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George Walker Bush
The administration of George Walker Bush, the forty-third president of the United States, has been a study in contrasts. On the one hand, he has shown a fierce determination to protect the interests of the United States and its citizens following the September 11th attacks, in which terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and seriously damaged the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. On the other hand, his administration has been shrouded in controversy, beginning from the day of his election on November 7, 2000, and he has been heavily criticized for a slow economy in the early 2000s.
For years, Bush's public identity was inextricably tied to his famous father, George H.W. Bush. They are the first father and son to be elected presidents since John Adams and John Quincy Adams. In 1994, the son of the former Republican president established an identity of his own when he defeated incumbent Ann Richards in a hotly contested political race to become the forty-sixth governor of Texas. Convincing Texas voters that he was a strong politician in his own right, Bush claimed a victory that he could call his own. Six years later, he was part of an extremely controversial presidential election when he defeated then-Vice-President Albert Gore to win the presidency.
Born in Connecticut on July 6, 1946, and raised in Texas, George Walker Bush has a well-documented lineage. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut resident who worked on Wall Street, was elected to the Senate. His father, George H.W. Bush, earned his fortune as an oilman in Texas, entered politics, became director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and eventually achieved the country's highest office as president. George W. Bush, the oldest of five Bush children, retraced his father's early career. Like his father, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University.
After graduating from Yale, the young Bush continued to be his father's shadow. He learned how to fly a combat aircraft and then became an oilman. He completed a 53-week program with the Texas Air National Guard, learning to fly F-102s and earning the rank of lieutenant, and then he returned home looking for a new challenge when he was not called to fight in Vietnam. He spent time in Houston holding various short-term jobs, including a stint at a program called Pull for Youth for underprivileged kids. Possessing his father's drive and fierce determination to make something of himself, Bush attended Harvard Business School, returned to Texas with an M.B.A., became an oilman, and ventured into politics. At age 32, he ran for Congress in west Texas but was defeated by six points. He was successful in the oil business, however, and within ten years of working in the industry earned his first million dollars.
Bush's biggest oil venture, however, proved controversial. During the late 1970s, he built a small, thriving company called Bush Exploration. When the energy market turned soft in the early 1980s, Bush Exploration, like many oil enterprises, floundered. In 1983, Bush merged his outfit with Spectrum 7; three years later Spectrum 7 was bought by Harken Energy. Bush's supporters said the sale was the work of a shrewd dealmaker, while others—including journalists from conservative and liberal publications—suspected that the deal came about because of Bush's father's political contacts. "Many oil companies went belly-up during that time," reported Stephen Pizzo of Mother Jones. "But Spectrum 7 had one asset the others lacked—the son of the vice-president. Rescue came in 1986 in the form of Harken Energy. Harken absorbed Spectrum, and, in the process, Bush got $600,000 worth of Harken stock in return for his Spectrum shares. He also won a lucrative consulting contract and stock options. In all, the deal would put well more than $1 million in his pocket over the next few years—even though Harken itself lost millions." Bush came under fire again in 1990. Time reported, "about a month before Iraq invaded Kuwait, young Bush sold 66 percent of his Harken stake (or 212,140 shares) at the top of the market for nearly $850,000, which represented a 200 percent profit on his original stake." President Bush balked at the allegations of impropriety. "The media ought to be ashamed of itself for what they're doing," he said. Meanwhile, the younger Bush dismissed the criticism "claiming something close to penury," according to Newsweek.
While speculation swirled in the media about his oil dealings, Bush left business for politics. He helped manage his father's 1988 presidential campaign, moving with his wife and twin daughters to Washington, where he worked closely with Lee Atwater. By all accounts, Bush did not enjoy the experience. "He remembers finding Washington a 'hostile environment,'" reported Time. "The campaign operation was often a mud wrestle among contending egos." Confessed the young Bush, "I was the loyalty thermometer." But he gained respect for handling volatile diplomatic matters, such as the firing of chief of staff John Sununu, and for swiftly taking care of business.
After the election, Bush wasted no time getting back to Texas, where he promptly found a new venture—baseball. The sport offered Bush the first honest chance at independence. In a matter of months, he successfully organized a coalition of wealthy investors to purchase American League's Texas Rangers, and he assumed a role as managing partner. Not only did Bush rally support to bring major league baseball to Dallas, but he helped to promote the team and boost attendance. Riding the wave of popularity that arose from his success with the Rangers, Bush decided it was an ideal time to try his hand at local politics.
