Campus Life

Former Bush Advisors Reflect On Serving ‘Most Empathetic’ President

A panel discussion between Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary Andrew Card was the first in a series of events at Texas A&M this week celebrating the legacy of President George H.W. Bush.
By Mike Reilly, Texas A&M University System Marketing & Communications June 11, 2024

Jeb Bush, Robert Gates and Andrew Card seated on a stage as they speak before an audience.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, moderated a panel discussion between Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary Andrew Card on June 11, 2024. Their discussion kicked off a series of events celebrating the legacy of President George H.W. Bush.

Laura McKenzie/Texas A&M Division of Marketing and Communications


Robert Gates and Andrew Card have a lot in common.

Both served as top advisors to George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and to his eldest son, George W. Bush, the nation’s 43rd president.

Both served as deans of Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

And on Tuesday —  to the delight of 600 gathered at the Bush Presidential Center at Texas A&M University in College Station — Gates and Card disclosed something else the two share.

They own the world’s only two baseballs autographed the legendary hitter Ted Williams,  George H.W. Bush, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

More on that later. The story was just one many shared during a heartwarming hour of conversation moderated by Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and third child of George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The event kicked off a three-day celebration that commemorates the 100th birthday on June 12 of the senior Bush.

“Your dad was an empathetic leader, the most empathetic of any president,” Card told Jeb Bush and the crowd, which included other former top Bush administration officials and supporters of the George & Barbara Bush Foundation.

“He had an ability to make you a friend before you had a chance to become an enemy,” he said.

Their conversation offered behind-the-scenes perspective on Bush 41’s role in world events, his style of diplomacy, leadership and management skills, and the generational impact of his decisions.

In a single term as president, from 1989 to 1993, Bush led the western world through one its most consequential periods — the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany that marked the peaceful end of the Cold War. Bush also signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and built a 34-nation coalition to push the Iraqi military out of Kuwait.

Gates agreed that Bush’s empathy was a major key to his success. As an example, he pointed to Bush’s decision to not celebrate openly when the Berlin Wall fell.

“George Mitchell (Democratic Senate Majority Leader) was really coming after him for not dancing on the wall,” Gates said. “Bush understood the tightrope that (Mikhail) Gorbachev was on. If Bush went to Berlin to celebrate, it very likely would provoke a coup in Moscow.”

Gates and Card also described a White House that knew how to use humor to let off steam.

Bush arranged an elaborate annual awards ceremony named for National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. It went to officials who fell asleep in the middle of meetings.

A college baseball player and avid fan, Bush once pranked pitching great Roger Clemens during a White House visit. Card said that the President of the United States somehow boobytrapped a framed photo in the Oval Office that was laying on its side.

After waiting for the president for several minutes, Clemens tried lifting the photo and  heard a recorded “get your hands off of that picture.” He dropped the picture. Glass shattered and Bush appeared suddenly, saying, “I got you!”

That pair of baseballs with their unique set of autographs were from opening day, April 1989, in Baltimore. Bush, Williams, Mubarak, Gates, and Card shared box seats.

Gates recalled the comedy “of listening to Ted Williams and George H.W. Bush trying to explain the game of baseball to cricket-loving Hosni Mubarak. It was right out of Bob Newhart.”

“The Bush White House was full of laughter,” Gates added. “But, when it became clear that we were going to go to war against Iraq, that all disappeared. Almost from day one, he seemed to visibly take on the burden of what he was going to order. These young men, principally young men, were going into battle.”

Gates served Bush 41 as deputy national security advisor (1989-1991) and CIA Director (1991-1993). He served as Secretary of Defense for Bush 43 and President Barrack Obama (2006-2011). Gates served as Texas A&M President (2002-2006) and as Dean of the Bush School (1999-2002).

Card served Bush 41 as Deputy Chief of Staff (1989-1992) and Secretary of Transportation (1992-1993.)  He was Bush 43’s chief of staff (2001-2006). He is widely remembered for whispering on 9/11 to the President, while he was visiting with school children in Florida, “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.” Card served as interim Dean of the Bush School (2011-2013) and is in his second stint as CEO of the Bush Foundation, which is hosting the 100th birthday bash.

Jeb Bush elicited applause by expressing his appreciation to Gates and Card for all of their public service, especially their service as top strategists to his father’s administration.

Gates offered a friendly correction: “He was the strategist. The rest of us were the implementers.”

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