George Herbert Walker Bush was born at 173 Adams Street in Milton, Massachusetts on June 12, 1924 to Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy (Walker) Bush. The Bush family moved from Milton to Greenwich, Connecticut, shortly after his birth.Bush began his formal education at the Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich. Beginning in 1936, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he held a number of leadership positions including president of the senior class, secretary of the student council, president of the community fund-raising group, a member of the editorial board of the school newspaper, and captain of both the varsity baseball and soccer teams.
After graduating from Yale, Bush moved his family to West Texas. His father's business connections proved useful when he ventured into the oil business, starting as a sales clerk with Dresser Industries, a subsidiary of Brown Brothers Harriman. His father had served on the board of directors there for 22 years. While working for Dresser, Bush lived in various places with his family: Odessa, Texas; Ventura, Bakersfield and Compton, California; and Midland, Texas. Bush started the Bush-Overbey Oil Development company in 1951 and in 1953 co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, an oil company that drilled in the Permian Basin in Texas. In 1954 he was named president of the Zapata Offshore Company, a subsidiary which specialized in offshore drilling.
When the subsidiary became independent in 1958, Bush moved the company from Midland to Houston. He continued serving as president of the company until 1964, and later chairman until 1966, but his ambitions turned political. By that time, Bush had become a millionaire.
In 1976, president Gerald Ford brought Bush back to Washington to become Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), replacing William Colby. He served in this role for 357 days, from January 30, 1976, to January 20, 1977. The CIA had been rocked by a series of revelations, including those based on investigations by the Church Committee regarding illegal and unauthorized activities by the CIA, and Bush was credited with helping to restore the agency's morale. In his capacity as DCI, Bush gave national security briefings to Jimmy Carter both as a Presidential candidate and as President-elect, and discussed the possibility of remaining in that position in a Carter administration but did not do so. He was succeeded by Deputy Director of Central Intelligence E. Henry Knoche, who served as acting Director of Central Intelligence until Stansfield Turner was confirmed.
Bush had decided in the late 1970s that he was going to run for president in 1980; in 1979, he attended 850 political events and traveled more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km) to campaign for the nation's highest office. In the contest for the Republican Party nomination, Bush stressed his wide range of government experience, while competing against rivals Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee, Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, Congressman John Anderson of Illinois (who would later run as an independent), Congressman Phil Crane, also of Illinois, former Governor John Connally of Texas, and the front-runner Ronald Reagan, former actor, and Governor of California
In the primary election, Bush focused almost entirely on the Iowa caucuses, while Reagan ran a more traditional campaign. Bush represented the centrist wing in the GOP, whereas Reagan represented conservatives. Bush famously labeled Reagan's supply side-influenced plans for massive tax cuts "voodoo economics". His strategy proved useful, to some degree, as he won in Iowa with 31.5% to Reagan's 29.4%. After the win, Bush stated that his campaign was full of momentum, or "Big Mo". As a result of the loss, Reagan replaced his campaign manager, reorganized his staff, and concentrated on the New Hampshire primary. The two men agreed to a debate in the state, organized by the Nashua Telegraph, but paid for by the Reagan campaign. Reagan invited the other four candidates as well, but Bush refused to debate them, and eventually they left. The debate proved to be a pivotal moment in the campaign; when the moderator, John Breen, ordered Reagan's microphone turned off, his angry response, "I am paying for this microphone," struck a chord with the public. Bush ended up losing New Hampshire's primary with 23% to Reagan's 50%. Bush lost most of the remaining primaries as well, and formally dropped out of the race in May of that year.
With his political future seeming dismal, Bush sold his house in Houston and bought his grandfather's estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, known as "Walker's Point". At the Republican Convention, Reagan selected Bush as his Vice Presidential nominee, placing him on the winning Republican presidential ticket of 1980.
As Vice President, Bush generally took on a low profile while recognizing the constitutional limits of the office; he avoided decision-making or criticizing Reagan in any way. As had become customary, he and his wife moved into the Vice President's residence at Number One Observatory Circle, about two miles from the White House. After selling the house in the Tanglewood, the Bushes declared a room in The Houstonian Hotel in Houston as their official voting address. The Bushes attended a large number of public and ceremonial events in their positions, including many state funerals, which became a common joke for comedians. Mrs. Bush found the funerals largely beneficial, saying, "George met with many current or future heads of state at the funerals he attended, enabling him to forge personal relationships that were important to President Reagan." As the President of the Senate, Bush stayed in contact with members of Congress, and kept the president informed on occurrences on Capitol Hill.
