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Bush Ditches His Ranch for Ritzier Digs in Dallas

From cowboy to cowed boy, W. crawls outta Crawford for yet another image re-do.

So it's official: George W. Bush is not a cowboy. We pretty much suspected he wasn't when we learned that, for all his bow-legged strutting, the man's afraid of horses. But last week, Bush let the other Lucchese boot drop: He and Laura bought a $2 million, fancy-pants house in Dallas's toniest neighborhood and will soon be high-tailin' it out of that eight-year-old stage set of a "ranch" in Crawford. Any uncleared brush can go clear itself.

Oh, the couple will undoubtedly drop by the old chuckwagon, do some weekends maybe (and it could well become the safe-house George retreats to when, and if, the long pent-up Furies finally claim his mind). But the move to Dallas is a 180 from what Laura told USA Today during a ranch tour in April, 2001, that she and George "want to grow old here."

Instead, the Bushes' old growth will take place primarily at a refurbished 1959 home in the upscale neighborhood of Preston Hollows, just blocks from other powerfuls, like Ross Perot, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban, and Texas Rangers' owner Tom Hicks, who bought the business from previous owner George, making him even wealthier. A Dallas realtor described the exclusive area (literally: until 2000, a neighborhood covenant deemed it for whites only, making an exception for servants) as one where many "older homes are being torn down and big new ones, mega-mansions, are being put up in their place."

Bush's Western White House was a bit like that too: a 1,583-acre McRanch, a former pig farm actually, bought in 1999 to de-Kennebunkport George during his initial run for the presidency. The brand new, one-story ranch house--with geothermal heating and other eco features that were good enough for him and his but not the country--was supposed to be finished by Election Day 2000. It's not clear whether it was plumbing or stolen-election problems that caused the delay, but the home wasn't ready until after the Inaugural.

Bush imagineers Karl Rove and Karen Hughes didn't exactly broadcast the spanking newness of the place, because the idea was to make it seem more like a homestead, handed down not by the Bush family (as Yale and Skull'n'Bones were), but as something distinctly W's, his true home, as if the switchgrass itself had curled its tendrils up through New England and around George's belt loops to pull him back to the east Texas soil where he rightly belonged.

A ranch, a place where bulls theoretically roam, seems to dial up the manliness of any commander-in-chief: Reagan had a ranch, so did fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson, in contrast to Jimmy Carter who, as the GOP never tires of noting, had a "peanut farm." With a ranch, Bush could pre-empt any mortifying Newsweek covers, like the "Fighting the Wimp Factor" one his father suffered in 1987.

If he couldn't ride a horse, and wouldn't even pose on one, 43 could clear some mean brush. As former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower, who dubbed the Crawford digs a "ranchette," said in 2004, "Bush is always inviting the media out to take pictures of him clearing brush. In my experience real ranchers spend virtually no time clearing brush. They're usually tending cattle....the cattle you see as part of the photo op aren't even his. They're somebody else's that he rents the land to."

But as we all know, it made a smashing backdrop, and most media are backdrop fools, much as they were for Bush's Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier backdrop. Long after Bush had come to be seen around the world as all hat and no cattle in every embarrassing way, his rough-hewn cowboy image lived on in the media. To this day Europeans knock his "cowboy diplomacy," perhaps not realizing how cool that sounds to the chickenhawks who, like Dick Cheney, scratch in the dirt of American exceptionalism.

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