George Bush Sr. on Principles & Values
President of the U.S., 1989-1993; Former Republican Rep. (TX)
"Is he kidding?" I thought. "He's the President." But I learned that day, and would see throughout my time with him, that this wasn't false modesty: George H.W. Bush is simply one of the nicest and most self-effacing people that I've ever met. He taught me so much about leading people. Countless times he would send a congratulatory note to a foreign leader for a seemingly innocuous achievement. I came to understand that he was building a relationship, which served him well when he needed to ask that leader to do something hard. Even I frequently received a thank-you note from the President for a job well done, and this kindness and courtesy made it a joy to work with him. Most important, his natural geniality served American diplomacy well when he was faced with revolutionary changes in world politics.
Soon there was another lesson. Defeat, while painful, is not always the end. Shortly after the 1970 election, Pres. Nixon made Dad ambassador to the UN. Then, i 1973, Nixon asked Dad to head the Republican National Committee. It turned out to be a valuable lesson in crisis management when Dad guided the party through the Watergate scandal.
Ford offered Dad his pick of ambassadorships in London or Paris, traditionally the most coveted diplomatic posts. Dad had told him he would rather go to China, and he & Mother spent 14 fascinating months in Beijing. They came home when Ford asked Dad to head the CIA. Not a bad run for a twice-defeated Senate candidate
Mother called me the morning the magazine hit the newsstands. "Have you seen "Newsweek"? They called your father a wimp," she growled.
I quickly tracked down a copy and was greeted by the screaming headline : "Fighting the Wimp Factor." I couldn't believe it. The magazine was insinuating that my father, a World War II bomber pilot, was a wimp. I was red-hot. I got Margaret on the phone. She politely asked what I thought of the story. I impolitely told her I thought she was part of a political ambush. She muttered something about her editors and hung up. From then on, I was suspicious of political journalists and their unseen editors.
Edgeworth asked RNC chairman George H. W. Bush to seat him as the rightful national chairman and sent a blizzard of paper to Bush's office. Bush appointed a committee to investigate, and spent the next three weeks reviewing the matter. Bush then sent a letter announcing that I had been duly elected.
A few days later, I went to meet with RNC chairman George H. W. Bush in his office. I expected a quick visit. Instead, the new chairman invited us in for a long talk. He touched on the controversy and asked what we were going to do to heal rifts.
I immediately accepted his offer. In retrospect, the next 18 months seems amateurish & low-budget, especially when compared to what candidates do now when the run for president. For half the Fund for Limited Government's existence--and perhaps in order to embody the smaller-is-better spirit--I was its only staff. Bush hit the candidate fund-raiser circuit, lining up support among party leaders for a future White House run. He and I flew around the country, carrying our own bags on countless commercial flights. We focused on districts with high-profile contests, where Bush's appearance could make a difference, aiming to pick up chits with political leaders.
Edgeworth asked RNC chairman George H. W. Bush to seat him. Bush appointed a committee to investigate Edgeworth's claims. The group quickly discovered that Edgeworth's votes were specious. Bush signaled he expected to wrap up the investigation quickly.
Bush sent Edgeworth and me a letter announcing that I would be recognized immediately as chairman by the RNC. I went to meet with Bush in his office. He invited us in for a long talk. He touched on the controversy and asked what we were going to do to heal rifts.
Bush hit the candidate fund-raiser circuit, lining up support among party leaders for a future White House run. He and I flew around the country, carrying our own bags on countless commercial flights. We focused on states and districts with high-profile contests, where Bush's appearance could make a difference, We aimed to pick up chits with political leaders by helping them and their candidates.
Most of the time.
But once in a while, even in the province of governing, George gave in to his dark angel. In 1989, his White House declined to invite former Connecticut senator Lowell Weicker. Why the slight? Well, Weicker, had once backed a challenge to Prescott Bush. Three decades later, George was still settling the score.
[The doctor tearfully explained that] Robin had childhood leukemia; it was in its advanced stages; and the best they could do would be to let it run its course and keep her happy and comfortable until it was over. They reacted to the news as any parents would--shock, and a refusal to accept the idea that there was nothing they could do.
