- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005


By Doug Wead

Atria, $26, 512 pages

Doug Wead has written 27 books in a career that includes serving as a special assistant to President George H. W. Bush and working for George W. Bush in the l988 presidential campaign. Now he has followed up an earlier book, “All the Presidents’ Children” with “The Raising of a President,” which provides insight into the growing-up years of the nation’s presidents and their relationships with their parents.

Unfortunately, it has now been disclosed that some of the information Mr. Wead uses comes from phone conversations he taped with George W. Bush before Mr. Bush became president but without his knowledge. The fact casts a pall over the entire book although it is clear that Mr. Wead did not have an opportunity to tape others about whom he writes.

It may have been the fact that Mr. Wead got to know both Bushes personally that inspired him to delve into the lives and backgrounds of presidents, and their parents and their parents’ parents in an effort to find out what made them tick and what drove them to seek the presidency.

Although the nation’s 43 presidents come from widely different backgrounds, very early on Mr. Wead reaches one basic conclusion: Almost without exception America’s presidents were mama’s boys. They had strong mothers, although the fathers often were no slouches either.

Mr. Wead focuses on eight presidents and their families. Then at the back of the book he devotes another 98 pages to brief biographies of all the presidents’ parents with the exceptions of the last two, Presidents William J. Clinton and George W. Bush.

In the first part of the book, Mr. Wead provides plentiful details on the parents of George Washington, John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Bushes, father and son.

Mr. Wead is fascinated by the nation’s so-called political “dynasties.” The Adamses, father and son, were one. The Roosevelts, who were cousins, were another. The Kennedys ” who produced only one president but who had senators, representatives, cabinet secretaries and ambassadors in the clan ” were another. And the Bushes ” with a senator, two presidents and a governor ” are the most current.

Almost unbelievably, Mr. Wead discloses his book is the first about the parents of presidents. And he expresses frustration that no psychologist has taken up the subject of the relationship of the presidents as boys to their parents. For instance, he says, it would be helpful to know if our presidents were breast-fed or bottle-fed, adding that “there is not much available on the subject of presidential breast-feeding.”

Mr. Wead’s first subjects are George Washington and his mother, Mary Ball Washington. But Mr. Wead writes with no great enthusiasm about the Washingtons, almost as if he felt obligated to include the nation’s first president. Admittedly, too, he is hampered by a lack of facts. But even though Mr. Wead paints Mary Washington as a domineering mother, what evidence he provides indicates that George, even at 15, was not intimidated and didn’t hesitate to go off on his own.

Mr. Wead shows no such reluctance in writing about the Lincolns although much of what allegedly is known is myth, but Mr. Wead plows doggedly ahead trying to determine how a boy raised in the backwoods of Kentucky and Indiana and having only one year of schooling could grow up to become the man he three times lauds as the nation’s “greatest president.”

Mr. Wead is not so kind to the aristocratic Roosevelts or the pushy descendants of Irishimmigrants,the Kennedys. He relates that Franklin Roosevelt’s possessive mother bathed with him until he was nine and takes note of Roosevelt’s mistresses as well as the rumors that Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian who let her mother-in-law raise her children.

He discusses at length the extra-marital activities of the Kennedy father, Joseph, and his president son, John, but he never mentions Marilyn Monroe. He tells of the father’s connections with organized crime and dredges up Sen. Ted Kennedy’s accident at Chappaquiddick. In all the Kennedy picture is one of corruption, not of greatness.

In contrast, the story of the Bushes ” Sen. Prescott Bush, his wife, Dorothy, the family matriarch, and down to the two presidents, George H. W. and George W. and their wife and mother, Barbara ” despite a few rough spots, is a virtual paean of praise.

Regardless of this, however, Mr. Wead has given us an interesting book, filled with facts that put a human face on our presidents and the families out of which they arose.

Lyn Nofziger, a Washington writer, was an adviser to President Ronald Reagan.

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