George Herbert Walker Bush, (1924- ), 41st President of the United States. During most of his public career, George Bush served other presidents loyally in a number of important positions. Not until 1988, after eight years as Vice Presidentunder Ronald Raegan, did Bush, a self-effacing man, step into the limelight as the Republican nominee for president. For the first time he had an opportunity to articulate his vision for America’s future.Few presidential candidates had entered a campaign so ill defined in the eyes of the American voters. Bush’s two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, the only office to which he had been elected on his own, were almost two decades in the past by 1988. His service in appointive positions–as U.S. delegate to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency–had provided only an imperfect picture of his political philosophy. He had sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 as a moderate, but after becoming Reagan’s running mate he had taken conservative positions identical to those of Reagan.As he finally spoke out during the 1988 campaign, Bush did not stray far from the Reagan credo. He repeated the “no new tax” pledge that Reagan supporters loved to hear, and he promised to continue other economic policies that had brought general, if not universal, prosperity to the country. He reaffirmed his predecessor’s determination to negotiate with the Soviet Union only from a posture of strength. Yet he seemed more responsive to concerns about the environment, and his pledge not to tolerate wrongdoing was an implied rebuke to the lax ethical standards of the Reagan administration.George Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924. His father, Prescott Bush, was a wealthy investment banker and later a partner in the Wall Street firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Company. Prescott Bush was the Republican senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963.With his sister and three brothers, George grew up in Greenwich, Conn., where he attended the Country Day School. He later attended Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass.World War II interrupted Bush’s education. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 18, was commissioned an ensign, and for a time was the navy’s youngest pilot. Serving in the Pacific Theater, he flew 58 combat missions. He was once shot down and rescued by a submarine.In 1945, Bush married Barbara Pierce of Rye, N.Y., daughter of a magazine publisher. They had six children, George, John, Neil, Marvin, Dorothy, and Robin. Robin died of leukemia at age three.In 1948, in just three years, Bush graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University with a BA in economics. He had captained the baseball team and had been a member of Skull and Bones, the most exclusive of the Yale secret societies.Choosing not to join his father’s banking firm, Bush headed for Texas with his wife and infant son. He went to work for Dresser Industries, an oil-field supply company. He was a cofounder in 1953 of the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, and in 1954 he became president of its subsidiary, the Zapata OffShore Company.When the firm’s subsidiary became independent in 1958, Bush moved its headquarters from Midland, Tex., to Houston. He served as Zapata’s president until 1964, when he became active in politics and as its chairman from 1964 to 1966. He then sold his interest in the company for a good profit.After serving as Republican chairman in Harris county, Bush ran for office for the first time in 1964. He aimed high, for an U.S. Senate seat. He won the nomination but lost the election to the incumbent, Ralph Yarborough, a liberal Democrat.Nonetheless, Bush had done very well by Texas Republican standards in those days. In 1966 he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won. The first Republican to represent Houston, he was reelected in 1968.The Republicans were divided between conservatives and moderates in the 1960’s. Then, and later, Bush sometimes seemed to oscillate between the two sides. Certainly his voting record in the House was generally conservative. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave Bush a zero rating in 1968. He had opposed the public accommodation provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, arguing that moral persuasion at the local level was more effective. But in the House he supported open-housing legislation, which was unpopular in his district. Most often he endorsed Nixon administration policy on the Vietnam War. Yet he broke with conservatives by supporting birth-control programs and opposing financing of the supersonic transport.Bush tried again for the Senate in 1970, anticipating that Yarborough would be his opponent. But a somewhat conservative candidate, Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., won the Democratic nomination. Bush, unable to draw a sharp ideological distinction between himself and his opponent, lost his second Senate race.President Richard M. Nixon appreciated Bush’s sacrifice of a safe House seat to run for the Senate. The president rewarded Bush with an important appointive position, that of Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations. Though the choice of Bush was criticized because he had little foreign-policy experience, he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in February 1971. He presented the administration’s proposal for a peacekeeping force in the Middle East, and he negotiated a reduced U.S. share of the UN budget. His personal warmth and ability to learn quickly made Bush an effective spokesman for the United States.At the behest of the administration, Bush worked hard to preserve a General Assembly seat for the Republic of China (Taiwan). Despite his efforts, the UN recognized the People’s Republic of China, the Communist regime, as sole representative of the Chinese people. Yet even as Bush led this futile effort, Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, were initiating contacts with the People’s Republic.Nixon asked Bush