And so began the most painful months in George and Barbara's lives, watching their little girl under the experimental treatments--the only types available in 1953. For the next 6 months until Robin eventually succumbed to the disease and its harsh treatments in October, baby Jeb had only limited contact with either parent.
Jeb has been more of a mixture of those two. Unlike his brother, he does enjoy governing as well as campaigning. But like his brother, and unlike his father, he has seen the advantages of governing as if he were campaigning.
There are real public policy consequences for this style of leadership, not the least of which is an enervating unease for everyone around him, including even the leaders of the legislative and judicial branches. Everything is a fight--with us, or against us. Everything is a crisis.
By the time he came home, a war hero, she had dropped out of Smith College, a decision she later regretted but made at the time because academics held no interest for her. They married on January 6, 1945, fully expecting that George would be rotated back into the fighting in time for the final push to the Japanese main islands--a push that was made unnecessary by Truman's dropping of atomic bombs that August.
They moved to New Haven that fall as George became one of 5,000 veterans out of the 8,000 freshman that autumn in Yale's incoming class.
"March 13, 1974: [Haig said] that if the President was going to survive there had to be an all-out offense, that they were preparing papers and they wanted me to give it full range of support. I said that the President was entitled to advocacy and that if in good conscience I couldn't support what it was that he was talking about then I would resign. There was too much, for my thinking, of the feeling that everyone that wasn't supportive was totally against."
Shortly after it was published, I called Margaret and asked why she wrote what she did. Margaret began to cry and said that her editor made her put the word "wimp" in all those times, and said that she was very sorry. It still amazes me today that any nameless editor, could use that word about a man who had flown 58 combat missions and survived being shot down at sea--let alone everything else Dad had done in his life to that point.
It was bad enough that Mom had to cope with this condition, but Dad was also diagnosed with Graves' disease shortly thereafter--and their dog, Millie, came down with lupus, another autoimmune disease. Neither is contagious.
Given the profound improbability of this happening, experts checked the vice president's residence in case there was something in the water or the air there--but nothing was ever found. In fact, the most helpful analysis Mom and Dad got came from my brother George, who called Mom and Dad to suggest that "if they would quit drinking out of Millie's water bowl, it never would have happened in the 1st place."
In Dad's case, his first 100 days cold be summed up in one word: bipartisanship. Dad counted among his friends dozens of Democrats on Capitol Hill. It helped a great deal to have friends on the other side of the political aisle when you consider that the Democrats controlled both the US House and the US Senate for all 4 years of Dad's presidency. Compromise would be essential to achieving any meaningful legislation.
To emphasize his desire for bipartisanship, Dad declared that he wanted his presidency to be known as "the age of the offered hand" in his inaugural address. For much of his first 2 years in office, both Dad and Congress tried to make good on that pledge.
In his first 100 days, in fact, Dad and Democratic leaders in Congress managed to reach a bipartisan budget agreement, as well as a key bipartisan agreement on foreign policy in Central America.
Dad wrote, "I cannot believe his [Neil's] name would be in the paper if it was Jones and not Bush. I know the guy is totally innocent." 18 S&Ls in Colorado had failed, not just Silverado. Many more throughout the country also failed at that time. Yet Silverado was the only institution called to testify in front of Congress.
The Silverado episode not only showed how complicated it was for Mom and Dad to raise kids in the public eye, it also emphasized how important it was for us to stick together. "Even though we are not physically close to each other, we're a very close family--some would say almost dysfunctionally close--because there is an abundance of unconditional love," Neil said
The Order of Bath actually dates back to medieval times. According to the Royal Web site, the name of the honor arose from the ritual bathing, fasting, and prayers that the candidates went through before being knighted.
Fortunately, Dad did not take to wearing suits of armor. After he was knighted, though, he did ask Mom, "Tell me, darling, what does it feel like to be married to a real, live knight?" She rolled her eyes and responded, "Make the coffee, Sir George."
In 1953, following Robin's memorial service in CT, the Bushes raced back to Texas to tell their son Georgie about his sister. He was in the 2nd grade at Sam Houston Elementary School, and he saw his parents drive up. He scampered outside to greet them, fully expecting to see Robin. "I remember thinking I saw Robin in the back," George W. Bush recalled in 1989; "I thought I saw her, but she wasn't there."
