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George H. Bush
— 41st President of the United States —



TERM: January 20, 1989 to January 20, 1993

BORN: June 12, 1924
BIRTHPLACE: Milton, Massachusetts
OCCUPATION: Oilman, public official
MARRIED: Barbara Pierce
CHILDREN: George, Robin, John, Neil, Marvin

George Bush's popularity soared when he directed the U.S. troops to storm Iraq in the 1991 Desert Storm invasion, but by the time his bid for reelection came, the country was mired in a recession, unemployment was up, and George Bush lost to Bill Clinton.

A heavy youngster, Bush was nicknamed "Fatty McGee McGaw" by his father, Prescott Bush, a businessman and U.S. senator. Bush grew up in a wealthy family and was driven to school by the family chauffeur. A baseball fan who would later play for Yale University, Bush often went with his father to Yankee Stadium to watch his boyhood idol, Lou Gehrig. His favorite memories of childhood are the summer vacations in Kennebunkport, Maine, also a favorite vacation spot during his presidency.

In prep school, Bush was active in sports and clubs. He was president of the senior class, captain of the baseball and soccer teams, manager of the basketball team, and was voted third best athlete, third most popular, and third most handsome.

Young George Herbert Walker Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and became the youngest pilot in the Navy in 1943. He flew 58 combat missions in World War II and was one of just four out of 14 pilots from his original squadron to survive the war. Bush was shot down over the ocean, but he was rescued by a submarine crew before he fell into enemy hands.

Bush's first elected office was that of U.S. representative in 1967. He had a long career of public service before becoming Ronald Reagan's vice president, including chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in the presidential election of 1988.

Bush's term as president was marked by personal ups and downs. One of the ups was Operation Desert Storm, when a United Nations contingent of mostly U.S. troops bombarded Iraq mercilessly after the Iraqis had invaded neighbor Kuwait. The Iraqis put up little fight, and the mission was handled with few U.S. casualties. At the time, Bush's popularity rating was as high as any president has ever had. During the same period, some people credited the collapse of communism around the world partly to Bush and Reagan.

President Bush's administration was plagued with problems. The savings and loan industry collapsed and the government expended billions of dollars to help bail out failed institutions. His famous campaign slogan "Read my lips. No new taxes." came back to haunt him when he had to raise taxes two years into his presidency. The "Iran-Contra" scandal of the Reagan administration continued to haunt him. Finally, a declining national economy hurt him, especially during his campaign for re-election.


George Herbert Walker Bush

b. Milton, Massachusetts, 12 June 1924) US; CIA director 1976 – 7, Vice-President 1981 – 9, President 1989 – 93 Born into an established East Coast family — his father was to serve as Senator for Connecticut (1952 – 63) — Bush was educated at Philipps Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then saw war service as a naval carrier pilot. He was the navy's youngest pilot, was shot down three times in combat, and received a DFC and three air medals. In 1944, at the age of 20, he married Barbara Pierce, also from a well-to-do family. After the war, he studied at Yale, graduating in 1948 with a degree in economics. Though from a wealthy family, he sought to make his own way in business and spent thirteen years working in the oil industry in Texas. Imbued with a patrician sense of duty, he sought public office, contesting the Texas Senate race in 1964 and then being elected to the House of Representatives in 1966. He was appointed to the Ways and Means Committee, an unusual achievement for a new member, made possible by the influence of his father. He served two terms before again, at the behest of President Richard Nixon and other Republican leaders, contesting — and losing — the Texas Senate race to Lloyd Bentsen.

In 1971 he received his first major public appointment when Nixon appointed him US ambassador to the United Nations. He served two years in the post before becoming — somewhat reluctantly — chairman of the Republican National Committee, heading it at a difficult time for the party, embroiled as its leading figures were in the Watergate scandal. Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, then appointed him to head the US liaison office in Beijing, a post preferred by Bush over ambassadorships to France and the United Kingdom. He served in China from 1975 to 1976, returning to the USA to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He proved a competent leader and showed some managerial skills. By the end of the 1970s, he had built up a record of public service and in 1980 contested the Republican nomination for President. After a sluggish start, he began to prove impressive as a candidate, coining some memorable phrases — most notably "voodoo economics" to describe the economic policies of his leading opponent, Ronald Reagan. When Reagan built up a commanding lead in delegates, Bush withdrew. Reagan chose Bush as his running mate. In the general election, they achieved a clear victory over the lacklustre Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter.