to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee early in 1973, just before the WATERGATE scandal broke. During this disastrous period for the party, Bush defended Nixon against charges of complicity, at least until it became apparent that the president was lying. Early in August 1974, Bush wrote to Nixon, asking him to resign. Nixon did so, on August 8.The new president, Gerald R Ford, asked Bush to pick his next job, and Bush chose to be the head of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China. His 14 months in Beijing in 1974 and 1975 were important to the developing relationship between the two countries.At the end of 1975, Ford called Bush home to assume an even more delicate assignment–that of director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA was reeling from Watergate-era revelations. Congress had documented CIA abuses of power and had been especially displeased with the agency’s covert operations. Bush drafted an executive order aimed at preventing the CIA from committing further violations of its mandate. He was credited with lifting CIA morale and preventing further damage to the agency.After Ford lost the presidential election of 1976, Bush returned to private life. He became chairman of Houston’s First National Bank. Bush soon began to plan a campaign for the presidency and formally entered the race for the 1980 Republican nomination in May 1979. Stressing his broad experience in government, he took moderate stances on most issues. Ronald Reagan, the leading contender for the nomination, espoused a clear conservative message. He said he would cut taxes, increase military spending, and still balance the federal budget. Bush ridiculed this package of pledges as “voodoo economics,” a phrase that would haunt him later when he embraced Reagan’s economic game plan.Bush upset Reagan in the Iowa caucuses, the first event of the campaign, but he lost to the former California governor in the key New Hampshire Primary. Although Bush won in a few more states, he fell far behind Reagan in the delegate count and withdrew before the opening of the convention.Reagan considered asking former President Ford to be his running mate, but the two could not agree on how to share power in what had been envisioned as a “co-presidency.” Reagan then asked Bush to accept the vice presidency, and Bush eagerly accepted. He brought foreign-policy experience and an image of moderation to the ticket.Dissatisfaction with the economic policies of President Jimmy Carter and with Carter’s lack of success in freeing U.S. hostages held by Iran resulted in a sweeping victory by the Reagan-Bush ticket. The Republicans carried 44 states. Reagan and Bush were sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981.On March 30, 1981, an attempt was made on the life of President Reagan. Although he suffered a serious gunshot wound, he recovered within a few weeks. Bush assumed some responsibilities of the president, conducting himself in a restrained manner that reassured the public. There was no formal transfer of power.On July 13, 1985, at 11:28 a.m., Bush became acting president. About to undergo an operation for colon cancer, and knowing he would be under an anesthetic, Reagan directed that Bush assume the powers of the presidential office. This marked the first official transfer of power of this kind. Reagan did not use the 25th Amendment to the Constitutions justification for the transfer but cited a “long-standing arrangement” with Bush. At 7:22 p.m. the same day, Reagan again assumed the powers of his office.The vice president has the constitutional duty to preside over the Senate. Modern vice presidents have spent little time doing so, and Bush was no exception, casting only an occasional vote to break a tie.A vice president’s real importance derives from responsibilities given him by the president. Bush undertook a variety of assignments. He traveled to more than 60 countries, and, while his visits were often ceremonial, he engaged in some diplomacy.Bush maintained an office in the White House and attended Reagan’s daily national-security briefings. He served as chairman of the National Security Council “crisis-management team.” He headed task forces on crime, terrorism, and drug smuggling. The amount of illegal drugs being brought into the United States grew sharply in the Reagan years. Increasing quantities were intercepted, yet the success of the effort against drugs was open to question.Reagan and Bush were renominated in 1984. Bush campaigned tirelessly for the ticket, which rode the waves of peace and prosperity, not to mention Reagan’s great personal popularity, to a sweep of 49 states in the November voting.Speculation was rife during Reagan’s second term over what Bush knew about the policy of selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages held in the Middle East. Bush insisted he did not know until the information became public that the sale of weapons, through Israel, was part of a hostage deal. But his attendance at key meetings seemed to suggest that he should have known that some leading administration officials had vehemently opposed the plan.On the related question of transfer of profits from the arms sales to contras opposing the leftist Nicaraguan regime, Bush also denied knowledge. Evidence of contacts between his aides and private U.S. citizens assisting the contras raised questions for which Bush offered no definitive answers, in public at least.Bush was widely regarded as Reagan’s political heir–not so much because of his conservative credentials (which some conservatives still questioned), but because of his unswerving loyalty. Aspects of this political relationship with Reagan helped illuminate both why Bush had succeeded in public life and why he entered the 1988 campaign with a handicap.Bush and his siblings, born to privilege, had been encouraged by their parents to strive for success. But they were also taught to be team players. Boasting and attempts to excel as individuals were considered bad form. However admirably George Bush may have conducted himself in the genteel milieu of suburban Connecticut, he seemed somewhat unprepared to compete in the rough-and-tumble of politics in Texas and the nation at large.
