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A cartoonist captures a reunion: Bush 41 greeting by his wife Barbara and his little girl, Robin, who was taken by leukemia while very young. A Personal Moment for a very Personable Man.
For most of my voting life I have been Republican in national elections and Democratic in state and local elections. Not that I didn't mix it up a bit but that was the general pattern.
In 1988, friends from the Jim Edgar Campaign (A republican and the new governor of Illinois) asked me to work for the Bush Campaign. I was hesitant. I was less than enthusiastic about his association with Ronald Reagan for whom he served as Vice President. Reagan had a mixed record. Bush seemed to me to be a "yes man". Still, I trusted the Edgar people and I was no fan of Dukakis and he looked to be the likely winner of the Democratic Nomination. So in June of 1988 I went to work for Mr. Bush after taking a good look at his long career.
That career was impressive. Congressman, Ambassador, Director of the CIA and Vice-President to the man who beat him for the Nomination. I took a good look and found someone who I could respect and admire. I worked for his election then and once again in 1992. I gave the Democratic choice a look but I knew way too little about this ex-Governor from Arkansas to want him as President. Overall I was happy with Bush.
I found this essay at Time and it captures most of my thinking.
What follows are highlights of that essay and my summary of its key points.
Virtually from the moment he defeated Michael Dukakis in the election of 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush made it clear that he was going to be a very different sort of Commander in Chief than Ronald Reagan. He told the Secret Service to turn off its sirens and ordered his motorcade to come to a halt at stoplights. He let it slip that he (sometimes) showered with his dog. He took pictures of his aides when they fell asleep during meetings. He went jogging in the mornings, repaired to a newly built horseshoe pit for a little “prudent R and R” in the afternoons, and liked to zip out to suburban Virginia for Chinese food, sweeping up family, aides and occasionally even perfect strangers in the adventure. His trips to camp David were non-stop sport and he had tons of guests there. He loved company.
He wrote thank-you notes by the dozen, as if he were winning over the country one correspondence card at a time. He regularly stayed in Washington for the Christmas holiday itself so that his "on the road" bodyguards could spend the day with their families. He treated his traveling press photographers to regular weenie roasts. He dragged Cabinet members up to Camp David for the weekend, whether they wanted to go or not. Asked in the final days of his transition what surprised him most about the spacious White House residence, Bush, who loved to throw spontaneous dinners, replied, “I can have 40 people up there.”
He could be wry. When TIME asked the new president to explain his decision-making process, he ordered an aide to take a Polaroid of him hovering over a crystal ball. The framed picture later arrived in the mail with a note: “The president wanted you to know how he really makes decisions.”
And there were the Dana Garvey sketches on SNL.....Bush played right into them...Here is a great moment.
In which George HW Bush interrupts Garvey's opening monologue (which he is performing AS Bush) to critique his efforts. Worth the time. Says a lot about him.
All of these stories were typical of Bush, but they also had the virtue of cementing one overriding sensation as he prepared to be sworn in as America’s 41st president — that Ronald Reagan and the turbulent era he oversaw were over. Bush hoped, almost by sheer force of will (and impeccable manners), to usher in a more moderate, more reasonable era of American politics. “Normal” was a word that was used a lot around the Bush White House in the first year. He had promised in the campaign to work hard, keep the boat in the channel and get stuff done. He carried that theme into the most memorable, and most applauded, line of his brief 20-minute inaugural address: “The American public did not send us here to bicker.”
Bush knew he would need the cooperation of a Congress fully under Democratic control to get anything done. But the 41st president, among the best prepared men to be Commander in Chief in the 20th century, could not have foreseen that his biggest problems would come not from political rivals but from members of his own party who were leaning harder and harder to the right and for whom divisive politics was oddly inviting.
Real Progress at Home — at a Price
Bush’s domestic agenda, at least by today’s standards, would be called ambitious: a quiet remaking of one sector of the country’s financial industry, a new civil-rights law, a bipartisan overhaul of clean-air rules, new investments in technology, and a dramatic rewrite of spending and taxing rules that would help to lay the groundwork for an economic boom.
Bush was a social moderate, an internationalist and, despite his years in Texas, an Easterner by nature. Yet he was leading a party that since the mid-1970s had tilted ever more conservative, more Western, more Southern and less tolerant of social progress. That party loved Reagan, it had written Richard Nixon out of its history books, and it was a little suspicious of a man whose father, a senator from Greenwich, Conn., had been a Planned Parenthood supporter. So Bush had campaigned with country-and-western singers in tow, often bragged about eating (and liking) beef jerky, and had promised, forcefully and repeatedly, never to raise taxes.
From the moment he took office, Bush walked a tightrope: doing deals with Democrats who controlled both chambers and hoping the right wing of his party would not object. For nearly two years, his balance was perfect; then the tightrope began to quiver.
He moved quietly in his first year to put a wrecked savings and loan industry back together, selling off failed thrifts and merging and recapitalizing the salvageable ones. The bailout cost taxpayers $123.8 billion, and Bush’s aides discreetly slipped the measure through Congress. Easing the way was the fact that nearly every member of Congress had seen thrifts fail in his or her district. Still, it would be a test run for a global bank failure 20 years later.
Bush found easy congressional approval for his next initiative, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark piece of civil-rights legislation he signed in July 1990 that gave people with handicaps access to facilities and opportunities that other Americans took for granted. Curbs, doors, stairs, signage and employment laws were revised across the country over the next 20 years in response to the bipartisan-backed measure.
Bush worked tirelessly in his first year on two other fronts. First, he won an agreement from the nation’s governors to back a minimal set of academic standards by which all schools would be measured, a project he did in trademark fashion: in person, pressing individual governors for help.
