On November 30, 2018, the American people lost their 41st president, George H.W. Bush (1924-2018). He had a long career in politics, serving a variety of functions before his election as president and was a bona fide war hero. As a politician, Bush seemed to thrive more in appointed positions, as he performed quite well as Ambassador to the UN, U.S. Liaison to the Republic of China, and CIA director, which provided the real springboard for his executive ascension. His career running for elective office, however, was a bit rockier (and thus more interesting).
Bush’s record for election victories wasn’t great. In 1964 and 1970 he lost bids for the Senate in Texas, as the first time was a bad year for Texas Republicans and the second time he faced moderate Lloyd Bentsen instead of who he hoped to face, liberal Democrat Ralph Yarborough. In 1976 Ford passed on him for VP, and in 1980 he lost the GOP nomination for president. His successes included serving in Congress for four years, 1967-1971, and the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action gave him a 72% based on his voting record, indicating a moderate conservatism. The most notable thing he did was defy his constituency by voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1968, a highly risky move in his district, and defended his vote so well in front of an initially hostile audience that they gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech (Updegrove). What won him friends and made people consider him as a president, however, was his public administration experience. As Vice President, he was loyal to Reagan and an able representative for his administration. Reagan had initially been unimpressed with Bush, but by 1988 he privately favored him to win the GOP presidential nomination.
Bush the President: Domestic Policy
George H.W. Bush subscribed to standard GOP economic views and often battled the Democratic Congress. Bush vetoed legislation forty four times, with one veto override. These included an increase in the minimum wage and a civil rights bill he feared was so stringent it would lead to businesses adopting racial quotas to avoid lawsuits. Some of his most notable achievements in this area, however, trended towards the left. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act achieved widespread acclaim as the magna carta for disability civil rights, it has its critics on the right as does the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. However, the divergence that was toughest for the right to swallow was his walking back on his promise of “no new taxes”. The Democratic leadership pushed him to back increases on the income tax, alternative minimum tax, and payroll and excise taxes and he folded. In exchange, a “pay-as-you-go” process was established for discretionary spending and taxes. These increases angered the Republican base, and he lacked support from his party on this measure as the House Republicans voted against the president 126-47 with the Senate Republicans went 25-19 against. On domestic policy, Bush was overall mediocre in my estimation.
Bush the President: Foreign Policy and Loss
While Bush’s domestic policy wasn’t great, on foreign policy he was a strong president in my estimation. He put an end to the narco-state of dictator Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989, which resulted in his imprisonment. Bush managed to court international support for the Gulf War to counter Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and proved a smashing success. He aimed to create a “New World Order”, which here meant how the world’s nations would lead after the fall of the USSR, not an illuminati conspiracy. Unfortunately, his strength on foreign policy did not survive a mild recession and memories of going back on his word on taxes. In 1992, he lost a three-way election to Democrat Bill Clinton. Bush would subsequently engage in charitable causes such as providing aid for the victims of natural disasters along with former President Bill Clinton. The Points of Light Foundation he founded in 1990 continues to this day to assist those in need through voluntary service.
Bush also interestingly stands as a last in a number of ways. He was the last World War II veteran to be president, the last Republican to win the states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont, and the last of the “greatest generation” to be president. As of writing, he is also the last one term president.
Whatever you have to say about his politics, Bush was a good man and few men can claim to have achieved so much in his well-deserved 94 years of life.
Knott, S. George H.W. Bush: Domestic Affairs. Miller Center.
Knott, S. George H.W. Bush: Foreign Affairs. Miller Center.
Updegrove, M.K. (2018, April 11). The 1968 Fair Housing Act and the education of Congressman George Bush. The Hill.