George Herbert Walker Bush, born in 1924, 41st president of the United States (1989-1993), president at the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Bush also organized an unprecedented global alliance against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, but he was less successful in dealing with U.S. domestic problems and was defeated after one term by Bill Clinton in the 1992 election.
Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, but grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. His parents came from wealthy Midwestern families. His father, Prescott Bush, a partner in a leading Wall Street law firm, was a Republican U.S. senator from Connecticut between 1952 and 1963. Senator Bush was a moderate Republican and a supporter of President Dwight David Eisenhower. Senator Bush strongly opposed the party's far right wing, represented in the 1950s by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who led a campaign against Communist subversion in the United States. Bush's mother, Dorothy Walker, the daughter of a Missouri industrialist, encouraged her children to play sports and learn humility and manners.
Bush graduated from Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts, in 1942, and joined the United States Navy to fight in World War II. He became a pilot, flying bombing missions against Japan. On one mission his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. Two crewmen died, but Bush survived unharmed and was rescued by a passing submarine within a few hours. Bush returned to the United States in late 1944. Two weeks later, in early 1945, he married Barbara Pierce, a Greenwich woman whose father was a magazine publisher. The couple had six children: sons George, John, Neil, and Marvin, and daughters Robin and Dorothy. Robin died of leukemia at the age of three.
Bush entered Yale University in 1945. He majored in economics, became captain of the varsity baseball team, and graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1948. He moved his young family to west Texas where, helped by his father's business connections, he went into the oil business, working as an equipment clerk. In 1953 Bush cofounded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, which drilled for oil in the Permian basin in Texas and elsewhere in the West. The next year, he became president of the Zapata Offshore Company, which specialized in offshore drilling equipment. Bush was a millionaire by the time he was 41.
|III||EARLY POLITICAL CAREER|
Bush began to make his mark on the Texas Republican Party in 1962, when he became Harris County Republican chairman. In 1964 Bush ran for the U.S. Senate against Ralph Yarborough, the Democratic incumbent. Yarborough argued that Bush's views were too extreme, and, like most Republican candidates that year, Bush was defeated in the landslide that accompanied the victory of Texas Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson over U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona in the presidential election. Bush's strong showing in the firmly Democratic state, however, won the attention of a former Republican vice president and U.S. senator from California, Richard Nixon. In 1966, with assistance from Nixon, an affluent Houston district elected Bush to the U.S. House of Representatives, and reelected him in 1968.
In the Congress of the United States Bush identified with Republican moderates who were practical and business-oriented, approaches to which his father had subscribed. He won a coveted seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee (which has jurisdiction over financial matters), supported the extension of voting rights to 18-year-olds, and voted to abolish the military draft. After two terms, he gave up his seat in the House to run again for the Senate, expecting to take on his old rival Ralph Yarborough. The Democrats, however, nominated a much more moderate candidate instead, former congressman Lloyd Bentsen, who defeated Bush in the fall.
Despite his defeat, Bush was just the kind of business-oriented Republican from the increasingly important Sun Belt—the states in the South and Southwest—that the national leaders of the Republican Party wanted to promote. As a result, during the next six years President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford appointed Bush to a series of posts that kept him in the public eye. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN) from 1971 to 1973; chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1973 to 1974, in the last days of the Watergate scandal, during which President Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment over charges of covering up burglaries and wiretapping of the Democratic Party offices; U.S. envoy to China from 1974 to 1975; and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 1976 to 1977. Although Bush stayed in none of these positions long enough to leave much of an imprint on them, he proved himself a reliable and loyal administrator and gained foreign policy experience, political training, and diplomatic contacts he would later use both to win and to work in the White House. After 1977 Bush focused on his business interests and on organizing support for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 1980.
|A||Campaigning in 1980|
In 1979 Bush launched a long-shot campaign for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination. It was a bold move for a politician who had not been elected to office for a decade. Bush outlasted all of the six candidates in the primaries except former California governor Ronald Reagan. Bush tried to establish himself as the moderate voice of responsible Republicans. He condemned as “voodoo economics” Reagan's campaign promise to increase military spending and cut taxes while balancing the budget. This would supposedly be possible because cutting taxes would cause the economy to grow and a growing economy would generate additional revenue. But Reagan easily won the nomination with the support of social conservatives, who favored government action to stem what they considered to be the decline of morals in the United States, and economic conservatives, who opposed government regulation of the economy and spending on social programs. To mollify moderate Republicans and increase his appeal to conservative Democrats, Reagan asked Bush to be his running mate. The Reagan-Bush ticket defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale in 1980, and they were reelected in a landslide in 1984.