In his appointive positions, Bush typically spoke only for the president or to represent administration policy. As vice president, similarly, Bush was expected to suppress his own views and make them conform with those of the president. Otherwise, the public might see the administration as divided against itself; a president, after all, cannot dismiss a vice president. (The traditional subordination of the role of the vice president explained in part why no vice president since Martin Van Buren in 1836 had been elected directly to the presidency.) Thus, although Bush had become one of the best-known figures in American public life by 1988, he seemed almost to defy definition. Was he still a closet moderate who had once favored legalization of abortion as well as the equal rights amendment to the Constitution, or had he converted fully to conservatism? Was he a Texan–he kept a hotel suite in Houston–or was his heart really in Maine, where he owned an oceanfront home and spent most of his spare time?Bush’s media advisers succeeded in 1988 in projecting a steadier, firmer image of their candidate. But it was apparent that the defining of George Bush would continue into his presidency.Bush entered the 1988 race in October 1987. After a slow start, he recovered, winning in New Hampshire and sweeping the Southern primaries. He was nominated unanimously in New Orleans in August. He picked Sen. Dan Quayle (Ind.) as his running mate, and the two rode out criticism of Quayle for not having served in Vietnam. Bush called for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his acceptance speech.Bush waged a surprisingly negative, abrasive campaign against the Democratic nominee, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (Mass.), calling him a liberal outside the American mainstream. Bush vowed not to raise taxes but suggested Dukakis might do so. Bush also disparaged Dukakis’ plans to cut back on major weapons and attacked him as “weak” on crime.President Reagan campaigned for Bush, who benefited from Reagan’s still-high popularity. A charter member of the “Reagan Revolution,” Bush won 40 states in November and 53.4% of the popular vote. In the Electoral College, Bush got 426 votes, Dukakis 111.Inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 1989, Bush brought an informal atmosphere to the White House. The Bushes greeted tourists on his first full day as president.With the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the president often took middle-of-the-road positions around which a consensus could be built. However, as his tenure progressed, he did not shirk confrontation with Congress.In June 1990 Bush abandoned his “Read my lips. No new taxes” campaign pledges and acknowledged those new or increased taxes were necessary. Many Republican conservatives were critical of this shift, and his popularity ratings fell immediately. A compromise deficit-reduction plan was killed by the House, with many Republicans in opposition. As a result, the government was almost forced to shut down for lack of money while a new budget proposal was drafted.In the final days of the 101st Congress the president and Congress reached a compromise on a budget package that increased the marginal tax rate and phased out exemptions for high-income taxpayers. Despite his repeated demands for a reduction in the capital gains tax, Bush had to surrender on this issue as well. This agreement with the Democratic leadership in Congress was a turning point in the Bush presidency. His popularity among Republicans never fully recovered, and the compromise plan reduced the size of the deficit only marginally, despite Bush’s claim that it was the toughest deficit reduction package ever approved.As the unemployment rate edged upward in 1991, Bush signed a bill providing additional benefits for unemployed workers. He aggressively sought to create new jobs through increases in exports, and to that end he visited Australia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan in January 1992. Despite hopes for a major agreement with Japan, he obtained only modest Japanese concessions to purchase American products. Bush’s 1992 State of the Union address offered a plan for economic growth that called for a moratorium on new government regulations on business, a cut in the capital gains tax, and the elimination of numerous domestic programs he deemed undeserving of federal funding. He also endorsed a health-insurance tax credit for poor families and a tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Congress adopted some of his proposals, but Bush vetoed the final bill because it raised taxes on the wealthy. By late 1992 he had cast 35 vetoes, none of which was overridden. The streak ended in October 1992 when Congress, urged on by consumers, overrode his veto of a bill that reversed portions of a law barring local governments from regulating cable-television fees.In 1992 interest rates and the inflation rate were the lowest in years, but by midyear the unemployment rate reached 7.8%, the highest since 1984. In September the Census Bureau reported that 14.2% of all Americans lived in poverty, the highest proportion since 1983.As his administration seemed to drift in the face of declining economic conditions, Bush shook up his White House staff twice. His first chief of staff, John Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire, stepped aside in 1991 and was succeeded by Samuel Skinner, the secretary of transportation. Skinner, in turn, bowed out in 1992 and was succeeded by Secretary of State James A. Baker, 3d, who also assumed overall supervision of Bush’s reelection campaign.In 1990, when the president had his first opportunity to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, he nominated an obscure federal judge from New Hampshire, David H. Souter, who was easily confirmed. In 1991, following the retirement of Turgid Marshall, the only black on the Supreme Court, Bush nominated another black, Clarence Thomas, a federal court of appeals judge with