Garry Trudeau on George W. as College Boy

In Shadow, Bob Woodward describes George Bush, at the height of his popularity immediately following the Gulf War, whining to his diary about a cartoonist who wrote jokes about his manhood. Garry Trudeau, Bush wrote, was “a little elitist who is spoiled, derisive, ugly and nasty.” I’m rubber, you’re glue, bounce off me and stick to you!

George W. Bush doesn’t seem to like the creator of “Doonesbury” much, either. (To remind yourself why, click on “Flashbacks,” and when the little box with the search engine appears, enter “Bush.” Chatterbox is especially fond of the second installment of “President and First Lady Deal With a Rat,” dated Sept. 5, 1989.) In George W.’s case, however, there’s a little history to the relationship. Here is what W. told the Dallas Morning News in 1994:

When Garry Trudeau questioned [the elder Bush’s] manhood, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. And I made it absolutely clear to Mr. Trudeau, who was two years behind me at Yale University. And if he didn’t like me telling him that, I didn’t care.

Curious about the old-school tie between the likely Republican presidential nominee and America’s preeminent comic-strip artist, Chatterbox asked Trudeau for his recollections of George W. Bush at Yale. Specifically, Chatterbox wanted to check out a rumor that, while at Yale, W. told Trudeau to quit fiddling with that infernal liberal comic strip. Apparently, the rumor is not true. In an e-mail, Trudeau explained that he didn’t start writing “Bulltales” (as “Doonesbury” was called before Trudeau syndicated it) until the fall of 1968. W. had graduated the previous spring. Trudeau also pointed out that not many people were calling his comic strip “liberal” during its early years: “Indeed, when I first started syndication, Time called “Doonesbury” reactionary. Time!”

“The only story I can think of that comes close,” Trudeau wrote,

is one my roommate tells: Bush approached him and warned him that the crowd he was running with was trouble–the drugs, the hair, the dress, the antiwar agitation, etc. There was no question that we in the Class of ‘70 regarded most of the people in the Class of ‘68 as the last of old Yale–they belonged more to our parents’ world than to ours. The Class of ‘69 was caught in the generational riptide–torn in two directions–but the Class of ‘70 (which had a radically different demographic–far fewer preppies) thought of itself as being in the vanguard of the counterculture.To be fair (not usually my strong suit), a different roommate says he remembers Bush being open-minded and curious as to what this new freshmen class was about. My own impression of him was formed almost entirely from our joint service on the Davenport College (a residential college) Armour Council, to which I was elected my freshman year under the mistaken impression it had something to do with student government. In fact, it was the social committee, and our chief responsibilities were to arrange for bands and kegs of beer. All I can tell you about Bush was that he showed a lot of command presence during our deliberations. Indeed, he famously went on to become president of Deke, where his talents blossomed.

Fast forward to the 1980s:

In more recent times, the various Bushies have repeatedly snarled at me from afar for all my digs at Geo the Elder. I have always suspected that their antipathy for me was heightened by a certain “traitor-to-his-class” incomprehension. On paper, I’m one of them, so what’s up with the manhood-in-a-blind-trust stuff? Jeb Bush once drew me aside at the Republican Convention, stuck his finger in my face and told me he had only two words for me–“Walk softly.” A particularly productive suggestion. That’s about it. Sorry I can’t give you anything more substantial–I just didn’t know Dubya all that well.

But wait a minute, Chatterbox thought. What about W.’s telling Trudeau–making it, in fact, “absolutely clear”—that he “didn’t like it … didn’t like it at all”? A possible future president roughs you up and you don’t remember it? Chatterbox queried Trudeau about the Dallas Morning News quote. “OK, we’re getting into a shaky territory here,” Trudeau answered, “because I have a notoriously bad memory.”

I have only seen Dubya once since graduation—I think it was at some command NBC event my wife [Jane Pauley] dragged me to. We did talk briefly, but I remember it as being completely non-confrontational, that if anything I was subjected to a charm offensive. That was back when the Bushes were still trying to woo me over from the Dark Side. Early on, Bar even purchased an original, making a nice contribution to the Coalition for the Homeless. She hung it on the wall at the Maine compound, but things got ugly shortly thereafter …