As vice president, Bush received a valuable eight years of on-the-job training for the presidency. Bush focused on his strongest interest, foreign policy, traveling to Africa, the Middle East, South America, the USSR, Asia, and Central America. Some of these trips were undoubtedly symbolic, but others were not, and Bush used each trip to meet foreign diplomats on whom he would later rely. He employed the same device at home, crossing the country on various political missions for Reagan and building a list of political contacts who would be called on later to help with Bush's own presidential campaign.
Reagan's policies, however, often tested Bush's loyalty. As president, Reagan cut taxes, especially for higher-income individuals and corporations, and approved the biggest peacetime increase in military spending. Budget deficits (the annual gap between tax revenues and expenditures) soared and the national debt, after accounting for inflation, more than doubled in eight years. As Bush had predicted, the “voodoo economics” did not eliminate the deficit, but as vice president he kept his misgivings to himself.
Loyalty to the president also enmeshed Bush in the most damaging scandal of the Reagan years, the revelation in 1986 that while publicly denouncing Iran as a terrorist state, Reagan's foreign policy advisers had secretly sold weapons to Teheran in exchange for the release of U.S. citizens held by pro-Iranian terrorists in Lebanon. More troubling was the disclosure that agents operating under direct White House supervision used profits from the arms sales to buy weapons for the contras, a group of anti-government Nicaraguan rebels, despite an explicit congressional ban on such aid. Bush later claimed that he opposed the arms-for-hostages deal, but offered little evidence to back his claims (see Iran-Contra Affair).
|C||1988 Presidential Election|
While the Reagan-Bush program helped produce prosperity for the wealthiest Americans, the economic benefits of the 1980s were spread far less evenly among middle- and working-class Americans. So when Bush launched his 1988 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, he promised to extend the benefits to all Americans and engineer what he called a “kinder, gentler America” in the process. In the early primaries, Bush quickly eliminated his two chief rivals for the Republican nomination, Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas and Christian television evangelist Pat Robertson. He promised to veto any attempt to increase income taxes with a stirring pledge made to voters in New Hampshire: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush named U.S. senator Dan Quayle, a young Indiana Republican and a favorite of conservatives, to be his running mate.
In the general election, Bush faced Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, who had asked an old Bush rival, U.S. senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, to be his running mate. The Massachusetts governor proved to be a poor campaigner with a weak grasp for what moved voters. By contrast, Bush skillfully reached out to economic and social conservatives, as well as suburban independents and environmentalists. He criticized Dukakis for his refusal to support the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States in schools, accused him of supporting temporary releases called furloughs for violent criminals in overcrowded prisons, and pointed to what Bush argued was Dukakis's poor record in cleaning up polluted Boston harbor.
While promising not to impose new taxes, to cut the capital gains tax, and to continue the Reagan defense program, Bush also vowed to oppose gun control and to try to overturn the 1973 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States that affirmed a woman's right to an abortion. Bush won the election easily, attracting 53 percent of the vote and carrying 40 states and 426 electoral votes. He won the entire South, most of the West and made deep inroads in the industrial Midwest. The election left one obstacle for Bush: the Democrats retained solid majorities in both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
|IV||PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES|
Bush lost no time in putting his stamp on the presidency. He was an active president. He came to work early, traveled a great deal, constantly used the telephone to collect information from around the country, and gathered friends and family around him in the evenings. Bush toned down the imperial image that had surrounded the Reagan presidency by jogging every morning around Washington, ordering his motorcade to stop at traffic lights, and appearing before reporters at frequent press conferences. First Lady Barbara Bush talked about her fake pearl necklace and her inability to lose weight. The result was great popularity for the new president.
