How the Bush Family Went From Hated to Hipster
Between socks, biking, and bather-selfie paintings, the Bushes know how to make people forget about their legacy.
There was a time when the Bush family was widely reviled by the arbiters of cool, but in the last few years, both President George H.W. Bush and his son have been recast as hipster icons.
First there was George W. Bush's biking and Instagram savvy. Later we learned of his painted bather self-portraits. Juli Weiner, then a blogger for Vanity Fair, has brilliantly documented his evolution from warmongering establishmentarian to reflective artist.
The next great development on the Bush family coolness front came Monday when George W.'s father announced to the masses that the Republican National Committee had issued a special-edition pair of socks in his honor. Though his love of socks had already been documented in numerous Internet slideshows, the RNC campaign kicked off a new slew of media coverage.
"I'm a self-proclaimed sock man," George H.W. Bush wrote in an email to RNC email subscribers. "The louder, the brighter, the crazier the pattern — the better! It's usually the first thing people notice I'm wearing whenever I'm out in public and that's the way I like it."
It wasn't until several hundred words in that H.W. got around to saying that these limited-edition socks, embroidered with the Republican elephant and signed by him, would go to help raise money for the RNC ahead of the midterm elections. And by then it had already made the rounds on Twitter, with reporters like The Hill's Garielle Levy tweeting, "I'd rock some 41 socks."
That's decidedly not a political statement on Levy's part. Rather it's further evidence of just how successful the Bush family has become in laundering its political legacy (did someone say John Yoo torture memos?) in the vintage wash of quirky, apolitical cool. It also doesn't hurt that H.W. is now 89 years old, an instant hipster bonafide (for anyone confused by that, see Vogue's ode to "Grandma chic" or The Wire on "Grandpa chic").
The Clintons, by contrast, have been much more politically active. After Bill Clinton left the White House, he founded a massive eponymous foundation, which leads an annual conference of corporate leaders and global heads of state. That, in addition to giving speeches and campaigning for the Dems.
When the former president took the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, it was not to talk about his love of socks or about finding his inner Degas in a bathtub. It was to give the singularly most moving speech of the convention, overshadowing even President Obama with his oratory skills and helping to push Obama's national support over the top.
The political prowess on display in that speech spawned a whole new wave of media analysis, including Politico's "How Bill Clinton does it" and Poynter's "10 rhetorical strategies that made Bill Clinton's speech effective." The biggest criticism? Clinton wouldn't stop talking. That seems to run in the family.
Hillary Clinton was never the president, but like her husband, she hasn't shied away from public life, winning more delegates than any female presidential candidate in American history and serving as secretary of state under Obama.
The marvel with Hillary is that she's managed to stay politically active while maintaining more than a modicum of hipster credibility, as evidenced by the popularity of sites like Texts from Hillary. Whether any of that can last beyond 2014 is an open question, but neither she nor her husband is showing any sign of trading power for cool.
If the latest sock campaign is any indication, the Bushes seem only too happy to make the swap (though Jeb Bush could complicate this narrative by running for president in 2016). The Bushes' newfound coolness is also perfectly in line with the GOP's quiet push to win over younger voters by dressing their policies up in tortoiseshell glasses. Maybe these things are related?