A Reference Resource
George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush belongs to a political dynasty; he sits in the middle of three generations of politicians, including his father Prescott, a senator from Connecticut; his son Jeb, former governor of Florida; and his son, George Walker, the 43rd President of the United States. In fact, George H. W. and George W. are only the second set of father and son to become President. (John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the first.)
Bush was born and raised in New England in a wealthy family. His parents valued hard work and public service and were strong influences in his life. He was educated at Phillips Academy Andover before joining the U.S. Navy and becoming a pilot, the youngest in the Navy, during World War II. After he left the Navy, he attended Yale University and received a degree in economics.
Bush decided to head out on his own after college and moved his young family to Texas, where he began to work in the oil business. He eventually relocated to Houston, Texas, and became involved in Republican Party politics, first serving as party chairman in Harris County, Texas, and then serving two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Houston's Seventh District.
After losing an election for a U.S. Senate seat in 1970, Bush was appointed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by President Richard Nixon. He went on to hold a number of positions within the presidential administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, including chairman of the Republican National Committee, U.S. envoy to China, and director of Central Intelligence. Bush thrived in the DCI position, and he made it clear to the incoming President, Jimmy Carter, that he would like to remain as director. Carter chose to replace him with his own nominee, so Bush reluctantly returned to Houston.
In the 1980 Republican presidential primaries, Bush ran as a moderate candidate with years of experience. However, he was quickly overwhelmed by Ronald Reagan, the former governor of California. Reagan asked Bush to be his vice president to help attract moderates and bring foreign policy experience to the ticket. The Reagan-Bush ticket won handily in both 1980 and 1984. As vice president, Bush continued to expand his foreign policy experience and traveled widely. He also became good friends with President Reagan, although he never became a close political confidant. Bush was somewhat awestruck by Reagan's political skills, and according to some observers, was mystified by the latter's hold on the public imagination.
In the 1988 presidential election, Bush's candidacy offered a continuation of the Reagan years. He wanted to soften some of Reagan's programs and promised "a kinder and gentler nation" but he did not advocate radical change or propose sweeping new legislation. Bush was the first President since Martin Van Buren to move directly from the vice presidency to the presidency through his own election, although oddly the transition was a strained one. A number of people from the Reagan administration later commented on the poor treatment they felt they had received from the incoming Bush team. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 1989, and with a strong team of foreign policy advisers, he helped the United States navigate the end of the Cold War and a new era in U.S.-Soviet relations. He also led an international coalition of countries which successfully forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War. Despite these successes, Bush lost reelection in 1992 when the American people, concerned about the economy, voted for change.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924. His parents, Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush, moved the family to Greenwich, Connecticut, when George was a young boy. His family was wealthy but his parents raised their children to be modest, stressing the importance of public service and giving back to society. An investment banker, Prescott Bush later became a Republican senator from Connecticut, serving from 1952 until 1963.
Bush left home as a teenager to attend Phillips Academy Andover, an exclusive boarding school in Massachusetts. At Andover, Bush was captain of the baseball and soccer teams, and the senior class president. He graduated on his eighteenth birthday in 1942. That same day, he enlisted in the United States Navy.
He served in the Navy during World War II from 1942 until September 1945. When he became a pilot in July 1943, he was the youngest pilot in the Navy. He flew torpedo bombers in the Pacific theater and went on fifty-eight combat missions during the war. On September 2, 1944, while flying a mission to bomb an enemy radio site, his plane was shot down by Japanese fire; Bush bailed out over the ocean. He was rescued by a submarine a short time later and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism under fire.
While still in the Navy, Bush married Barbara Pierce on January 6, 1945, in Rye, New York. He met her in 1941 during the Christmas holidays at a country club dance in Greenwich. They went on to have six children: George Walker (1946- ); Robin, who was born in 1949 and died in 1953 of leukemia; John Ellis "Jeb" (1953- ); Neil (1955- ); Marvin (1956- ); and Dorothy "Doro" (1959- ).
Bush was discharged from the Navy in September 1945 and enrolled at Yale University. He was part of a surge of World War II veterans who flooded colleges and universities after the war. He completed an undergraduate degree in economics on an accelerated program that allowed him to graduate by 1948. At Yale, he was active and involved on campus, playing baseball and eventually becoming captain of the team. He was also a member of the Skull and Bones society, an exclusive secret society on campus.
After graduation, Bush chose to go out on his own. Rather than stay in the Northeast, Bush moved with his wife and young son to Midland, Texas, where he began working in the oil industry as a salesperson for Dresser Industries, which was owned by an old family friend. In 1950, Bush and a friend formed an oil development company in Midland. Three years later, they merged with another company to create Zapata Petroleum. In 1954, Bush became president of a subsidiary, Zapata Off-Shore Company, which developed offshore drilling equipment. He soon relocated the company and his family to Houston, Texas.
Early Political Career
Bush began his political career when he became the Republican Party chairman in Harris County, Texas. He developed grassroots connections as chairman and worked hard to strengthen his image as a conservative. Bush had always been good with people, and as chairman he was able to cultivate relationships in the Republican Party that helped him throughout his political career. In 1964, Bush ran for a U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough. Bush ran a hard campaign but struggled against charges of being a carpetbagger from the North. He also faced an uphill battle running as a Republican in Texas because of the strength of the local Democratic Party. In November, Democrat Lyndon Johnson of Texas was overwhelmingly elected President, and Yarborough defeated Bush by a margin of 1,463,958 to 1,134,337.
In 1966, Bush ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Houston's Seventh district. Running as a moderate Republican, he won the election with more than fifty percent of the vote. He was reelected in 1968. In Congress, Bush gained a seat on the coveted Ways and Means Committee, which was rare for a freshman congressman. He supported the Vietnam War and voted for parts of President Johnson's Great Society program, including the Civil Rights Bill of 1968 to outlaw discrimination in housing, a courageous vote for a congressman from Texas.