Bush's most dramatic departure from the Reagan years was his oft-spoken belief that government was not the enemy. Executing a series of small changes from the Reagan years, Bush tried to put in place the kinder and gentler politics for which he had campaigned. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 lowered legal and physical obstacles to citizens with disabilities and was one of the most sweeping pieces of civil-rights legislation in a decade. After the scandals of the Reagan years, Bush spoke often about the need for integrity in government. Behind the scenes, he quietly worked to increase federal spending for education, child care, and advanced technology research and development. He also signed into law a measure to improve the nation's interstate highway system and battled Congress on a crime bill to help police bring criminals to justice. After eight years of environmental disregard under Reagan, Bush moved swiftly in his first year to reauthorize the Clean Air Act, which established higher standards for air quality and required cleaner burning fuels. The reauthorization reflected an agreement between business interests and environmentalists that had eluded the federal government for years.
Bush also moved quickly to save a collapsing savings and loan industry. In 1980 and 1982 Congress had tried to help the financially troubled banking industry with legislation that allowed savings and loan associations to make riskier investments than they had previously been permitted. After the new laws were passed, more than 1000 savings and loan associations went bankrupt due to combinations of poor banking practices, poor government regulation, and outright corruption. In February 1989 Bush released a comprehensive plan to bail out the industry, and Congress reacted rapidly, rewriting oversight regulations and creating the Resolution Trust Corporation to take over bankrupt savings and loan associations and sell off their assets. Ultimately the bailouts cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
Reagan's economic legacy was perhaps the biggest challenge Bush faced. By 1990 the federal budget deficit had swelled to $220 billion a year, three times its 1980 level. The total federal debt had increased to $3.2 trillion, more than three times that of ten years before. Bush believed that the incomes and standard of living of most Americans would not increase (and the United States would not be able to play a leading role in world affairs) if its economy was built on a foundation of debt.
As a result, in 1990 Bush launched an effort to persuade Congress to bring the deficit under control, but found it difficult to build a consensus acceptable to both Democrats and to conservatives in the Republican Party. Many Democrats in Congress believed tax increases on the wealthy were the best solution to the deficit. Conservative Republicans, by contrast, believed that the deficit could be cured only through deep and sustained cuts in federal domestic spending. Finding an acceptable compromise would have been difficult for any president; for Bush, who never enjoyed the trust of his party's powerful conservative wing, it proved nearly impossible.
In the debate over the budget, Bush's Democratic rivals in Congress consistently outmaneuvered him. First, they forced him to agree to sign a statement calling for tax revenue increases, before negotiations over budget details began. Bush apparently did not perceive that many would see the statement as a repudiation of his most celebrated campaign promise (“no new taxes”), and when word of his agreement was made public, many Republicans felt betrayed. When the Democrats and Bush agreed a few months later to a historic package of spending cuts and tax increases that reduced the deficit by $500 billion over five years, angry Republican conservatives took revenge, abandoning the president and defeating the budget bill in the House of Representatives. Bush had to scramble to reassemble a measure that could win a majority, and to do so he had to accept almost all the Democrats' demands, including higher taxes and more spending. In popularity polls his approval rating slipped 20 points in one six-week period in late 1990. He would later say that the budget deal was a mistake and that he wished he had never agreed to it.
The unpleasant conclusion of the budget deal coincided with the onset of a mild recession in late 1990 that would last for only six months but linger in the public mind for nearly two years. Bush's third year in office was marked by a wave of corporate reorganizations that caused permanent layoffs of white-collar workers. Many of the newly unemployed were independents and Republicans, who had believed that their jobs were secure. At the same time the recession deprived Bush of the little credit he had achieved for the deficit-cutting deal. During the recession, federal spending on welfare and other government programs increased, wiping out much of the savings the budget deal had promised.
In 1991 Bush proposed a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which would lower or eliminate tariffs on trade between the three nations. The proposal, favored by Canada and Mexico, was designed to help North America compete against the growing free-trade zones of Europe and Asia. The agreement was eventually taken up by his successor, Bill Clinton, and ratified by the U.S. Congress in November 1993.
After two years, Bush had reached the end of his agenda for domestic legislation. His advisers told him that he had done everything necessary to guarantee his reelection. The recession would pass in a short period and, they told him, the public would reward him for his prudent guidance. Bush admitted that he found domestic policy unpleasant and troublesome and preferred to wrestle with foreign policy. At a press conference in October 1990 Bush said that he found foreign policy more enjoyable.