On March 30, 1981, early into the administration, Reagan was shot and seriously wounded in Washington, D.C. Bush, second in command by the presidential line of succession, was in Fort Worth, Texas, and flew back to Washington immediately. Reagan's cabinet convened in the White House Situation Room, where they discussed various issues, including the availability of the Nuclear Football. When Bush's plane landed, his aides advised him to proceed directly to the White House by helicopter, as an image of the government still functioning despite the attack. Bush rejected the idea, responding, "Only the President lands on the South Lawn." This made a positive impression on Reagan, who recovered and returned to work within two weeks. From then on, the two men would have regular Thursday lunches in the Oval Office.
Reagan and Bush ran for reelection in 1984. The Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale, made history by choosing a woman as his running mate, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro. She and Bush squared off in a single televised Vice Presidential debate. Serving as a contrast to the Ivy-League educated Bush, Ferraro represented a "blue-collar" district in Queens, New York; this, coupled with her popularity among female journalists, left Bush at a disadvantage. The Reagan-Bush ticket won in a landslide against the Mondale-Ferraro ticket. Early into his second term as Vice President, Bush and his aides were planning a run for the presidency in 1988. By the end of 1985, a committee had been established and over two million dollars raised for Bush.
Bush became the first Vice President to serve as Acting President when, on July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon, making Bush acting president for approximately eight hours.
The Reagan administration was shaken by a scandal in 1986, when it was revealed that administration officials had secretly arranged weapon sales to Iran, and had used the proceeds to fund the anticommunist Contras in Nicaragua, a direct violation of the law. When the Iran-Contra Affair, as it became known, broke to the media, Bush, like Reagan, stated that he had been "out of the loop" and unaware of the diversion of funds, although this was later questioned. But his own diaries from that time stated "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details." He had repeatedly refused to disclose this to investigators. Public opinion polls taken at the time indicated that the public questioned Bush's explanation of being an "innocent bystander" while the trades were occurring; this led to the notion that he was a "wimp". His fury during an interview with CBS's Dan Rather largely put the "wimp" issue to rest.
As Vice President, Bush officially opened the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis.
In the January 26, 1987, issue of Time magazine, in an article entitled "Where Is the Real George Bush?" journalist Robert Ajemian reported that a friend of Bush's had urged him to spend several days at Camp David thinking through his plans for his prospective presidency, to which Bush is said to have responded in exasperation, "Oh, the vision thing." This oft-cited quote became a shorthand for the charge that Bush failed to contemplate or articulate important policy positions in a compelling and coherent manner. The phrase has since become a metonym for any politician's failure to incorporate a greater vision in a campaign, and has often been applied in the media to other politicians or public figures.
Bush had been planning a presidential run since as early as 1985, and entered the Republican primary for President of the United States in October 1987. His challengers for the Republican presidential nomination included U.S. Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, U.S. Representative Jack Kemp of New York, former Governor Pete DuPont of Delaware, and conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson.
Though considered the early frontrunner for the nomination, Bush came in third in the Iowa caucus, behind winner Dole and runner-up Robertson. Much like Reagan did in 1980, Bush reorganized his staff and concentrated on the New Hampshire primary. With Dole ahead in New Hampshire, Bush ran television commercials portraying the senator as a tax raiser; he rebounded to win the state's primary. Following the primary, Bush and Dole had a joint media appearance, when the interviewer asked Dole if he had anything to say to Bush, Dole said, in response to the ads, "yeah, stop lying about my record" in an angry tone. This is thought to have hurt Dole's campaign to Bush's benefit. Bush continued seeing victory, winning many Southern primaries as well. Once the multiple-state primaries such as Super Tuesday began, Bush's organizational strength and fundraising lead were impossible for the other candidates to match, and the nomination was his.
Leading up to the 1988 Republican National Convention, there was much speculation as to Bush's choice of running mate. Bush chose little-known U.S. Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, favored by conservatives. Despite Reagan's popularity, Bush trailed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts, in most polls.
