As he sat in a rocking chair overlooking the annual Christmas parade in Little Washington last Sunday, political satirist Mark Russell spoke seriously for once about President George H.W. Bush, who died last Friday at the age of 94.
“They were right all morning long,” Russell said of those singing praises of the nation’s 41st president on the Sunday news shows. “A ‘decent’ president and so forth, ‘modest.’ Barbara Bush always had a women’s luncheon and I [performed at] two of those — when George was running for president and reelection — and they were a great family.”
Russell recalled Bush’s mother “taught him never to brag, and that was reflected with Jeb’s campaign,” referring to the late president’s son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who came up short in his bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
“Jeb was mild mannered, and it did not serve him well in his short campaign for president because he tried to emulate his father,” Russell opined. “And then here [Donald] Trump comes along and calls him ‘low energy’ and whatever.
“That’s an example of the difference of the [national political] scene today and the scene during George H.W. Bush’s era,” he added.
As for President Trump surprising some by attending yesterday’s state funeral for Bush at the Washington National Cathedral, despite his biting criticism in the past of the Bush family, Russell said Bush before he died no doubt insisted that Trump be seated in the church pews among the former U.S. presidents.
“The old man, being the decent person he was, probably said let’s be noble about it and invite the president to the funeral of another president,” guessed Russell, imagining an “argument” on that very subject between Bushes 41 and 43 — former President George W. Bush — “where George W. said, ‘You know, Dad, he’s a you know what . . . ’
“And 41 said, ‘Now son, that’s not the way we [Bushes] act, so he [Trump] will be there.’”
As for Russell’s piano-playing parodies of politicians of all stripes, the comedian said the elder Bush “could really take a joke, and so could his son . They would speak at these dinners, these White House correspondents’ dinners, where you were supposed to be funny. And he  was really good — self deprecating.
“He left himself open for criticism, and he knew it, when he said, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes!’ And I did a [comedy] bit about that for years, I really exaggerated it,” said Russell.
But the Bushes — the entire family — never took his satire personally.
“I was for Jeb,” Russell revealed of his preference in the 2016 Republican primary. Which didn’t prevent the comedian from parodying the president’s other political son.
“I did a [skit] where Jeb was campaigning and he had a nasty heckler in the audience, who said, ‘Get off the stage, it’s over!’ And Jeb said, ‘But mother!’ ‘Don’t mother me, go to your room.’ And you know they laughed at all that stuff.”
Russell, 86, no longer performs publicly, having appeared on stage for the last time in October 2016, just days before the election of Trump. One can only imagine what his comedy routine would consist of with the current president.
“I’m delighted to be retired,” he insisted. “I call it the twilight of a mediocre career. So I wake up in the morning and I turn on the news and I say to myself, ‘Gee, I don’t give a damn. I don’t have to be funny tonight about this.’”
Otherwise, he’s still funny.
“As you see I have a seat that I come and reserve here on the porch of the [Inn at Little Washington] gift shop and people have been walking by and saying, ‘Oh you have a nice seat.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been sitting here since midnight.’”
A close friend of Mayor John Fox Sullivan and his wife, Beverly, Russell, who was visiting with his wife Ali, paints the annual Christmas parade through Little Washington as “the most bucolic placid scene every year. And I describe this to people, but I don’t succeed in portraying what it’s really like. It’s confusing.
“So I say, ‘It’s the only parade in the world that has live llamas. And these live llamas by tonight will be on the menu at the Inn.’ I said that to [Inn chef] Patrick [O’Connell], and he said, ‘Yeah, but they’re a little stringy.’
“So we live in D.C., the other Washington — there is another one — and we come down here and life is good.”