After serving two terms in the House, Bush eyed another run for the Senate in 1970. Ralph Yarborough, who had defeated Bush in 1964, was a liberal Democrat from Texas at a time when the state was becoming increasingly conservative. Bush believed that he could defeat Yarborough in the 1970 election. But Yarborough did not win the Democratic primary. Instead, Bush ran against Lloyd Bentsen, a conservative Democrat. Since the Democratic Party was still very strong in Texas and Bush and Bentsen did not differ greatly on the issues, Bush again lost the election.
In December 1970, President Richard Nixon nominated Bush as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Critics opposed the nomination because Bush lacked foreign policy experience but the Senate confirmed him. Bush was not part of the Nixon administration's inner circle, which undercut his effectiveness at the United Nations. Nonetheless, he used his tenure to continue to make influential friends within the U.S. government and throughout the foreign policy establishment. The ambassador relished his person-to-person contacts with foreign envoys and began assembling his legendary rolodex that would serve him well in the years to come.
President Nixon removed Bush from the United Nations in 1973 and asked him to serve instead as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). The administration turned to Bush to head the RNC because of his reputation for respectability and integrity. During the Watergate scandal, Bush was a tireless supporter of President Nixon until the release of the White House tapes. Bush then informed the President that he had lost the support of the Republican Party. After listening to key Republican congressional leaders who told him that he would be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency in August 1974.
Bush stepped down as head of the RNC after Gerald Ford became President. The new President appointed Bush as the U.S. envoy to the People's Republic of China. Because the United States did not yet have full diplomatic relations with China, Bush served as chief of the U.S. Liaison's Office instead of as ambassador. China offered the Bushes a respite from Washington, but they stayed only two years. They returned to the United States in 1975 when President Ford asked Bush to serve as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA was emerging from a controversial period in its history and needed a strong, effective leader to improve morale and reform the agency. By most accounts, Bush was a popular director and able administrator. After Ford lost the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter, Bush offered to stay on as director of the CIA but Carter declined his offer. The Bushes left Washington, D.C., and returned to Houston.
Campaign of 1980
Bush rejoined the corporate world back in Houston and started planning for the 1980 presidential campaign soon after he returned. He began with reestablishing his Texas contacts and fundraising. On May 1, 1979, Bush announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President.
During the Republican primaries in the 1980 campaign, the conservative wing of the party was drawn to Ronald Reagan, the former actor and governor of California. Bush was considered more moderate and less dogmatic than Reagan, who was anointed as the frontrunner early on. The other Republican candidates included Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, Representative John Anderson of Illinois, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Representative Philip Crane of Illinois, and John Connally, former governor of Texas.
Bush surprised most observers when he won the Iowa caucus. He campaigned throughout the state with great determination and energy, and raised concerns about Reagan's economic plan to lower taxes and increase military spending while balancing the federal budget. Bush derisively labeled Reagan's plan "voodoo economics".
Once the campaign turned to New Hampshire, Bush became embroiled in an incident that has become part of the lore of American political history. The Telegraph newspaper in Nashua proposed a debate between just Reagan and Bush. When Senator Dole complained about his exclusion, Reagan's campaign agreed to fund the debate and invited the other candidates, unbeknownst to Bush. Bush was caught by surprise when he arrived at the debate and saw the other candidates on the stage with Reagan. As the candidates argued about the debate's format, the moderator of the debate ordered Reagan's microphone turned off, and Reagan responded, "I paid for this microphone!" The incident seemed to highlight Reagan's strength and stature and reflected badly on Bush, who seemed bewildered.
After Bush lost to Reagan in New Hampshire, he was no match for the Reagan juggernaut. Reagan clinched the nomination and moved to consolidate the Republican Party behind a popular ticket., Reagan initially considered selecting former President Gerald Ford as his running mate in a "co-presidency" arrangement, but that unusual proposal went nowhere. Ultimately, Bush emerged as the consensus choice for the second spot, in part due to his appeal to the more moderate wing of the party. After accepting Reagan's offer, Bush was criticized by some for changing his previous positions on issues such as abortion and the economy to become more consistent with Reagan's conservative views.
Bush worked hard during the campaign of 1980, traveling throughout the country promoting the Reagan-Bush ticket and attacking their Democratic opponents, incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. On election day, Reagan and Bush won the election with 51 percent of the vote, and Reagan won 489 Electoral College votes to Carter's 49. As an added bonus, the Republican Party took control of the United States Senate for the first time since 1954. The Reagan-Bush ticket swept into the White House with a mandate for changing the direction of the country. Many conservative Republicans touted the "Reagan Revolution" as an opportunity to limit government intrusion into the lives of Americans, reduce taxes, and turn the country toward more traditional social values, such as supporting prayer in school and opposing abortion.
Vice President of the United States
As vice president, Bush worked hard to win the trust of Reagan's advisers in the administration by proving his loyalty and devotion to the President. Reagan loyalists were suspicious of Bush's New England upbringing and his upper-class background, which stood in stark contrast with Reagan's humble beginnings and his ability to connect with the average American. They also suspected that Bush was too moderate and not a true devotee of Reagan's conservatism. However, Reagan and Bush seemed to grow genuinely fond of each other during their two terms in office. They met for lunch on a weekly basis and enjoyed each other's company, although according to some reports the Bushes resented the fact that they were never invited as guests to the President's private quarters.
Bush chaired a number of task forces for the administration, including one on regulatory reform and one on drugs and drug smuggling. He traveled widely as vice president and frequently represented the administration in international affairs, making many contacts that would become useful when he became President. The vice president was often involved in the administration's foreign policy discussions and occasionally influenced its decisions.