Bush, occasionally criticized for his lack of eloquence when compared to Reagan, delivered a well-received speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Known as the "thousand points of light" speech, it described Bush's vision of America: he endorsed the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in schools, capital punishment, gun rights, and opposed abortion. The speech at the convention included Bush's famous pledge: "Read my lips: no new taxes."
The general election campaign between the two men has been described as one of the nastiest in modern times. Bush blamed Dukakis for polluting the Boston Harbor as the Massachusetts governor. Bush also pointed out that Dukakis was opposed to the law that would require all students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, a topic well covered in Bush's nomination acceptance speech.Dukakis's unconditional opposition to capital punishment led to a pointed question during the presidential debates. Moderator Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis hypothetically if Dukakis would support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty, were raped and murdered. Dukakis's response of no, as well as the Willie Horton ad, contributed toward Bush's characterization of him as "soft on crime".
Bush defeated Dukakis and his running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, in the Electoral College, by 426 to 111 (Bentsen received one vote from a faithless elector). In the nationwide popular vote, Bush took 53.4% of the ballots cast while Dukakis received 45.6%. Bush became the first serving Vice President to be elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836 as well as the first person to succeed someone from his own party to the Presidency via election to the office in his own right since Herbert Hoover in 1929.
Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 1989, succeeding Ronald Reagan. He entered office at a period of change in the world; the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet Union came early in his presidency. He ordered military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf, and, at one point, was recorded as having a record-high approval rating of 89%. Economic recession and breaking his "no new taxes" pledge caused a sharp decline in his approval rating, and Bush lost the 1992 election.
Early in his term, Bush faced the problem of what to do with leftover deficits spawned by the Reagan years. At $220 billion in 1990, the deficit had grown to three times its size since 1980. Bush was dedicated to curbing the deficit, believing that America could not continue to be a leader in the world without doing so. He began an effort to persuade the Democratic controlled Congress to act on the budget; with Republicans believing that the best way was to cut government spending, and Democrats convinced that the only way would be to raise taxes, Bush faced problems when it came to consensus building.
In the wake of a struggle with Congress, Bush was forced by the Democratic majority to raise tax revenues; as a result, many Republicans felt betrayed because Bush had promised "no new taxes" in his 1988 campaign. Perceiving a means of revenge, Republican congressmen defeated Bush's proposal which would enact spending cuts and tax increases that would reduce the deficit by $500 billion over five years. Scrambling, Bush accepted the Democrats' demands for higher taxes and more spending, which alienated him from Republicans and gave way to a sharp decrease in popularity. Bush would later say that he wished he had never signed the bill.
Near the end of the 101st Congress, the president and congressional members reached a compromise on a budget package that increased the marginal tax rate and phased out exemptions for high-income taxpayers. Despite demands for a reduction in the capital gains tax, Bush relented on this issue as well. This agreement with the Democratic leadership in Congress proved to be a turning point in the Bush presidency; his popularity among Republicans never fully recovered.
Coming at around the same time as the budget deal, America entered into a mild recession, lasting for six months. Many government programs, such as welfare, increased. As the unemployment rate edged upward in 1991, Bush signed a bill providing additional benefits for unemployed workers. The year 1991 was marked by many corporate reorganizations, which laid off a substantial number of workers. Many now unemployed were Republicans and independents, who had believed that their jobs were secure.
By his second year in office, Bush was told by his economic advisors to stop dealing with the economy, as they believed that he had done everything necessary to ensure his reelection. By 1992, interest and inflation rates were the lowest in years, but by midyear the unemployment rate reached 7.8%, the highest since 1984. In September 1992, the Census Bureau reported that 14.2% of all Americans lived in poverty. At a press conference in 1990, Bush told reporters that he found foreign policy more enjoyable.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded its oil-rich neighbor to the south, Kuwait; Bush condemned the invasion and began rallying opposition to Iraq in the US and among European, Asian, and Middle Eastern allies. Secretary of Defense Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Fahd; Fahd requested US military aid in the matter, fearing a possible invasion of his country as well. The request was met initially with Air Force fighter jets. Iraq made attempts to negotiate a deal that would allow the country to take control of half of Kuwait. Bush rejected this proposal and insisted on a complete withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The planning of a ground operation by US-led coalition forces began forming in September 1990, headed by General Norman Schwarzkopf. Bush spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress regarding the authorization of air and land attacks, laying out four immediate objectives: "Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately, and without condition. Kuwait's legitimate government must be restored. The security and stability of the Persian Gulf must be assured. And American citizens abroad must be protected." He then outlined a fifth, long-term objective: "Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective – a new world order – can emerge: a new era – freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony.... A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak." With the United Nations Security Council opposed to Iraq's violence, Congress authorized the use of Military force with a set goal of returning control of Kuwait to the Kuwaiti government, and protecting America's interests abroad.