Bush was more active in foreign policy than he was in domestic legislation. In December 1989 Bush sent 24,000 troops to Panama to assist military forces in a coup against Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. Noriega had been indicted in the United States for drug trafficking in February 1988, and in May 1989 he had nullified a presidential vote after U.S. observers argued that he had lost. The invasion underscored Bush's opposition to the illegal narcotics trade, but Bush's critics pointed out that Noriega had been an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years, including the time when Bush had been CIA director. The invasion in the last week of December 1989 lasted less than a week, leaving 23 U.S. soldiers and between 500 and 600 Panamanian soldiers and civilians dead. In January 1990, Noriega was captured and flown to the United States where he was convicted in Miami, Florida, on drug and racketeering charges in April 1992. The United States promised Panama $1 billion to repair the damage caused by the invasion and by economic sanctions that had preceded it.
|B2||End of the Cold War|
Early in his first year as president, Bush moved secretly and aggressively to try to bring the USSR and its reformist leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, into what Bush called the “family of nations.” Gorbachev had come to power in the USSR in 1985. He had launched a campaign to reform society and the economy in the USSR. He and President Reagan already attempted to moderate the ideological competition and tensions of the Cold War. When Bush became president he wanted to forge a partnership with the USSR. Handled correctly, he believed, the USSR might become an ally. If this happened, the United States could perhaps reduce defense spending and save taxpayers billions of dollars.
Almost immediately after his inauguration, Bush launched a top-secret drive to explore ways to help Gorbachev succeed with his plans for the USSR. Bush offered a series of rewards and punishments to encourage Gorbachev to move his nation toward democracy and his economy toward capitalism. In May 1989 Bush surprised his allies with a bold proposal to reduce the number of U.S. troops that had been stationed in Europe to prevent a Soviet attack there. In December of that year, Bush invited Gorbachev to an extraordinary three-day summit on the Mediterranean island of Malta, where Bush submitted a list of 21 proposals from military cuts to economic aid.
Bush was also careful to be patient and, at times, forbearing. During much of 1989 popular protests in the Soviet bloc nations of Eastern Europe called for democratic reforms and an end to Communism. When the Berlin Wall, which had separated Communist East Berlin from capitalist West Berlin, fell in November 1989, Bush was careful not to gloat, as he put it. He also announced that the world needed a “new world order” to replace the superpower rivalry that had divided the globe and fueled the Cold War. In 1990 the USSR refused to grant the Baltic nations Latvia and Lithuania the same degree of autonomy that it had extended to Poland and Hungary, but Bush did not criticize the Soviet government. For these careful responses, Bush was routinely condemned in the United States; but as former Soviet satellite nations gained their independence, Bush proposed foreign aid to hasten their economic reforms and democratic political transformation.
|B3||Persian Gulf War|
In August 1990 Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein launched an attack on neighboring Kuwait, seizing control of the tiny sheikdom within hours and with it, 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. Hussein, an unpredictable leader, then had Iraqi forces on the border of Saudi Arabia, which controlled another 25 percent of world oil reserves, and with Iraq's own 10 percent of world reserves, Hussein was suddenly within striking distance of controlling almost half of the world's oil.
Bush, who had favored diplomatic engagement with Iraq for several years, vowed that the invasion would not be allowed to succeed. Within hours of the attack, he began lining up European, Asian, and Middle Eastern allies—many of them suspicious of one another—to create a coalition against Iraq under the auspices of the UN. He convinced the normally reluctant Saudi Arabians to allow U.S. troops on their territory. He then ordered the U.S. Department of Defense to prepare for the biggest deployment of soldiers and materials since the Vietnam War (1959-1975).
While the military deployment was underway, Bush concentrated on managing the unprecedented UN coalition he had assembled. Arab nations such as Egypt, responding to domestic political pressures, wanted the Arab nations alone to find a solution to Iraqi aggression. Bush wanted to ensure Arab support for the UN coalition and did not interfere with the Arab attempt to find a solution. When it failed, the Arabs joined the coalition. The USSR, a longtime Iraqi ally, joined the coalition, but pressed Bush for lengthy negotiations. Bush agreed, which gave the military time to execute the deployment.