However, his ties to the administration's foreign policy almost damaged his career irreversibly. In November 1986, the Iran-Contra affair broke. The scandal involved the administration selling arms to Iran to free hostages held by a terrorist organization in Lebanon and then using some of the money from the arms sales to buy weapons for the Contras, a rebel group fighting against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Selling arms to Iran violated U.S. policy, and buying weapons for the Contras was against the law. A number of officials in Reagan's administration resigned over the scandal. Bush was hit hard by speculation of his involvement in the whole affair. Did he knowingly support the plan? Or was he "out of the loop" as he claimed? Although questions still remain about the Iran-Contra affair, most sources believe that Bush was neither involved in crafting the policy nor knowledgeable about its implementation.
Campaign of 1988
On October 13, 1987, George H. W. Bush announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. He faced three main opponents for the nomination—Senator Robert Dole of Kansas; Pat Robertson, an evangelical leader; and Representative Jack Kemp from New York. Bush stressed his service as vice president in the Reagan administration, his government experience, and his commitment to continuity. To run his campaign, Bush depended on two allies: James Baker, an old friend from Texas who had served as Reagan's chief of staff and as secretary of the Treasury; and Lee Atwater, a hard-hitting political consultant.
Bush lost the Iowa caucus badly, finishing third behind Dole and Robertson. Bush had long struggled with an image of being soft or "wimpy," and not tough enough to get down and dirty in the trenches of electoral politics. The campaign of 1988, however, disproved that perception. After Iowa, Bush came back to run a strong campaign and hit his opponents hard. He won the New Hampshire primary and then went on to dominate the Super Tuesday races.
The Republican National Convention was held in New Orleans, Louisiana, in August 1988. After Bush clinched the nomination, he began to consider his choice for vice president. Eventually, he selected Dan Quayle, the junior senator from Indiana. Bush was attracted to Quayle because of his youth and his conservative credentials. He was more conservative than Bush, and some advisers thought that he would appeal to the conservative base of the party as well as to women voters. However, Quayle became a controversial choice and a problematic running mate because many considered him too young and inexperienced to be vice president.
In his acceptance speech at the convention, Bush stressed the successes of the Reagan years and his ability to continue to build on them. He pointed to his military service in World War II and his years of public service. He pledged to round out some of the harsher edges of the previous administration, stating that he wanted "a kinder and gentler nation." And famously, he promised not to raise taxes: "Read my lips: no new taxes."
The Bush team launched an aggressive campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and running mate Lloyd Bentsen. The Bush campaign went after Dukakis, who was the governor of Massachusetts, as extremely liberal and out of touch with most Americans. Bush accused Dukakis of being "a card-carrying member of the ACLU (the American Civil Liberties Union)." In one of the most famous incidents in the campaign, the Bush team accused Dukakis of being soft on crime by allowing prisoners serving life sentences to have furloughs away from prison; one such felon, Willie Horton, attacked a couple while out on furlough. Supporters of Bush created a television advertisement that featured men walking through a revolving door to illustrate the Massachusetts furlough program. The Willie Horton advertisement became synonymous with negative campaign attacks.
Because Bush was campaigning to continue the Reagan legacy, he did not propose radical changes. He opposed flag burning and abortion, supported free trade and community volunteerism, and wanted to be remembered as the education President. Bush and Dukakis debated twice before election day, and Dan Quayle had one debate against Lloyd Bentsen. It was during this debate that Bentsen eviscerated Quayle after the latter argued that his youth and experience was comparable to that of President Kennedy. Bentsen retorted, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."
Nonetheless, on election day, the electorate supported staying the course, and the Bush-Quayle ticket won the election with 53 percent of the vote and 426 Electoral College votes. Although Bush won the election, the Democratic Party gained seats in both houses of Congress. Bush began his presidency with the Democrats controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Campaign of 1992
When the Persian Gulf War ended in March 1991, President George H. W. Bush had very high approval ratings, some even approaching 90 percent. Few people imagined that in just a year, his political fortunes could change so dramatically. But the American people were less concerned with his foreign policy successes than with the changing economic situation at home. The U.S. economy had slowed down, and middle-class Americans had grown increasingly upset about the President's inaction on the economic recession. Many people, especially Republican die-hards, had also never forgiven the President for breaking his 1988 campaign promise not to raise taxes.
Changes in personnel also hindered the Bush campaign. In March 1990, Lee Atwater, who had helped run Bush's 1988 campaign and was now head of the Republican National Committee, collapsed during a speech; he died a year later of a brain tumor. Without Atwater's leadership, the RNC was less effective and short on money, and dissolved into factional infighting. The Bush team also lost John Sununu when he resigned as chief of staff in December 1991 after a controversy involving his personal use of government transportation. Without the hard-hitting Sununu running the White House, President Bush lost a polarizing but effective adviser.
Within the Republican Party, President Bush easily won the nomination. But his Republican primary opponent, conservative pundit Patrick Buchanan, personified the dissatisfaction of the right wing of the party. Bush had lost the support of many conservative Republicans for a variety of reasons, including raising taxes and cutting defense spending. Buchanan's challenge forced Bush to move further right during the primaries, especially with regard to social issues. To appease the right wing of the party, the Bush team asked Buchanan to give the keynote address during the Republican convention. Buchanan's speech alienated many moderates and was roundly criticized in the media. In his address, Buchanan offered a gloomy view of America's health, noting that this election was "about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton and Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side."
Early in 1992, New Jersey senator Bill Bradley and New York governor Mario Cuomo, Democrats who were widely considered to be front-runners, decided not to run. The Democratic candidate who gradually emerged as the party's standard-bearer was Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. Clinton had an everyman appeal that made Bush appear out of touch with the average American. Bush's reelection campaign was also hurt when a third-party candidate, Texas billionaire Ross Perot, decided to enter the race. His "United We Stand, America" citizens group promised a White House dedicated to patriotism, candor, honesty, and a balanced budget.