As Vice-President, Bush had — in common with most of his predecessors — a fairly low profile, chairing various bodies, including a task force on regulatory reform and the Crisis Management Team (later renamed the Special Situations Group) to monitor emergencies. When President Reagan was shot, Bush returned to Washington and presided over the Cabinet, though sitting in his own chair rather than the President's. Though implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, involving the use of money from the sale of arms to Iran to fund Contra rebels in Nicaragua, he survived the negative publicity. Serving two terms, he proved a loyal lieutenant to Reagan, in effect earning his right to succeed the President as Republican nominee in 1988. He won the nomination — after fighting off accusations of being a "wimp" — and presided over a campaign notable for its negative attacks on his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis. Bush chose as his running mate a little known Senator, Dan Quayle. Given an economy in reasonable shape, and a poor performance by his opponent, Bush won comfortably, winning 48.8 million votes to 41.8 million for Dukakis. He was the first incumbent Vice-President since Martin van Buren to be elected to the presidency. He was inaugurated as President on 20 January 1989.

The Bush presidency epitomized what Aaron Wildavsky characterized as "the two presidencies", one president but two presidencies — one for domestic affairs and one for foreign and defence policy, the latter achieving greater success than the former. 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. He dispatched troops to Panama in 1989 to overthrow the regime of Manuel Noriega. He presided over the US response to the fall of the Soviet Union and German unification. Bolstered by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ("Don't go wobbly on me, George"), he committed US forces to repel Iraqi forces invading Kuwait. The success of Operation Desert Storm — Iraqi forces being driven out quickly by Allied forces — raised Bush to unprecedented levels of public support. Thereafter, his support plummeted as domestic affairs came to the fore. The economy declined and Bush found himself agreeing to a tax increase in 1990, despite having made the declaration "Read my lips — no new taxes" the centrepiece of his 1988 campaign. He appeared to have no clear agenda for addressing domestic problems. His health also started giving some cause for concern. He was diagnosed as having mild heart trouble and in 1992 in Tokyo he collapsed vomiting in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister.

Bush's failure to address domestic problems rendered him vulnerable in the 1992 election. He faced a contest for the Republican nomination, the challenge of conservative Pat Buchanan making him appear vulnerable in the early stages, and in the general election faced both a Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, and an independent in the form of Ross Perot. The accusation of being a wimp reappeared and his failure to keep his 1988 promise on taxes counted heavily against him. He won less than 38 per cent of the popular vote, Clinton getting 43 per cent and the rest going to Perot. Bush retired from public life, spending time with his family and vacationing. He appeared visibly much more relaxed once he had given up the reins of office.

Bush was a highly likeable individual who inspired great loyalty on the part of his staff. He was dedicated to public service — Nelson Polsby characterized him as an "American Tory" — but lacked any clear policy goals, especially in the domestic arena. He had little knowledge of American urban life. He was renowned for his verbal gaffes and his occasional strangulation of the English language, though this hardly made him unique among US presidents. In the course of a toast, he once admitted "fluency in English is something that I'm not often accused of". He achieved no 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. Americans wanted someone who could offer change. Bush was unable to respond to the new mood.


A successful businessman, George Bush (born 1924) emerged as a national political leader during the 1970s. After holding several important foreign policy and administrative assignments in Republican politics, he served two terms as vice president (1980, 1984) under Ronald Reagan. In 1988, he was elected the 41st president of the United States.

