George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush (b. June 12, 1924) was president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 after serving as Ronald Reagan’s vice president for the previous eight years. He was born in Massachusetts, the son of Prescott Bush, a banker and future senator whose indirect financial ties to the Nazi Party remain controversial.

He followed in his father’s footsteps by entering military service on his 18th birthday, in the midst of World War II, and became the country’s youngest naval aviator; by the time he was discharged at the end of the war three years later, he had received three Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He entered Yale University, where he majored in economics, joined the Skull and Bones society as his father had, and captained the baseball team in the first College World Series.

In 1964, the year after Prescott finished his second and final year as senator from Connecticut, Bush ran for the Senate in Texas, winning the Republican nomination but losing the election. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966, where he served until again losing the senatorial election in 1970.

In the 1970s, he served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an appointment that confirmed for many people the suspicions that he had been involved with the agency since his days at Yale. In fact, CIA documents have admitted that Bush’s business partner in Zapata Petroleum, the oil business he started, was a covert agent. The extent of Bush’s other ties with the agency have not been established.

In 1980 Bush was Ronald Reagan’s principal opponent in the Republican primaries and the one who coined the derisive term “voodoo economics” to refer to Reagan’s fiscal policy. When Reagan won the Republican nomination, he made Bush his running mate; the two won decisively in both 1980 and 1984. In 1988 Bush became one of the few vice presidents to succeed his president.

Over the course of the Reagan presidency, the cold war had all but ended, and during Bush’s term, the Berlin Wall was taken down, Germany reunified, the Soviet Union dissolved, and many Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain began holding elections or overthrew their communist governments. In 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bush led the United Nations coalition in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, liberating Kuwait but stopping short of invading Iraq; it was, Bush said, not a war for oil but a war against aggression.

Significantly, it was also a televised war, the first major American military action conducted under the watch of cable news. Americans whose parents had been the first to see footage of war on the evening news were now the first to see their war broadcast live.

In the 1992 election Bush lost to Governor Bill Clinton, an election notable for the involvement of Texas billionaire and third-party candidate Ross Perot, who won nearly a fifth of the popular vote despite frequent decisions not to run. Key to Bush’s loss were the recession, the perception that he was out of touch with the common man (particularly when compared with the genial Clinton), and the desire for change to reflect a new state of affairs in the wake of the cold war.