The 1992 presidential campaign focused primarily on domestic issues, specifically the economy. Clinton's unofficial campaign slogan was "It's the economy, stupid," which highlighted the hard times many Americans were enduring economically. As the economy slowed down, Bush did not enact any major legislation that might have proved to the voters that he was responding to their concerns. The President was also damaged by charges that his domestic policy lacked vision, and he gained little among the electorate by pointing to his foreign policy accomplishments.
Bush ran a lifeless campaign that seemed to lack focus and energy; many observers felt he was ineffective at communicating to the public about his achievements. Some have suggested that Bush had health problems that prevented him from conducting a vigorous campaign, while others blamed the absence of Lee Atwater as the main reason for Bush's lackluster performance. Bush's campaign was directed by a troika composed of Robert Mosbacher, Fred Malek, and Robert Teeter, and many longtime GOP operatives argued that this team never provided a rationale for the American voter to keep their man in office for four more years. In the end, the responsibility for the defeat rests with Bush himself, who seemed to be repeatedly caught off guard by the energetic Clinton-Gore campaign. (It did not help the President's cause when he was seen checking his watch in the middle of a televised presidential debate, as if he preferred to be anywhere else but debating the issues of the day.)
Clinton proved to be an expert campaigner who overcame personal foibles to win over voters. Perot complicated the campaign and capitalized on public discontent, winning over many conservative Republicans and independents. Bush lost his reelection bid to Clinton, who gained 43 percent of the popular vote, while Bush received 38 percent and Perot took 19 percent. Clinton, however, won 370 Electoral College votes to Bush's 168. Although Clinton did not win a clear mandate, the combined Clinton and Perot vote indicated that the American public was sending a strong message for change. Bush left the White House somewhat embittered, convinced that the media had slanted its coverage in favor of his opponent in the 1992 election.
When George H. W. Bush was sworn in as President on January 20, 1989, he took over from the very popular Ronald Reagan. In his inaugural address, Bush spoke about the plight of homelessness, crime, and drug addiction. He advocated volunteerism and community involvement, pledging to support "a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good." He talked about working with the Democratic Congress and tackling tough issues such as the budget. He pledged to begin a new chapter with "unity, diversity, and generosity." Despite his initial promise to work with Congress, however, President Bush often depended on the veto power (he vetoed forty-four bills during his tenure, and Congress only overrode one), and he occasionally used the threat of a veto to shape legislation. The President would go on to have a particularly acrimonious relationship with Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, whom he viewed as excessively partisan.
Bush began to assemble his administration by turning to old friends. He appointed James Baker as secretary of state and Lee Atwater as the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He kept on some of President Reagan's staffers, including Marlin Fitzwater as his press secretary, and he hired John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire who helped orchestrate Bush's primary win there, as chief of staff. Brent Scowcroft became national security adviser. Bush initially nominated John Tower as his secretary of defense but the Senate voted against his confirmation due to charges of inappropriate behavior, including excessive drinking and "womanizing". Bush loyally stuck with Tower's nomination through to the end; he then turned to Dick Cheney to serve as defense secretary.
When Bush took office in 1989, the federal budget debt stood at $2.8 trillion, three times larger than it had been in 1980. This financial situation severely limited the President's ability to enact major domestic programs. The federal government did not have the revenues for any large, new domestic ventures, nor did the political climate lend itself to enacting them. To compensate for these constraints, Bush stressed "a limited agenda," that included volunteerism, education reform, and anti-drug efforts. President Bush did not come into office promising to preside over an era of great change; he won the presidency basically vowing to maintain the status quo and preserve the legacy of his predecessor.
Having pledged during the campaign not to raise taxes, the President found himself in the difficult position of trying to balance the budget and reduce the deficit without imposing additional taxes on the American people. He also faced a Congress controlled by the Democrats. Although Republicans thought that the government should approach the budget deficit by drastically cutting domestic spending, the Democrats wanted to raise taxes on the richest Americans.
Budget negotiations for the 1991 fiscal year proved especially contentious and problematic. Bush had no choice but to compromise with Congress, and his administration entered into lengthy talks with congressional leaders. The President had Chief of Staff John Sununu, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Richard Darman, and Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady lead the discussions. In June 1990, Bush issued a written statement to the press, reneging on his "no taxes" pledge made during the campaign, noting that tax increases might be necessary to solve the deficit problem. In October, after a brief government shutdown that occurred when Bush vetoed the budget Congress delivered to him, the President and Congress reached a compromise with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. The budget included measures to reduce the deficit by cutting government expenditures and raising taxes. Many conservative Republicans felt betrayed when Bush agreed to raise taxes, or to include "revenue increases" as he called them in his statement after signing the bill.
On top of the budget crisis, Bush started his presidential tenure as the Savings and Loans industry was collapsing. The federal and state governments had deregulated the industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the S&L industry ventured into riskier investments that destabilized it. In February 1989, with many S&Ls failing, Bush proposed a plan to help bail out the industry. The President reached a compromise with Congress that ended up costing taxpayers more than $100 billion. The collapse of the Savings and Loans and the subsequent government bailout only added to the difficult financial environment that Bush confronted during his presidency.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
President Bush signed two significant pieces of domestic legislation during his tenure. The first was the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which forbade discrimination based on disability in employment, public accommodations, and transportation. For several years, Congress had been working on a bill for disabled Americans based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Bush indicated in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention that he supported such a bill, stating, "I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure the disabled are included in the mainstream."
