WASHINGTON -- Want a friend in this town, goes the saying, choose a dog. Family, you can't choose. But it can bite you just as hard.
It's a presidential lesson as musty as George Washington's namesake step-grandson -- a seminal frat boy -- and as fresh as the latest Clinton problem: Hugh Rodham's receipt of $400,000 (now refunded) to make pardon pleas.
''I love my brother, but ...,'' Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday and paused the pause that retrenches, before continuing: ''I'm just extremely disappointed in this terrible misjudgment that he made.''
That ''but'' burrows through time.
There it is, echoing in George Washington's letter to Princeton University, warning the folks there about George Washington Parke Custis' penchant for partying.
''Little Wash,'' the president wrote, has ''an almost inconquerable disposition to indolence in everything that did not tend to his amusements.''
Soon enough, Custis got the Princeton boot for ''having endeavored in various ways to lessen the authority and influence of the faculty,'' the university concluded, according to a 1990 book by first lady historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony.
Mrs. Clinton's ''I love my brother, but ...'' also has an ancestor in Abigail Adams' sorrowful contemplation of son Charles after his premature drink-induced death: ''He was beloved in spite of his errors, and all spoke with grief and sorrow for his habits.''
Presidential tales of mad wives, errant children and sibling deviltry abound through subsequent decades, rivaling Shakespeare for drama.
In modern times, President Nixon bugged his brother Donald to make sure he didn't embarrass him with bad business deals -- the disclosure of a loan had backfired against Nixon in the 1960 campaign won so narrowly by John Kennedy.
President Ford scored points for cleaning up the White House after Nixon left in disgrace, but he also scored a little mortification from son Jack, who enjoyed a shaggy look and stepping out with celebrities. Jack Ford complained that Secret Service agents cramped his romantic style, and admitted to smoking marijuana.
The Reagans and Bushes had difficulties with the kids, too.
Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's daughter, bared her body to Playboy and her soul to many others, once saying she was ''lucky to be alive'' after a period of saying yes to cocaine.
Neil Bush, son of then-President Bush, earned federal sanctions in 1991 for conflict of interest after his Savings and Loan collapsed in 1988, costing taxpayers $1 billion. He had been a partner to two of the S&L's major clients. President Bush said he loved him, but -- well, you know the rest.
President Carter's stock answer to Billy questions was just ''I love him," no buts. Billy Carter's highjinks draw perhaps the closest parallel with Hugh Rodham.
Both men decried the attention roused by their presidential links, but were accused of using that cachet to earn money: Carter from Libya in 1979; Rodham from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Billy Carter once said, ''Nothing embarrasses me.''
Former President Clinton has already felt the pain of brotherly trouble. His half brother Roger, who served over a year in prison on a cocaine distribution charge in the mid-1980s, once confessed to having a ''walk-in closet full of skeletons.''
Roger Clinton was charged Wednesday with drunken driving and disturbing the peace after a weekend fracas at a Los Angeles nightclub. Not long before, Bill Clinton had pardoned him for the cocaine conviction.
Now, President Bush, once a heavy drinker who gave up alcohol, seems aware of the risk of having someday to say, ''I love him, but.'' He said Thursday his guidance to his family is ''behave yourself.''
Presidents with trouble-prone relatives might take some solace in the post-Princeton path of ''Little Wash,'' the first errant presidential relative.
George Washington Custis joined the army, achieved officer's rank, and closed out a long life writing plays that extolled patriotism. The youthful rebel apparently was wrung out of him.
Of course, there was HIS daughter, Mary, who married Robert E. Lee, the Southern general who tried to break up the Union in the Civil War. Custis no doubt loved her, but.
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