How the Bush Family Went From Hated to Hipster

Mark III Photonics/

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 likeThe 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?

(Image via Mark III Photonics /

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.