The bill made it illegal for employers to discriminate against the disabled, guaranteed the disabled adequate access to places of business and public venues, expanded access to transportation, and provided for equivalent access to telecommunications. The President saw the bill as allowing people with disabilities more independence. When conservatives complained about the intrusion of the federal government into the private sector, the Bush administration countered that the ADA made it possible for disabled people to be less dependent on the government by giving them the chance to hold jobs and leave welfare rolls. The bill was a bipartisan effort with Democrats and Republicans joining together in Congress to pass it. Bush signed the ADA on July 26, 1990, to great fanfare. Although critics of the bill thought it was too expensive, supporters generally point to it as one of Bush's major domestic accomplishments. To this day, however, conservatives cite the ADA as an example of Bush's "betrayal" of the Reagan Revolution.
Clean Air Act
Bush took the lead with the other significant piece of domestic legislation he signed while in office: the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Ironically, an environmental disaster aided his efforts; in March 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, and more than 10 million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound in Alaska. The Exxon Valdez disaster made the public more receptive to the need for environmental protection. Bush also showed his support for the environment by appointing the first professional environmentalist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when he chose William Reilly as its head in 1989.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 built on the first bill passed in 1963 and subsequent bills in 1970 and 1977. The 1990 amendments focused on three aspects of clean air: reducing urban smog, curbing acid rain, and eliminating industrial emissions of toxic chemicals. Although critics were concerned about the cost of the act and its effect on an already weakened economy, President Bush was deeply committed to environmental issues and claimed that by working with the business community to find innovative ways to improve the environment, the economy and the American people could both benefit. Congress passed the bill with significant support, and on November 15, 1990, President Bush signed the act.
During his presidency, President Bush devoted much of his time to foreign affairs, an area over which Presidents generally have more latitude than they do with domestic affairs. In his first inaugural address, Bush spoke of unity between the executive and legislative branches in foreign affairs, presenting a united front to the rest of the world and referring to a time when "our differences ended at the water's edge." He also put together a team of advisers, including National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of State James Baker, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, who generally worked well together.
President Bush approached foreign affairs with his characteristic conservatism and pragmatism. He did not rush into new actions or policy changes but gave himself time to consider the administration's policies. When he acted, he did so with firm conviction and determination. His past experiences gave him significant experience in foreign affairs, and he relied on the many contacts within the international community he formed as ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. envoy to China, director of Central Intelligence, and Vice President.
One example of Bush's conservative and pragmatic approach to foreign affairs occurred early in his administration. In June 1989, the Chinese military suppressed a pro-democracy movement demonstrating in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Using tanks and armored cars, the military crushed the demonstrations and fired into the crowd, killing hundreds of protestors. Although Bush abhorred the Chinese government's violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square, he did not want to jettison improved U.S.-Sino relations by overreacting to events. Many in Congress cried out for a harsh, punitive response to the Chinese government's killing of peaceful protestors, but the Bush administration imposed only limited sanctions. Later in his administration, Bush sent Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger, deputy secretary of state, to China to try to repair the damaged, but not destroyed, relationship. In the end, U.S.-Sino relations, while always somewhat fragile, have generally thrived, particularly in the economic realm, where both nations have benefitted from a robust trading partnership.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States had been involved in trying to stop the spread of Communism in Latin America and had established contacts throughout the area. One U.S. informant was Manuel Noriega, a Panamanian who began to work for the CIA as early as the late 1960s. Bush first encountered Noriega as director of the CIA when the agency relied on the Panamanian for intelligence. The Reagan administration initially saw Noriega as an ally because he opposed the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. When Noriega began to aid the Sandinistas and became increasingly involved in the international drug trade, the U.S. government tried to cut its ties with him. But Noriega continued to increase his power within Panama; in 1983 he assumed control of the Panamanian military, becoming a military dictator who essentially ruled the country. After Noriega was indicted by a federal grand jury in 1988 on drug trafficking charges, his relationship with American military and intelligence agencies came increasingly under fire by congressional Democrats. Members of Congress demanded that the Reagan administration and later the Bush administration bring the Panamanian strongman to justice.
Following the loss of Noriega's puppet candidate in the May 1989 Panamanian presidential election, Noriega nullified the results and his supporters attacked the opposition candidates. President Bush was appalled by Noriega's thwarting of democracy and began to focus on removing him from power. In October, information about an internal coup reached the U.S. military in Panama but the Bush administration chose not to get involved because the plan seemed sketchy and unorganized. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recounted that, "The whole affair sounded like amateur night." The coup failed, and Noriega's forces executed the coup leader. Reaction in the United States was harsh, and many critics took the President to task for missing an opportunity to remove Noriega. After the attempted coup, President Bush and his advisers realized that they had to do something definite about Noriega. He then ordered his foreign affairs team to put together a plan to remove the dictator from power.
In December 1989, the Bush administration was notified that Noriega's military forces had killed a U.S. serviceman and attacked another serviceman and his wife. The administration now believed that it had the justification it needed to remove Noriega from power. On December 20, the U.S. military launched "Operation Just Cause" with about 10,000 forces landing in Panama and joining the 13,000 already there to quickly overtake the Panamanian military. Noriega went underground and eventually took refuge at the Vatican's embassy in Panama City. He surrendered to U.S. forces in early January and was taken to Miami, Florida, where he was eventually convicted on drug charges and sent to prison.
"Operation Just Cause" was generally hailed as a success and bolstered Bush's reputation as a strong, decisive leader. It was the largest military troop deployment since the Vietnam War and resulted in few causalities and a U.S. victory. Although it violated international law and was denounced by the Organization of American States and the United Nations, polls indicated that a large majority of Panamanians supported the U.S. invasion. The operation also gave the administration the unintended benefit of improving its crisis management, which helped the Bush team months later when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
End of the Cold War and Changing U.S.-Soviet Relations
When Bush became President in 1989, the United States had already begun to see a thawing of relations with the Soviet Union. As vice president, he attended the December 1988 summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Bush spoke of softening relations in his inaugural address, claiming that "a new breeze is blowing," and adding that "great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom."
