Rejecting family entreaties that he go to Yale before going to war, he enlisted on his 18th birthday and promptly became the Navy’s youngest commissioned aviator, compiling 126 carrier landings and 58 missions. After Yale, he spurned a Wall Street career and with his wife — the former Barbara Pierce, a descendant of the 14th president, Franklin Pierce — headed in his Studebaker for the West Texas oil patch. But he took Wall Street with him in the form of connections and capital that helped launch the Bush-Overbey Oil Development Co.
Business success brought him to Houston; boredom with business brought him to politics. He was 39 when he announced he would seek the Republican nomination to oppose Senator Ralph Yarborough in 1964, the year Barry Goldwater, harbinger of the Republicans’ future, would be at the top of the ticket.
Bush took on the coloration of Texas’s first generation of Republicanism. He endorsed right-to-work laws and denounced Medicare — it was coming in 1965 — as “socialistic.” He opposed the 1964 civil-rights bill on the grounds that it would “make the Department of Justice the most powerful police force in the nation.” He said the bill’s public-accommodations provisions were unconstitutional, and whereas the law might “protect 14 percent of the people,” he was equally concerned about “the other 86 percent.”