The Iraqis several times offered to settle the conflict in exchange for part of Kuwait, but Bush insisted on a complete Iraqi withdrawal. His aides asked the Japanese and Germans to help pay for the military deployment, and the Chinese were persuaded to refrain from sending weapons to Iraq. United States diplomats successfully persuaded the UN to pass several resolutions condemning Iraqi aggression, making it clear to Iraq that nothing short of unconditional withdrawal could prevent a UN attack. In January, just days before the war began, Bush won a vote of approval for military action from a U.S. Congress that had just months before been deeply skeptical of U.S. military involvement.
The multinational invasion of Kuwait, led by the United States and called Operation Desert Storm, began on the night of January 16, 1991. Hundreds of combat aircraft and bombers from nine different nations would attack targets in and around Kuwait and Iraq. More than 4000 bombing runs were flown by allied aircraft in the first week, and the pace continued for another four weeks before a ground invasion began. Immediately after the beginning of allied bombing, Iraq launched missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Bush worked hard to prevent Israel from taking its own action against Iraq. If Bush had been unable to persuade Israel not to attack, Arab countries might have deserted the coalition. During the war the United States used dozens of new weapons that had been developed and acquired during the ten-year-old Reagan-Bush military buildup. They included the air- and sea-launched cruise missile, a slow-flying unmanned rocket that read Iraqi terrain in order to fly at treetop level toward its targets.
On February 24 the ground war began, as allied troops penetrated Iraqi lines and pushed toward Kuwait City. Meanwhile, farther west in Iraq, allied troops executed a dramatic flanking maneuver in the Iraqi desert to cut off retreating Iraqi troops. After only 100 hours Bush halted the offensive. Critics later called the decision to halt the invasion premature, because thousands of Hussein's best troops were allowed to escape. Bush was also condemned for not driving Iraqi forces all the way back to Baghdād and removing Hussein from power. Bush, however, had never made Hussein's removal the objective; he had wanted to minimize U.S. casualties and return control of Kuwait to the Kuwaiti government, and he had achieved both goals. When it was all over 149 allied soldiers had been killed, and 513 had been wounded. Official estimates of Iraqi dead ranged from 8,000 to 25,000, with unofficial estimates reaching 100,000 killed in action.
In the war's aftermath, Bush enjoyed 90-percent approval ratings in opinion polls. As the economy began to improve, he believed his popularity would propel him safely into a second term. However, he never put the same energy into domestic affairs that he had put into the war. He appeared not to realize that Americans demand vigorous action during and after a recession.
|C||Election of 1992|
Conservative political columnist Pat Buchanan, arguing that the NAFTA would cost thousands of U.S. workers their jobs, challenged Bush for the Republican Party nomination and scared the president with a surprising 37-percent, second-place showing in the New Hampshire primary. Bush responded by adopting more conservative positions on issues; he hoped to obtain the votes of conservative Buchanan Republicans.
Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot complicated the political situation early in 1992 by launching a third-party bid for the presidency. Perot argued that neither party could be trusted to eliminate the deficit and make government more efficient, thus appealing to economic conservatives on whom Bush had counted for support. Perot was at the top of the polls by early summer, but in July he pulled out of the race after the Democrats nominated Arkansas governor Bill Clinton and Tennessee senator Al Gore. Clinton ran as the champion of Americans facing stiffer competition in the workplace and attacked Bush as a president who would do nothing to solve the problems of the average citizen. In October Perot decided to reenter the race and split the Republican vote in the general election. Clinton won on election day with 43 percent of the vote to Bush's 37 percent. Perot had 19 percent.
|V||RETURN TO PRIVATE LIFE|
Bush and his wife returned to Texas after Clinton was inaugurated, built a new house in their old west Houston neighborhood, and settled down to private life. Bush began work on his memoirs and gave occasional speeches. He and his wife doted on their grandchildren. In 2001 Bush's oldest son, George W. Bush, became the 43rd president of the United States. The Bushes became only the second father-son pair to both serve as president; the first pair was John Adams and John Quincy Adams in the early 19th century.