Bush's relationship with Gorbachev began with what the Soviets called the pauza (pause). With his instinctual caution, the President wanted time to study the situation before moving forward with his own policy. Although the Soviets were concerned that Bush's pauza indicated a new direction in U.S. foreign policy, it actually helped consolidate the improved U.S.-Soviet relations.
When East Germany opened its borders and Germans tore down the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin in early November 1989, it marked a symbolic end to Communist rule in Eastern Europe. In the minds of many, the Cold War was over. Bush offered a muted response at a press conference on November 9: "I'm very pleased." When the press questioned his lack of enthusiasm over the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Bush responded by stating, "I am not an emotional kind of guy." In retrospect, many people recognized that by refusing to gloat or declare victory over the Soviet Union, Bush probably helped avoid a backlash by hardliners in Eastern Europe. He also did not want to endanger future negotiations with the Soviet Union. Still, Bush's restrained response to the collapse of Communism in Europe, while diplomatically deft, cost him dearly at home among his conservative supporters who argued that Ronald Reagan would have celebrated this historic development with some type of public address.
In a December 1989 summit between Bush and Gorbachev in Malta, the two leaders discussed arms reductions and strengthening their relations. At a summit in Washington, D.C., in June 1990, the two men signed a broad arms reduction agreement in which the United States and Soviet Union consented to decreasing their nuclear arsenals. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, worked hard to establish a meaningful relationship with Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister. By most accounts, they were very successful in redefining relations with the Soviet Union in a post-Cold War environment. In July 1991, Bush met Gorbachev in Moscow and signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START.
When Gorbachev's opponents attempted a coup to oust him from power the next month, the Bush administration waited anxiously for the outcome. The coup failed, and Gorbachev resumed his position but the Soviet Union was in evident decline. Throughout the fall, the Soviet Republics began to declare their independence from the Soviet Union, and in December, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus announced they were forming a new confederation of states. Gorbachev resigned as the President of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.
The efforts of Bush, Gorbachev, Baker, and Shevardnadze achieved results in improving U.S.-Soviet relations in ways that would have been unthinkable ten years earlier. Critics of the Bush administration faulted it for being aligned too closely with Gorbachev and too willing to compromise; many thought that Bush should have made more overtures to Boris Yeltsin, the President of Russia who often wanted reforms to proceed more quickly than Gorbachev and eventually oversaw much of Russia's transition away from Communism. Nonetheless, Bush's relationship with Gorbachev helped facilitate improved U.S.-Soviet relations.
Events in 1989 moved along at such a rapid pace that President Bush's natural inclination toward gradual change was severely challenged. After the Berlin Wall fell in November of that year, members of the Bush administration discussed German reunification as some future reality, perhaps even five years in the future. Very few people imagined that a unified Germany would exist in less than a year. Even more surprising was that a united Germany would become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
After the Berlin Wall came down, a remarkable number of challenges confronted the Bush administration. At first, there were three main proposals on how to proceed with German reunification. One was just to let the two Germanys determine the process, but because of agreements at the end of World War II, the four victors—the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, and France—still had input into Germany's situation. Another approach was to let the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and its thirty-five members hammer out the details. However, this plan was not widely supported because of the likelihood that the process would bog down due to input from so many countries. A third suggestion was to involve the two Germanys with the World War II victors in a framework that became known as "Two-plus-Four."
In February 1990, the "Two-plus-Four" approach was formally approved. East and West Germany dealt with the internal details while the four victors of World War II worked with the two Germanys on external issues. The talks began in May and finally concluded in September 1990. The main sticking point to German reunification was whether the country would be part of NATO. The Soviets initially opposed having a united Germany as part of NATO, preferring it to be part of the Warsaw Pact or exist as a neutral, non-aligned country. In the end, the Bush administration helped broker a compromise: Germany would be part of NATO but no NATO troops would be stationed in East Germany. In addition, Soviet troops would have three to four years to withdraw from East Germany, and Germany agreed to provide economic assistance to the Soviet Union.
Persian Gulf War
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded its neighbor Kuwait. Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, had long held designs on Kuwait's land, wealth, and oil. Although intelligence agencies had watched Iraq's military buildup along its border with Kuwait, both the United States and Iraq's Arab neighbors did not believe that Hussein had plans to invade the small country to its south. But they misread Hussein's intentions. The invasion violated international law, and the Bush administration was alarmed at the prospect of Iraq controlling Kuwait's oil resources.
Despite being somewhat caught off guard, the Bush administration went to work immediately trying to assemble a coalition to oppose Iraq. One fortunate turn of events for the administration was that, at the time of the invasion, President Bush was with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain at a conference, and Secretary of State Baker was in Siberia with Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister. This allowed the United States to issue strong condemnations against Iraq with Britain, and most surprisingly, the Soviet Union. James Baker credited this moment, when the United States and Soviet Union issued a joint statement condemning Iraq's actions, as the end of the Cold War because it marked the beginning of unprecedented cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
When the invasion began, Arab countries joined with the United States to form a coalition to convince Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the consequences. When Saudi Arabia became concerned about a possible invasion after Iraqi troops began to mass on the border, President Bush announced the deployment of U.S. troops to the desert kingdom. He also articulated the four principles that guided "Operation Desert Shield": the immediate and complete withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait; the restoration of the legitimate Kuwaiti government; the stability and security of the Middle East; and the protection of Americans abroad.
On the day of the invasion, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 660, which condemned the invasion and demanded that Iraq withdraw "immediately and unconditionally". The United States also quickly moved to freeze Kuwaiti and Iraqi assets. Shortly thereafter, the UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq designed to try to convince Iraq to withdraw. The Iraqi invasion allowed President Bush to emphasize one of his greatest strengths—personal diplomacy. He had many international contacts, and he personally telephoned world leaders and U.S. allies to start building the coalition that would force Iraq to withdraw. However, the administration did not want Israel to join the coalition because it feared that Israel's involvement would alienate the Arab countries that had already agreed to join the alliance. Israel agreed to stay out of the coalition and not retaliate if attacked in order to allow the coalition's greater resources to deal with Hussein.