Early on the morning of January 17, 1991, allied forces launched the first attack, which included more than 4,000 bombing runs by coalition aircraft. This pace would continue for the next four weeks, until a ground invasion was launched on February 24, 1991. Allied forces penetrated Iraqi lines and pushed toward Kuwait City while on the west side of the country, forces were intercepting the retreating Iraqi army. Bush made the decision to stop the offensive after a mere 100 hours. Critics labeled this decision premature, as hundreds of Iraqi forces were able to escape; Bush responded by saying that he wanted to minimize U.S. casualties. Opponents further charged that Bush should have continued the attack, pushing Hussein's army back to Baghdad, then removing him from power. Bush explained that he did not give the order to overthrow the Iraqi government because it would have "incurred incalculable human and political costs.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
Bush's approval ratings skyrocketed after the successful offensive. Additionally, President Bush and Secretary of State Baker felt the coalition victory had increased U.S. prestige abroad and believed there was a window of opportunity to use the political capital generated by the coalition victory to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process. The administration immediately returned to Arab-Israeli peacemaking following the end of the Gulf War; this resulted in the Madrid Conference, later in 1991.
Bush announced his reelection bid in early 1992; with a coalition victory in the Persian Gulf War and high approval ratings, reelection initially looked likely. As a result, many leading Democrats declined to seek their party's presidential nomination. But an economic recession, and doubts of whether Bush ended the Gulf War properly, reduced his popularity.
Conservative political columnist Pat Buchanan challenged Bush for the Republican nomination, and shocked political pundits by finishing second, with 37% of the vote, in the New Hampshire primary. Bush responded by adopting more conservative positions on issues, in an attempt to undermine Buchanan's base. Once he had secured the nomination, Bush faced his challenger, Democrat and Governor of Arkansas William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton. Clinton attacked Bush as not doing enough to assist the working middle-class and being "out of touch" with the common man, a notion reinforced by reporter Andrew Rosenthal's false report that Bush was "astonished" to see a demonstration of a supermarket scanner
In early 1992, the race took an unexpected twist when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot launched a third party bid, claiming that neither Republicans nor Democrats could eliminate the deficit and make government more efficient. His message appealed to voters across the political spectrum disappointed with both parties' perceived fiscal irresponsibility. Perot later bowed out of the race for a short time, then reentered.
Clinton had originally been in the lead, until Perot reentered, tightening the race significantly. Nearing election day, polls suggested that the race was a dead-heat, but Clinton pulled out on top, defeating Bush in a 43% to 38% popular vote margin. Perot won 19% of the popular vote, one of the highest totals for a third party candidate in U.S. history, drawing equally from both major candidates, according to exit polls. Bush received 168 electoral votes to Clinton's 370.
Several factors were key in Bush's defeat. The ailing economy which arose from recession may have been the main factor in Bush's loss, as 7 in 10 voters said on election day that the economy was either "not so good" or "poor". On the eve of the 1992 election against these factors, Bush's approval rating stood at just 37% after suffering low ratings throughout the year.
Conservative Republicans point to Bush's 1990 agreement to raise taxes in contradiction of his famous "Read my lips: no new taxes" pledge. In doing so, Bush alienated many members of his conservative base, losing their support for his re-election. According to one survey, of the voters who cited Bush's broken "No New Taxes" pledge as "very important", two thirds voted for Bill Clinton. Bush had raised taxes in an attempt to address an increasing budget deficit, which has largely been attributed to the Reagan tax cuts and military spending of the 1980s. The tax revenue increase had not hurt his approval ratings to the extent that it prevented it from reaching 89% during the Gulf War, four months after the tax vote. By February 1991 his approval rating rose to its highest level - 89%.
Despite his defeat, Bush climbed back from election day approval levels to leave office in 1993 with a 56% job approval rating.
In 1993, Bush was awarded an honorary knighthood (GCB) by Queen Elizabeth II. He was the third American president to receive the honor, the others being Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
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