In 1985, Lee Atwater hired me through an early political action committee to begin organizing conservative support for Vice President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 run for the presidency. My work consisted of meeting with conservatives and setting up meetings for Bush, at which he was superb.
I started making trips with Bush to areas I knew, including upstate New York, where I was from. We planned a trip upstate to help incumbent Republican Rep. George Wortley, a family friend and a really terrific guy.
Flying with the vice president was a hoot, to say the least. No one stood in line, no snarly stewardesses, no invasive magnetometers, no groping pat downs by a sweaty 300 pound TSA flunky and no fighting over overhead bins. You got on, were warmly greeted by a Navy steward with a hot cup of coffee and took your seat. (Or did not take your seat, if you didn’t feel like it.)
Upon taxing and takeoff, there was no “put your seat and tray tables upright and in the full locked position.” People stood in the aisles chatting, gossiping and reading the morning’s Washington Times.
We went to Syracuse via Air Force Two.There at Hancock Airport, a motorcade swept us into town lickety split. My family was there at the event to greet us including my mother, Barbara, my brother, John and my sister-in-law, Ellen.
I introduced them to the vice president and it was like old home week. He could not have been nicer and when I stood off to the side while a photo was being taken he waved me over and said, “Craig, come over here and get in the picture.”
My brother was so impressed that the vice president of the United States knew me by name.
After the event I lingered and dawdled, but I was about to get a lesson in “Bush Time.” There is Eastern Standard Time, and there is Bush Time. I was operating under EST, chatting with my family when, to my horror, the motorcade began to leave — without me!
I’d been assigned to the second car behind the limousine Bush was riding in and I saw Rich Bond, a Bush aide and someone else in the back seat, furiously waving to me to get in as the car began to pull away. It pulled away very quickly. I literally dived into the open door of the passenger side, my feet dragging, Bond laughing and pulling me in, all at the same time. I got in with no bruises, except to my ego.
I went into Syracuse with new wingtips and left with slightly scuffed wingtips — and a much adjusted ego, along with a new respect for Bush Time.
Craig Shirley (@CraigSBPA) is the founder and chairman of public affairs firm Shirley and Bannister. He is the author of four books on Ronald Reagan, the New York Times bestselling “December, 1941” and the critically praised “Citizen Newt,” the only authorized biography of Newt Gingrich. He has just completed Honored Madam, the first definitive biography of Mary Ball Washington.
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