After months of resolutions and diplomatic efforts, the situation still had not changed. Iraq seemed unwilling to withdraw from Kuwait, and the Bush administration was not convinced that the economic sanctions could convince Hussein otherwise. In November, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 678, which authorized member states "to use all necessary means" to make Iraq withdraw from Kuwait if it had not done so by January 15. As the deadline loomed, the President often spoke of the situation in moral terms and cast Saddam Hussein as the embodiment of evil, highlighting the dictator's human rights violations.
In December, President Bush put forth a proposal to ensure that the administration had exhausted all diplomatic efforts; he wanted war to be the last resort. Bush proposed sending Secretary of State Baker to meet with Hussein in Iraq to try to reach a solution. However, the President made it clear that there was no alternative to a complete and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Although Baker eventually met with Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva, Switzerland, the negotiations went nowhere with Hussein rebuffing Bush's efforts. The administration also wanted to shore up support domestically for the impending military action so it turned to Congress for congressional authorization. Although some in the administration argued that it was unnecessary, others felt it was important to have Congress's support. On January 12, Congress narrowly voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. The vote was an important victory for President Bush.
"Operation Desert Storm" began on January 17, 1991, when U.S.-led coalition forces began massive air strikes against Iraq. The coalition launched the ground war on February 24 and quickly overwhelmed the Iraqi forces. Coalition troops reached Kuwait City by February 27, and a ceasefire was declared the next day. On March 3, General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of the U.S. forces, met with the Iraqi leadership to dictate the terms of the ceasefire. The war had ended in less than two months, and the Bush administration had successfully committed to the largest military action since the Vietnam War without getting bogged down or suffering high casualties. (One hundred and forty eight U.S. soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War.) On March 6, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, "tonight Kuwait is free."
The Persian Gulf War helped restore the morale of the U.S. military and dampened memories of the Vietnam War. It also showed the possibility of what Bush referred to as the "New World Order," breaking down Cold War alliances and using peaceful nations to stand united against rogue states. The President successfully held together the coalition and even succeeded in having many of the coalition countries provide manpower (including France, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt) and financial support (including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Germany). Critics argued, however, that the victory was hollow because Saddam Hussein remained in power. They faulted Bush for not pursuing Hussein and his army into Iraq and removing him from power. However, President Bush and his team had been clear from the beginning that their primary war aim was to make Iraq withdraw from Kuwait, and they achieved that goal. The removal of Hussein from power had never been one of the administration's war aims. Many in the administration argued that pursuing Hussein into Iraq and attempting to topple him from power would destabilize the region and lead to a lengthy military engagement.
The New World Order
On September 11, 1990, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress regarding the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and he discussed "an historic period of cooperation," which he called the New World Order. Bush claimed this new order would be:
Freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony.
Again, on January 16, 1991, in an address to the nation about the start of the Persian Gulf War, President Bush used the term in explaining the motivations and justifications for using force against Iraq:
President Bush's New World Order involved collective security with multinational cooperation, and it broke down Cold War conceptions and created new allies. Many people debated whether the New World Order was a realistic foreign policy tenet or simply an idealistic approach to the future. Critics claimed that the Bush administration did not fully articulate the goals of the New World Order and how it hoped to accomplish them. Some were unsure whether the term was meant as a new approach or simply a catchphrase. Realists complained that it was hard to justify U.S. involvement in situations without a clear national interest. But others felt that once the Cold War ended, the United States had to take on a large role as a world leader to guard against human rights abuses, defend democratic regimes, and lead humanitarian efforts.
One example of the changing landscape of foreign policy was evident in the Middle East Peace process. In October 1991, the Bush administration, together with the Soviet Union and Spain, cosponsored a conference in Madrid, to try to reach consensus on moving the peace process forward. The United States had gained new legitimacy within the Middle East after the Persian Gulf War. Arab nations were more willing to work with the United States, and the thwarting of the Iraqi invasion had shown all participants the futility of force. After the Soviet Union joined with the United States in opposing Hussein, countries in the Middle East could no longer rely on the Soviet Union to counterbalance the United States. Once the Arab countries could not depend on the Soviet Union to support them to block Israeli-U.S. initiatives, they had little choice but to try to resolve the situation. Although the Madrid conference did not result in any lasting agreements, it was an important step toward future peace agreements.
In Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, the Bush administration encountered some of the first challenges to the New World Order. Near the end of his term, President Bush committed U.S. troops to Somalia to help ease a humanitarian crisis after the breakdown of civil society and the onset of mass famine and starvation. Although the operation was initially successful in helping to feed the Somali people, President Bill Clinton ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia after eighteen U.S. soldiers were killed in Mogadishu, the country's capital, in October 1993. "Operation Restore Hope" left many people wondering whether the United States should intervene in other countries when U.S. interests were not clearly at stake.
When Yugoslavia began to break apart, the Bush administration had hoped to persuade the various players to avoid violence and bloodshed and proceed with the breakup using a democratic process. The administration also hoped to see the European Community take the lead in resolving a conflict occurring in its own backyard, especially because some European countries seemed to chaff under U.S. leadership during the Persian Gulf War. And although the United States worked with the EC and the UN to take political, diplomatic, and economic steps to try to stop the conflict from escalating, they were unsuccessful. Many of President Bush's advisers felt that military action in the former Yugoslavia would more likely resemble the morass of Vietnam rather than the success of the Persian Gulf War. When President Bush left office, the former Yugoslavia republics were in the midst of wars that would continue for years to come.
