The Presidents of the USA


 
 
 

Biography

 
41
George H. W. Bush
R R R R R
 
1989-1993
 
His term was marked by few domestic initiatives and a souring economy, but he took bold action in foreign affairs, using the military to depose Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega and fighting the Gulf War in Iraq. The Berlin wall was taken down in his watch.


Born June 12, 1924, Milton, Mass.
EducationYale College, B.A., 1948
Political partyRepublican
Military service U.S. Navy, 1942-45; Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals
Previous public office  ♦ House of Representatives, 1967-71
 ♦ U.S. ambassador to UN, 1971-73
 ♦ Director of CIA 1976-77
 ♦ Vice President, 1981-89
picture of George H. W. Bush



Early Life

Bush came from a politically and socially connected family: his father was Prescott Bush, an investment banker and U.S. senator from Connecticut (1953-63). His mother was Dorothy Walker Bush, a member of the family that donated the Walker Cup, one of amateur golf's most prestigious tournaments. Bush grew up in the affluent town of Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the finest prep schools in the nation.

During World War II, Bush enlisted in the navy and became its youngest pilot at age 19, flying Grumman Torpedo bombers in the Pacific from the aircraft carrier San Jacinto. He was shot down three times in combat, and received a DFC and three air medals.

After his war service Bush married Barbara Pierce and attended Yale University, where he was captain of the championship baseball team and a member of the secret society Skull and Bones.

Later he founded his own oil company in Houston, which soon merged with another to form the Zapata Petroleum Corporation.



Political Career

After making a small fortune in oil exploration, George Bush turned to Republican politics in Texas. In 1962 he became Harris County Republican party chairman. Two years later he won the Republican Senate nomination but was defeated by the Democratic incumbent. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Houston in 1966 and was reelected in 1968. Bush served on the Ways and Means Committee, which deals with tax matters. In 1970 he was defeated for the Senate again.

After serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bush was appointed by President Richard Nixon to be chair of the Republican National Committee in 1973. President Gerald Ford appointed Bush to serve as chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China and then to be Director of CIA.

Bush ran for President in 1980, but he was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries. Bush ended his campaign before the convention and was rewarded by receiving the Vice Presidential nomination.

As Vice President, Bush chaired the Task Force on Regulatory Relief, which took a pro-industry position on most issues: it watered down proposals from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on toxic substances in the workplace, delayed Transportation Department requirements that air bags be installed in cars, and delayed Environmental Protection Agency proposals to reduce lead in gasoline and remove asbestos from the workplace. Bush presided over the crisis management team at the White House and the drug interdiction task force.

When President Reagan underwent cancer surgery in 1985, the powers of the Presidency were transferred to Bush for several hours under the provisions of the 25th Amendment.

Bush defeated Senator Robert Dole and the Reverend Pat Robertson for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1988. He chose Dan Quayle, junior Republican senator from Indiana, as his running mate. In the general election, running against Massachusetts Democratic governor Michael Dukakis, Bush repeatedly promised voters, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” He told them he opposed abortion and gun control, embracing a conservative social agenda.

Bush won the election with 54 percent of the popular vote and 426 electoral votes to Dukakis's 111. Bush entered office facing large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.



Presidency

In his first year in office he followed a conciliatory line. He moved quickly past a dispute over the nomination of former senator John Tower to be secretary of defense (Tower was rejected by the Senate) and settled on the appointment of the less controversial Richard Cheney. Bush concluded bipartisan negotiations over the budget by agreeing to the possibility of an increase in taxes, even though that meant repudiating his campaign promises and alienating the conservatives in his own party.

In foreign affairs President Bush initially tried to avoid any major new international crisis, preferring not to confront either Libya or Syria over support for terrorists. Similarly, he took a soft line on China after its leaders ordered a massacre of leaders of the democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

He invaded Panama in 1989 to seize its dictator, Manuel Noriega, and then put him on trial for drug trafficking, securing a conviction in 1992. In Central America, Bush all but abandoned military pressure on the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, a revolutionary government with strong ties to the Soviet Union and Cuba. He opted instead to support an agreement for free elections that produced a non-Sandinista government. The results of his conciliatory approach to Congress and international adversaries were high standings in the polls and a reputation for skill in managing foreign affairs.

