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How Bush, the elder, influences son's White House

President's father wields diplomatic Rolodex, but also offers lessons on mistakes to avoid inside the Oval Office.

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When Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah traveled to Texas last month, he visited his new friend President Bush – and his old buddy from the Gulf War days, the other President Bush.

After dining on beef tenderloin and potato salad at the son's Crawford ranch, Prince Abdullah and the father spent 90 minutes together on a train from Houston to College Station, Texas, the site of George Herbert Walker Bush's presidential library.

The White House portrayed this leg of the trip as a personal catch-up. A Saudi Embassy spokesman, however, indicated that the elder Bush plays a reassuring role in the region, and that his advice is sought after. Indeed, last summer, when the crown prince complained of the new president's overly pro-Israel stance, the elder Bush was pressed into service, personally calling the Saudi royal to calm the storm.

Ever since No. 43 – as the current president is sometimes called – took office, the White House has played down the influence of No. 41. The two talk often, but as the president's dad recently said, "he doesn't need me or his mother hovering over the scene."

Still, Bush senior – and, more broadly speaking, his administration – casts a long shadow. Affecting everything from this president's war on terrorism to his economic message, and from politics to personnel, Bush I has fundamentally shaped Bush II, though often indirectly, and not always as a model to be followed.

"There have been lessons learned," says George Edwards, director of the Center for Presidential Studies at Texas A&M in College Station. "Those lessons include: Show an interest in domestic policy; and don't alienate your base."

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