Bush spent hundreds of hours in meetings in 1990 on Clean Air Act amendments, updating a 1970s-era law in harness with Democrats and environmentalists. The result was a set of rules that raised smog- and acid-rain-causing emissions standards, but that also gave utilities and other manufacturers new flexibility in reducing emissions.
But Bush’s best-remembered — and fateful — domestic-policy decision came in June 1990, when he announced that the nation needed to embrace a broad package of spending cuts and “tax revenue increases” to help bring down the nation’s deficit, then running at a relatively modest $400 billion a year. When the budget battles finally ended in October, Bush had gutted out a remarkable achievement that would cut the deficit by nearly $500 billion over five years. The deal put the nation on a firmer fiscal path and created new rules that severely limited spending and were later given credit for helping to set the stage for the economic boom of the 1990s. The War in Iraq while brief was also costly and Bush felt obliged to pay off the war which he did with a combination of payments from the Saudis and Kuwatis and revenue from taxes. But the damage Bush suffered from party loyalists was just as lasting. Conservatives in his party never trusted him again. Tax increases would be off the table for Republicans for two decades, and the stage was set for a challenge to the 1992 nomination. Bush had done the right thing, but he would pay a steep price for doing it.
China, Panama, Desert Storm
Bush acknowledged early in his presidency that he vastly preferred foreign policy to domestic affairs. It was his specialty, having cut his teeth in the 1970s as U.N. ambassador, envoy to China and CIA director and amassed a global Rolodex of kings, princes, emirs, premiers and ambassadors. More than that, it was overseas, he felt, that a commander in chief could really make a difference. Indeed, Bush would bring his feel for personal diplomacy to bear in ways that earned him plaudits for speed and a deft touch, as well as criticism for occasional coziness.
He laid down markers from the start, traveling to Japan to attend Emperor Hirohito’s funeral, a thinly disguised trip that afforded him a stop in China to meet his counterparts there. (Bush maintained close ties with Beijing, amid much criticism, several months later when Tiananmen Square exploded and Chinese officials cracked down harshly on a budding democracy movement.) At the same time, he spent five months studying Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s intentions before springing a dramatic proposal on NATO to reduce American forces in Europe by 30,000, roughly 20 percent of all U.S. combat troops on the continent. The move caught his allies off guard and would typify Bush’s instincts in foreign policy: long periods of study, secret planning and then a globe-grabbing surprise.
His troop proposals not only reduced U.S. presence overseas, they helped clear the way for the reunification of Germany and doubtless eased the fall of the Soviet Union. He boosted economic aid to Russia and other former satellite states to help speed the end of the Communist bloc. And he pushed the fast-declining Soviets to make deeper reductions in nuclear arms, hoping to lower tensions as the dilapidated Communist regime tried to shape a new economic future. Throughout the dramatic events of the fall of 1989 and 1990, Bush was careful not to gloat over the Cold War’s triumphant closure. Yes, the West had won a 40-year struggle. But spiking the ball in the end zone, Bush knew, would only slow — or even reverse — the process.
Bush wasted no time in 1989 when he sent nearly 26,000 American troops to Panama to remove General Manuel Noriega from power. The pretense was a murder — Noriega’s thugs had killed a Marine and roughed up a Navy officer and his wife. The real reason was that Noriega was turning into an accomplished drug runner, transforming the country that controlled the Panama Canal into a criminal enterprise.
When Saddam Hussein’s army, the fourth largest in the world at the time, invaded the tiny, oil-rich emirate of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1991, it was widely assumed in most foreign capitals that there was nothing that could be done about it. Bush took a different view. “This will not stand,” he announced on the White House South Lawn, surprising even some of his own advisers.
Bush organized a coalition of 37 nations to oppose Saddam, got other nations to pay for the expeditionary force, and within six months pushed the Iraqis back over the border. Bush had chosen his sidemen well: longtime friend James Baker was his Secretary of State, and Brent Scowcroft, whom Bush had known since the early 1970s, was his national security adviser. They constituted one of the shrewdest foreign-policy troikas in history, organizing NATO and Western armies behind the liberation and even looping a number of Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, into the coalition.
The international air campaign bombing Iraqi outposts and defenses began in January 1991 and lasted for 40 days before the multinational ground force liberated the country in 100 hours. And there Bush stopped, declining the chance to go all the way to Baghdad and toss Saddam from power. That action, he and Scowcroft believed, would only bring instability to the region setting off a religious civil war (which is precisely what happened when Bush's son did not exercise his father's well informed prudence.)
Bush had put on one of the finest displays of raw presidential power in a generation, and the nation rewarded him with record-breaking approval ratings.
‘Finish with a Smile’
But those Gulf War approval ratings did not hold. The U.S. economy slipped into a modest eight-month recession that ended in March 1991; unemployment rose to 7.8 percent by June 1992. Bush and his team were out of ideas. By instinct Bush wasn’t inclined to offer something big and bold, nor was it clear that a brief recession required it. But his chief antagonist, Arkansas’s Clinton, was a young and handsome moderate with a Southern populist’s touch, someone who seemed to revel in his own failings and somehow emerge stronger for it. Still overconfident, Bush and his advisers could hardly bring themselves to take a philandering Vietnam draft-dodger seriously. As Bush’s greatest generation passed into history, baby-boom voters would take a more forgiving view.
In his post-presidency, Bush had many roles....one of the most significant was as adviser to later presidents including Bill Clinton, his own son, and Barack Obama. The transition from his White House to the Clinton one was one of the smoothest in history beginning in earnest the day after his loss....something he took with a big grin on his face.