In the second year of Bush's term the collapse of Soviet control over the nations of Eastern Europe made it seem as if no international crisis would occur for the remainder of his term. The President signed an agreement with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that greatly reduced the number of NATO and Warsaw Pact (the Soviet-bloc nations of Eastern Europe) troops and tanks in Europe.

In August, however, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait. Bush sent more than 500,000 troops into the Persian Gulf, escalated his rhetoric against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and obtained a U.N. resolution approving the use of force against Iraq. Public approval for his handling of the crisis diminished, however, and many other nations urged more time for sanctions and diplomacy to work. Eventually, he received authorization from Congress to use force against Iraq, and the combined forces of the United States and several European and Arab nations waged a quick and successful military campaign. The effort forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, but Saddam Hussein remained in power.

Bush began his third year with the highest ratings since public opinion pollsters began gauging Presidential popularity. Bush's popularity went into the 90 percent range, yet he offered almost no new domestic programs to Congress, refusing to capitalize on his standing with the public. He pressured the Soviet Union to accelerate its pace of economic and political reform, a strategy that culminated in a strategic arms reduction agreement signed in Moscow in August 1991. He pressured Israel and its Arab neighbors to come to an international peace conference, which began meeting early in 1992. He dropped sanctions (trade restrictions) on South Africa and refused to call for sanctions on China to protest human rights violations. Both moves were unpopular with Democrats in Congress.

Bush supported Mikhail Gorbachev's program of Perestroika, or economic and political restructuring, in the Soviet Union and led a coalition of Western nations that opposed a coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991. But Bush opposed the efforts of some republics within the Soviet Union to secede. Gorbachev was succeeded in power by Boris Yeltsin, and the Soviet Union was transformed into the Commonwealth of Independent States at the beginning of 1992. Bush then began to work with Yeltsin and his team of free-market reformers on programs of aid, trade, and nuclear disarmament.

In domestic affairs Bush continued his conservative stance. He scuttled a compromise civil rights measure sponsored by Republican moderates in the Senate, setting up a major dispute with Democrats and civil rights organizations, but eventually he signed a version of the bill into law. He pushed hard for a defense budget that contained funding of major new strategic weapons programs, but his budget had little money for domestic initiatives—even for his much-trumpeted educational initiatives. The White House lobbied hard in the Senate for approval of Bush's Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, a black conservative.

Although Bush won most of his highly publicized confrontations with Congress, his legislative success record remained one of the lowest of any modern President, even as his popularity with the public continued to hover in the 70 percent range.

In the last year, his popularity slid from better than 70 percent into the low 40s. By early spring President Bush had the lowest rating in the polls of any first-term President in his fourth year in office since Herbert Hoover.

In the November election, Bush was defeated by Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, who won 43 percent of the popular vote to Bush's 38 percent. Independent candidate Ross Perot received 19 percent. After leaving the White House, Bush made his home in Houston, Texas.



Legacy

George Bush was the first Vice President to move directly to the White House by election since Martin Van Buren did so in 1836. His term was marked by few domestic initiatives, but he took bold action in foreign affairs, using the military to depose Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989 and to repel Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

Bush was a highly likeable individual who inspired great loyalty on the part of his staff. He was dedicated to public service but lacked any clear policy goals, especially in the domestic arena. He had little knowledge of American urban life and did not bring new directions in the presidency.

He constituted what has been described as a "guardian President", watching over and protecting what was already in existence. He was limited in achieving any new directions by an essentially hostile Congress and by his own failure to generate future goals. He was wedded to the here and now of politics at a time when the mood of America changed.

Bush was essentially a foreign affairs president. It was a field in which he was well grounded and in which he showed a particular interest.

His ability to gain broad international support for the Gulf War and the war's result were seen as both a diplomatic and military triumph, rousing bipartisan approval, though his decision to withdraw without removing Saddam Hussein left mixed feelings, and attention returned to the domestic front and a souring economy.

Amid the Early 1990s recession, his image shifted from "conquering hero" to "politician befuddled by economic matters".

Although Bush became the first elected Republican president since Hoover in 1932 to lose a reelection bid (facing a 34 percent approval rating leading up to the 1992 election), the mood did not last; within a year of his defeat, Bush's approval was up to 56%, and by December 2008 60% of Americans give Bush's presidency a positive rating.




 
 
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