Madmen, murderers, miscreants, martyrs: presidents’ children are just like the rest of us, only more so.
So one would conclude from this thoroughgoing compendium by former Bush I administration staffer Wead, whose researches began as a memorandum to the current president when he was contemplating his first run for Texas governor. (No president’s child had ever successfully run for governor, he warned Bush II.) Being the child of a president can be tough duty, Wead capably shows; it makes for loneliness, paranoia, high rates of divorce and alcoholism, and a life expectancy lower than the national norm. It can lead to maladjustment and exceptional nastiness, as witness Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who specialized in bitter complaint about just about every conceivable topic throughout her long life. (Teddy’s daughter died at 96 in 1980, having outlived every other presidential child.) It can yield spasms of rebellion: Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan’s daughter, for example, “took loud, public stands against her father’s policies.” Yet there have also been well-adjusted, happy, and productive presidential progeny: William Howard Taft’s daughter Helen, a notable suffragette; Gerald Ford’s son Steve, an actor familiar to fans of The Young and the Restless and Black Hawk Down; and Amy Carter, a hardworking humanitarian like father Jimmy. Wead’s well-written, gossipy narrative is good fun to read, though it doesn’t boast much analytical power. Readers can fashion from it just about any case they care to on the question of whether a president’s kid is apt to turn out a hero like Webb Hayes (son of Rutherford), who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, or a loser like Marshall Polk (adopted son of James), who died in prison.
Light enough for a dentist’s waiting room, but substantial enough to amuse and inform White House watchers and students of political history.