Few argued that President Bush was solely responsible for preventing the violence in the former Yugoslavia; it was a complicated situation with many ethnic groups, divided factions, and long histories. But some people believed that if the United States had launched a strong military action, it could have prevented some of the atrocities that occurred. Others, however, contended that the U.S. military would have gotten bogged down in the area. The situation showed some of the weaknesses in the New World Order. James Baker wrote in his memoir that after the Cold War ended, the international community needed to create new institutions and processes to fill the void in the post-Cold War era; without them, no effective means existed to stop the onset of violence in the former Yugoslavia.
When George H. W. Bush left the presidency, he and his wife returned to Houston, Texas. There, they settled back into private life and reclaimed their lives as active citizens in their community. The former President volunteered at their church and sat on various boards, including one for a local hospital. The Bushes divided their time between Houston, Texas, and Kennebunkport, Maine, where the Bush family had long had a residence.
Bush also threw himself into preserving his legacy through his presidential library. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated in 1997 on the west campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. The library and museum holds the official documents and private papers from Bush's career including his presidential years. Bush also joined with former President Bill Clinton after a tsunami from the Indian Ocean struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. The two former Presidents created the Bush-Clinton Houston Tsunami Fund, a national fundraising campaign to provide assistance to damaged communities throughout the region.
Bush became enmeshed in politics again through the careers of his sons, Jeb Bush and George W. Bush. Both sons held elected office: George was governor of Texas (1995-2000) and Jeb was governor of Florida (1999-2007). When George W. was elected President in 2000, the Bushes became the first father and son to be elected President since John Quincy Adams was elected in 1824. Within the Bush clan, the first President Bush was often referred to as "Forty-One," and the second as "Forty-Three."
George H. W. Bush was known throughout his career as a decent and generous man who tried to do what he thought was right. He was very loyal and known for his ability to connect with people on a personal level. He had more difficulty connecting with large audiences and was generally considered a poor public speaker. He was also an energetic and competitive sportsman throughout his life, and he continued that tradition as President. He often went running in Washington, D.C., and played golf and tennis in Maine. He always enjoyed a game of horseshoes and had courts built at both the White House and Camp David.
Bush married Barbara Pierce in January 1945, while he was on leave from the Navy during World War II. The Bushes have had a strong marriage, and they seemed to be true partners, although Barbara decided not to speak publicly about policy during her husband's tenure as President. Her comfort with her grandmotherly image, her graciousness, and her ability to poke fun at herself endeared her to the nation and the press corps.
The Bushes have five children: George Walker, John Ellis "Jeb", Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy "Doro". Their second child, Robin, died in 1953 of leukemia when she was four years old. George and Barbara are very family-oriented, often gathering for family get-togethers, and they usually spend some time in August with children, grandchildren, and extended family in Kennebunkport, Maine.
George Herbert Walker Bush came into the presidency as one of the most qualified candidates to assume the office. He had a long career in both domestic politics and foreign affairs, knew the government bureaucracy, and had eight years of hands-on training as vice president. Still, if presidential success is determined by winning reelection, Bush was unsuccessful because he failed to convince the American public to give him another four years in office. Generally the Bush presidency is viewed as successful in foreign affairs but a disappointment in domestic affairs. In the minds of voters, his achievements in foreign policy were not enough to overshadow the economic recession, and in 1992, the American public voted for change.
Bush came into office promising continuity with the Reagan years and proceeded cautiously; he did not advocate radical change or announce sweeping domestic programs. He was constrained by a large budget deficit, limited federal revenue to fund programs, and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Critics charged that his administration lacked vision and did not communicate its approach effectively to the public. Although Bush had some notable domestic achievements, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments, he focused much of his attention on foreign affairs.
Presidents generally have more control over foreign policy than domestic policy, and this was markedly the case during the Bush presidency. Bush put together a strong team of advisers, including James Baker, Dick Cheney, Brent Scowcroft, and Colin Powell, and together they oversaw significant accomplishments. Bush had a conservative nature and was uncomfortable with bold, dramatic change, preferring stability and calm. These characteristics helped him lead the United States through a period of geopolitical transition. Although the Bush administration often had little control over the unfolding of world events, its responses helped avoid chaos. His refusal to gloat or declare victory during the collapse of the Soviet empire helped Mikhail Gorbachev and diffused a possible backlash from the hardliners in the Soviet government. President Bush showed that he could act unilaterally (such as in Panama) but he was also able to form a large, diverse coalition (such as in the Persian Gulf War).
Still American voters did not perceive that President Bush cared enough about domestic issues. Some observers have criticized Bush for not "selling" his achievements more successfully and running an inept campaign in 1992. He alienated the more conservative wing of the Republican Party in a variety of ways including breaking his promise not to raise taxes and cutting military spending. Conservatives felt he had betrayed the Reagan Revolution. He was also not helped by his unfair image as a rich Ivy Leaguer who was out of touch with average Americans; despite living much of his adult life in Texas, he could not overcome the stereotypes associated with his privileged New England background.
The passage of time is essential in formulating a true understanding of any presidency—only after the partisan battles have cooled and a policy legacy is fully matured can an honest assessment be made of President George H. W. Bush's place in history. The historical assessment of "Bush 41" is still evolving, and fairly or not, when a father and son both serve as President of the United States, comparisons are inevitable. And since both Presidents spent considerable time during their administrations dealing with Iraq, historians will take notice of their respective skills at conducting foreign affairs. For example, Bush 41's efforts to build an international coalition before embarking on the Persian Gulf War differed greatly from his son's unilateral approach, and will likely serve him well in the assessments of future generations of historians and political scientists. Perhaps the only thing one can say with certainty is that when the archives of the two Bush presidencies are finally opened, they will provide a fascinating glimpse into a unique father and son relationship in American history.