strong conservative views. Some women’s and civil rights organizations opposed the nomination. Bush characteristically remained steadfast in his support, even after a former member of Thomas’s staff, law professor Anita Hill, accused the judge of sexual harassment in nationally televised hearings. Thomas was confirmed, 52-48.Bush received strong support from the public for his handling of foreign affairs. Drawing on his diplomatic experience and demonstrating a grasp of minutiae that had eluded his predecessor; Bush played a key role in advancing U.S. foreign policy. The electoral defeat in 1990 of the leftist Sandinistas in Nicaragua concluded a long, sometimes covert, effort by Reagan and Bush to unseat them. Bush met separately with South Africa’s reform-minded president, F. W. de Klerk, and with the newly freed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela. By supporting sanctions against the South African government, Bush appeared to help speed the dismantling of its system of racial separation. His administration lifted the sanctions in 1991 after concluding that the requirements imposed by Congress had been met.Bush relied on force to settle accounts with Panama’s strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega. In December 1989 Bush ordered troops into Panama and forced Noriega from power. Noriega surrendered, was brought to trial in an U.S. court, and was convicted of a series of charges.After China’s rulers brutally crushed massive student demonstrations in the spring of 1989, Bush–who knew the aging leaders personally–deplored the crackdown but maintained communication with the leadership. His stance angered human rights activists and appeared to have no effects on China’s policy toward internal dissent.A series of summits with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev resulted in the signing of treaties on arms reductions and agreements on other issues. As communist governments collapsed in Eastern Europe, Bush became to some degree a bystander, watching as nations redefined their futures. In August 1991, only weeks after Bush and Gorbachev had signed strategic-arms–reduction treaty in Moscow, the Soviet president was nearly ousted in an attempted coup. Thanks to Boris Yeltsin’s resistance to the coup, Gorbachev was able to return to power, however briefly. When, in December 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved into a loose confederation of independent republics and several unaffiliated states, Bush quickly recognized the new states and sought a rapprochement with Yeltsin, now president of Russia. In the spring of 1992 Bush and Yeltsin agreed to substantial cuts in nuclear weapons.Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 provided Bush’s most serious crisis and his finest hour as president. His masterful diplomacy fashioned a broad international coalition against Iraq. Justifying the U.S. response, Bush cited the unprovoked invasion of defenseless Kuwait, Iraq’s desire to control a large portion of the world’s oil reserves, and Iraq’s growing nuclear-weapons potential. In January 1991 Bush asked Congress for “all necessary means” to expel Iraq from Kuwait. He received congressional approval to use force, and the U.S.-led allies launched a punishing aerial assault on strategic sites in Iraq. In a ground war in February, lasting just 100 hours, allied forces drove the Iraqis from Kuwait. Bush’s popularity rose to historic highs for a president, but he drew some criticism for ordering a cease-fire before Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein, was ousted. Following the war, Hussein quickly crushed internal postwar revolts by Kurds and Muslims. Bush sent relief aid to refugees fleeing Hussein’s forces. Then, in 1992, as Hussein’s troops continued to attack Shi s Muslims, Bush enlisted France and Britain to support a “no-fly zone,” enforced largely by U.S. aircraft, barring Iraq from sending planes into the disputed territory.The last American hostages being held in Lebanon were freed in 1991, and hopes for a general Middle East settlement brightened when peace talks orchestrated by Bush were initiated between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Bush declined to support $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel unless Israel halted settlements in its occupied territories. When Yitzak Rabin succeeded Yitzak Shamir in 1992, the new Israeli government suspended construction and financing of most new settlements; soon thereafter Bush and Rabin came to an agreement on the loans. The Bush administration held extensive discussions with Canada and Mexico that resulted in the approval of a draft North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992.At first Bush’s reelection prospects in 1992 seemed promising, but voters began to focus more on their fears about the U.S. economy than on Bush’s international successes. Patrick Buchanan, a conservative newspaper columnist, challenged Bush for the GOP presidential nomination, attacking him for reneging on his pledge not to raise taxes. By the time of the Republican convention one survey showed that the president’s approval rating had fallen to 29%. Bush and Vice President Quayle were renominated without opposition–Buchanan eventually having endorsed the president–but the strident tone of convention speakers and the parties very conservative platform did not help the national ticket.Bush then took on his principal opponent, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, the Democratic nominee, in a hard-hitting campaign. In televised debates and in speeches and television commercials, Bush charged that Clinton would ruin the economy by raising taxes and increasing government spending.Bush also attacked his opponent’s character, criticizing Clinton for allegedly not explaining how he had avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. In the waning days of the campaign it appeared that the election might be close, as polls indicated a narrowing gap between front runner Bill Clinton and the president. On November 3, however, Bush lost the popular vote by a 43% to 38% margin.