George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts. His father, Prescott Bush, was a managing partner in the Wall Street investment firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and also served as U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1962. His mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was the daughter of another prominent Wall Street investment banker, George Herbert Walker (George Bush's namesake), and the founder of the Walker Cup for international golfing competition. George Bush grew up in the affluent New York City suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, vacationing in the summers in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he later maintained a home.

Bush attended the Greenwich Country Day School and Phillips Academy, exclusive private schools, where he excelled both in the classroom and on the athletic field. After graduating from Phillips in 1942, he enrolled in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was commissioned a navy flight pilot in 1943, serving in the Pacific for the duration of World War II. Secretly engaged to Barbara Pierce, Bush married this daughter of the publisher of Redbook and McCall's in Rye, New York, on January 6, 1945. The Bushes became the parents of six children (one of whom died of leukemia when three years old).

Following severance from the navy, Bush enrolled at Yale University in September 1945. An ambitious, highly competitive student, he earned a B.A. in economics within three years. Although a married military veteran, Bush was nonetheless active in campus social and athletic activities (playing three years of varsity baseball and captaining the team). Following graduation in 1948, Bush became an oilfield supply salesman for Dresser Industries in Odessa, Texas. Rising quickly in an industry then in the midst of a postwar boom, in 1953 Bush started his own oil and gas drilling firm. After merging with another firm in 1955, Bush eventually (in September 1958) moved the corporate headquarters to Houston, Texas.

In addition to having become a millionaire in his own right, Bush was also active in local Republican politics and served as Houston County party chairman. In 1964 he took a leave of absence from his firm, Zapata Petroleum, to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough. Bush campaigned as a Goldwater Republican, opposing civil rights legislation, calling for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations should the Peoples Republic of China be admitted, and demanding a cutback in foreign aid spending. The strategy of Goldwater Republicans had been to promote a conservative realignment, specifically leading to Republican congressional victories in the South and Southwest. This strategy failed, and Bush also lost decisively in what was a nationwide Democratic landslide.

Bush did not withdraw from politics, however, and in 1966 he won election to the House of Representatives from a Houston suburban district. A two-term congressman, serving from 1966 through 1970, Bush compiled a conservative voting record (earning a 77 percent approval rating from the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action), specifically championing "right to work" anti-labor union legislation and a "freedom of choice" alternative to school desegregation. In an exception to an otherwise conservative record, in 1968, despite opposition from his constituents, Bush voted for the open housing bill recommended by President Lyndon Johnson.

A loyal adherent of the Nixon administration during 1969 and 1970, Bush supported the president's major legislative initiatives, including the family assistance plan. In 1970 he again sought election to the Senate, campaigning as an outspoken Nixon supporter on a "law and order" theme. His election chances, however, were submarined when the more moderate Lloyd Bentsen defeated Yarborough in the Democratic primary. Although Bush's electoral support had increased since 1966 (from 43 to 47 percent), he was once again defeated.

As a reward for his loyalty, in February 1971 President Nixon appointed Bush U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Given the nominee's lack of foreign policy experience, this appointment was initially viewed as a political favor. Bush, however, proved to be an able and popular diplomat, particularly in his handling of the difficult, if ultimately unsuccessful, task of ensuring the continued seating of the Taiwan delegation when the United Nations in a dramatic reversal voted to seat the Peoples Republic of China.

In December 1972 Bush resigned his United Nations appointment to accept, again at Nixon's request, the post of chairman of the Republican National Committee. This largely administrative appointment proved to be a demanding assignment when the Senate, in the spring of 1973, initiated a highly publicized investigation into the so-called Watergate Affair and then, in the winter/spring of 1973, when the House debated whether to impeach President Nixon. Throughout this period Bush publicly championed the president, affirming Nixon's innocence and questioning the motives of the president's detractors. As the scandal unfolded, Bush sought to minimize its adverse consequences for the political fortunes of the Republican party. Following Nixon's forced resignation in August 1974 his successor, Gerald Ford, appointed Bush in September 1974 to head the U.S. liaison office in Peking, China.

