Broccoli sign stops motorcade
When President George H.W. and Barbara Bush came to Fredericksburg on March 3, 1993, we were told not to get too excited about it. We would see them in passing, for a few seconds at most, from the neck up, in the backseat of a limo.
Getting up close and personal with the former President and First Lady was out of the question. No exceptions.
Security was as tight as a Yeti cooler — except for one detail. The Secret Service forgot to brief Ms. Parker’s class.
Some of you may remember that was right after Bush 41 made all those comments about a certain green stalky vegetable.
It began at a Florida fundraiser with a bad joke.
“I’ve made it very clear how I feel about raising taxes,” the President said. He paused for dramatic effect. “I’d rather have broccoli for breakfast.”
At the time, America was in a fitness phase, and not everyone was happy about it. Us pizza and donut guys were looking frantically for relief from the kale and carrot juice crowd.
Whether or not you agreed with his politics, George H.W. Bush was a pretty regular guy. Like many of us, he preferred a hotdog and a beer to a cauliflower and goat cheese sandwich with a soy milk chaser.
And this president’s opinion had clout. When President Bush expressed a preference for pork rinds, sales of that great southern delicacy jumped 11 percent.
George H.W. Bush was not one to dodge an unpleasant subject. When pressed about the broccoli business, the president gave it to us stalk and all.
“I do not like broccoli,” he confessed, “and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. Well, I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
“By golly, I’m the President,” he said raising his fist in the air. “No more broccoli.”
There was a Breaking News flash on CNN.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee threw up his hands: “There goes the broccoli vote.”
Bush immediately issued an Executive Order outlawing broccoli at the White House and aboard Air Force One. The Democrats questioned the legality of the order saying it was “in the twilight zone of dubious constitutional legitimacy.”
Congressional Republicans seized the moment.
“The president feels about taxes the same way he feels about broccoli,” said an Arizona congressman when arguing against a tax bill. “You can put it on the table in front of him, but he’s not going to eat it.”
Then Bill Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election. Experts are still analyzing the role of broccoli in that contest. They’ve written several thick books about it.
George and Barbara Bush, out of office for just five weeks, came to Fredericksburg in March 1993 for a private view of the Gallery of the Pacific War at the Nimitz Museum. Plans were already underway to name it after President Bush, a navy pilot in World War II.
Their jet landed at Louis Schreiner Field in Kerrville at 9:20 that morning. At 10 a.m. their motorcade left for Fredericksburg.
It was a cloudy day as I remember. A line of identical black cars rolled into town on the Kerrville highway and slowly turned right on Main Street. All eyes strained to see which one George and Barbara Bush were in.
Suddenly there they were, waving to the people on both sides of the street.
Then something in the crowd caught Barbara’s eye. George saw it, too. A sign made by elementary school students that read “Out With Broccoli — In With Sauerkraut.”
George told the driver to stop. Then George and Barbara got out of the car to mingle with the sign makers in Ms. Parker’s class.
The Secret Service scrambled. Those guys don’t like surprises.
The rest of us had the thrill of a lifetime.
Words are powerful. Just ask George H.W. Bush.
He once made a bad joke about a vegetable. Broccoli has stalked him ever since.