George H.W. and Barbara had both discouraged their oldest son from entering politics as a full-time career until he had first secured his financial future. Even after Bush earned a small fortune in the oil industry, and with the promise
of more to come from his baseball investments, his mother remained wary of his chances in the 1994 gubernatorial race. Like other political observers, Barbara Bush believed that Texans were not ready to retire their quick-witted Democratic governor Ann Richards. Nevertheless, Bush jumped into the race, while his younger brother, Jeb, did the same in Florida. The brothers were, of course, highly skilled campaigners, having served as aides to their father since the age of 18.
Bush's strategy was to run an intensely focused and positive, issue-oriented campaign. When Richards attacked his credibility with barbs like "If he didn't have his daddy's name, he wouldn't amount to anything," Bush countered with pleasantries. "I don't have to erode her likability," he told the New York Times. "I have to erode her electability. "And when Richards called him "some jerk," Bush replied, "The last time I was called a jerk was at Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas. I'm not going to call the Governor names. I'm going to elevate this debate to a level where Texans want it." That debate focused on welfare reform, a crack-down on crime (especially concerning juveniles), increased autonomy and state financing for local school districts, and personal responsibility. As he campaigned, it was clear to observers that he was not the spitting political image of his father. As he told local audiences, "Let Texans run Texas." It was a message that appealed to the proud Texans. And despite the popularity Ann Richards had enjoyed during her reign as governor, Bush, to the surprise of many, won with 53.5 percent of the vote. Twenty thousand people attended Bush's inauguration in Austin, including the famous preacher Billy Graham, legendary baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, movie star Chuck Norris, and, of course, George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
After only a year in office, Bush was hailed as the most popular big-state governor in the country. In 1998 he won reelection in a landslide. His vote-getting among minorities impressed national Republicans. Bush entered the 2000 presidential election race in 1999, eventually raising the largest amount of money—more than $100 million—for any presidential race in U.S. history. His support largely demoralized the field of potential Republican candidates. He later defeated Senator John McCain in a series of primary elections and became the GOP's candidate in 2000.
The race pitted Bush against Al Gore, who had served as vice president for two terms under William Jefferson Clinton. Bush, who did not have extensive experience in foreign policy, chose former Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney as his running mate. Despite early leads for the Bush camp, the race was largely deadlocked as the November 7 election date approached. On the day of the election, early results supported Gore, and late in the afternoon several media outlets pronounced Gore the probable victor. Late returns, however, supported Bush, and by the end of the day he had apparently won the election through the Electoral College, despite the fact that Gore had won a majority of the popular vote.
Gore immediately contested the results, requesting a recount of votes in the state of Florida, where voting procedures caused a great deal of controversy. For a month after the elections, the nation observed high profile wrangling from both sides as politicians and the courts sought to sort out the election fiasco. The U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 525, 148 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2000) overturned an order by the Florida Supreme Court requiring a recounting of ballots in several counties. The ruling, one of the most controversial ever, allowed Bush to be certified as the winner.
Bush's first nine months in office were largely unremarkable as he sought to pass education reform bills and new tax legislation. The events of September 11, 2001, however, irrevocably changed the Bush administration and the public's perceptions of him. On September 20, 2001, he delivered a speech to Congress regarding the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks, and several commentators likened the speech to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's speech following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Months after the attack, U.S. forces, in conjunction with U.S. allies, toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been suspected of harboring terrorists. Bush initiated the largest reorganization of the federal government since World War II in an effort to allow the United States to defend itself against terrorist attacks. In 2002, Congress approved the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 6 U.S.C.A.), which created the Homeland Security Department and reorganized several existing agencies. Throughout 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration focused much of its attention on Iraq, which was also at the center of attention under the administration of the elder Bush. More than 250,000 troops had been amassed in the Persian Gulf by March 2003 in preparation with a possible showdown with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The United States attacked Iraq on March 19, 2003.
Bush has had less success addressing domestic issues. The United States had experienced economic growth under former President Clinton, but this trend came to an end during the Bush administration. Whether or not the cause of the economic problems were his administration's problems—his father's administration also suffered from a sluggish economy—the economic outlook of the nation throughout the early twenty-first century was bleak. Bush announced in 2003 a federal budget deficit of $304 billion, an all-time high. Moreover, he anticipated a deficit for 2004 of $307 billion.
Frum, David. 2003. The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Random House.
Kettl, Donald F. 2003. Team Bush: Leadership Lessons from the Bush White House. New York: McGraw Hill.
Lind, Michael. 2003. Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics. New York: Basic Books.