Serving until December 1975, Bush proved again to be a popular and accessible "ambassador" (formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic had not at this time been established). He left this post to accept appointment in January 1976 as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Bush served as a caretaker director, acting to restore morale within the agency and to deflect public and congressional criticisms of the agency's past role and authority. Resigning as CIA director in January 1977 following the election of Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, Bush returned to Houston to accept the chairmanship of the First National Bank of Houston.

Bush was an unannounced candidate for the Republican presidential nomination of 1980 starting in 1977. He sought to exploit the contacts he had made as Republican National Committee chairman and as a businessman in Texas with family and corporate interests in the East as well as his record of public service. Travelling to all 50 states and establishing his own fund-raising organization, the Fund for Limited Government, Bush formally announced his candidacy in May 1979. Modeling his campaign after Jimmy Carter's successful strategy of 1975-1976 of building a well-organized grass roots organization in the early primary/caucus states of lowa and New Hampshire, Bush quickly emerged as the principal opponent of former governor of California Ronald Reagan, the Republican frontrunner.

While as conservative as Reagan in his economic and foreign policy views, Bush nonetheless successfully projected the image of a moderate candidate. He lacked substantive programmatic differences from Reagan except for his support for the Equal Rights Amendment, his qualified stand on abortion, and his questioning of Reagan's proposed intention to increase defense spending sharply while reducing taxes and balancing the budget. His failure to find a major issue and his lackluster campaign style eventually forestalled his candidacy. Although recognizing that he did not have the needed delegate votes, Bush did not drop out of the race before the Republican National Convention. In a surprise decision, made on the eve of the balloting, Reagan announced his selection of Bush as his vice presidential running mate.

Becoming vice president with Reagan's decisive victory over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, Bush proved to be a loyal, hard working supporter of the president. Careful to demonstrate his loyalty and to accept the largely ceremonial public responsibilities of the vice presidency, Bush provided quiet counsel to the president and thereby gained his respect. Renominated in 1984, Bush retained the vice presidency with the resultant Reagan landslide. Bush's record of demonstrated loyalty and competence, and the series of important administrative offices he had held since 1971, nonetheless had not created for him a broad-based nationwide constituency. As such, he was not assured the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Despite his nationwide campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, Bush remained an untested vote getter, his only electoral victory coming as a candidate from a safe Republican congressional district. Bush's other governmental positions were all attained through appointment. His career was thus marked by the ability to handle difficult administrative assignments, and yet a seeming failure to demonstrate the promise of leadership with the voters.

In 1988, Bush defeated Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis to become the 41st president of the United States. With this victory, many felt he had overcome his weak image and allegations that he had known more than he admitted about the Iran-Contra (arms-for-hostages trade with Iran) scandal. As chief executive he was widely viewed as a foreign policy president. He was in office when the Communist governments of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe fell. The Persian Gulf War of 1990 also boosted Bush's popularity to a point where many thought he would be unbeatable in the next election.

However, Bush also had his share of problems. Many historians believe that Bush ran a negative campaign in 1988 which affected his ability to govern the country. Congress refused to confirm his nomination of former Texas senator John Tower for secretary of defense. He inherited problems with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Other critics said he lacked vision and leadership. He also had a relatively inexperienced vice president in former Indiana Senator Dan Quayle. In 1992, in the midst of a recession, he lost his re-election bid in a three-way race to Democrat Bill Clinton.

In retirement, Bush kept a relatively low profile, preferring to travel and spend time with his grandchildren. He did make the news when, in March 1997, at the age of 72, he became (many believe) the first American President to jump out of an airplane. He also received a honorary doctorate from Hofstra University in April 1997.

Bush the politician will always be remembered. On November 30, 1994, the ground breaking ceremony for the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum was held. This facility was constructed on the campus of Texas A & M University, in College Station, Texas, and opened in November 1997. It is the tenth presidential library administered by National Archives and documents Bush's long public career, from ambassador to world leader. Located within the complex will be The Bush School of Government & Public Service, which will provide graduate education to those who wish to lead and manage organizations serving the public interest.










This web page was last updated on: 09 December, 2008