He had known she was sick, but he had no idea she was dying. When they told him she was gone, he couldn't understand why they had kept it a secret from him. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked them. He repeated the question for many years. As his mother later said, "You have to remember that children grieve, and he felt cheated."
George embraced the Skull and Bones concept of being the best of the best, and later let that elitism influence some of his political decisions. To his detriment he made several of his political appointments based on nothing more than a Yale degree and membership in Skull and Bones. To Bush's way of thinking, all Bonesmen were superior to other men.
He clung to Skull and Bones for the rest of his life. He never let a year pass after graduation without sending a check. [When George was asked] for contributions to their Yale class reunion, George would not contribute. He cared less about Yale than he did about Skull and Bones. "He said that when the students were revolting in 1970, he considered that the behavior of undergraduates at Yale resulted in the forfeiture of primary alumni interest."
[Bush was appointed as U.N.] Ambassador on February 26, 1971, and served for 23 months. This appointment resurrected his public career after he lost the 1970 Senate race in Texas, his second attempt at winning a statewide office.
[Subsequently] appointed by President Nixon to put out the fire of Watergate, George Bush was chairman of the Republican National Committee from January 1973 to September 1974.
Not so. George might have indicated such feelings after Watergate became an international scandal and forced Nixon's resignation, but at the time he was offered the RNC, he did not hesitate. Not for one second. According to unpublished entries in his diary, he saw the RNC as an important stepping-stone. Not only was he serving the President he admired; he was meeting the people he needed to know in order to make another tilt at national office to position himself for the presidency. George's position at the Republican National Committee did nothing for the aspirations of his wife, and Barbara did not hide her disappointment. "Anything but the RNC," she said.
By January 1980, George's 17 trips to Iowa had finally paid off as Reagan began faltering in the polls. Reagan had been so sure of winning the state that he hadn't bothered to campaign. Suddenly "George Who?" was on the cover of Newsweek. "We've got the momentum," George boasted. "Big Mo is on our side. There'll be no stopping me now. We've got Big Mo."
Jennifer Fitzgerald had the best of the minks, and we figured that was because she was, well, you know.Bush's mistress. Their relationship was an accepted fact of life among politicos at that time, although it was quiet and discreet and very much under the radar screen."
Within weeks the Vice President's extramarital dalliances flashed up on Nancy Reagan's radar screen, and she gleefully related every salacious morsel. When George heard that the President's wife was "rumor mongering," he wrote in his diary: "I always knew Nancy didn't like me very much, but there is nothing we can do about all that."
Secretary of State [Alexander Haig] and the Attorney General [William French Smith] had to bail out George Bush, who'd been in a traffic accident with his girlfriend. Bush had not wanted the incident to appear on the DC police blotter, so he had his security men contact Haig and Smith. They took care of things for him.
"If the accident had made the police blotter, we probably would've had to report it," said an editor at The Washington Post. "But if it was just George Bush with another woman, we wouldn't have touched it--then."
There was a conspiracy of silence about politicians and their extramarital affairs until about 1987 when Senator Gary Hart was caught posing with a blonde on his lap.
Barbara Bush supported her husband with enough fury for both of them. "It's sick," she said. "It's a lie. It's ugly, and it never happened."
In the White House situation room, George, who had been told Reagan would recover, left the President's chair empty and sat in his own seat. "The President is still the President," he said. "I'm here to sit in for him while he recuperates. But he's going to call the shots."
The 25th amendment should have been invoked when the President went into surgery but was not. Those in the White House who had distrusted Bush as an establishment opportunist came to appreciate his calm demeanor in a time of chaos and confusion. "The more normal things are, the better," said Bush.
Resisting pleas to remove him from the ticket, George stood by his choice but regretted having made it. At the end of the convention he confided that disaster to his diary: "It was my decision, and I blew it, but I'm not about to say that I blew it."
Even George's closest friends said to George, "How in God's name did you select Quayle? George told me he'd only met Quayle once or twice. Quayle was good on defense issues. George needed someone young and from the Midwest, so Quayle was in. That's as much thought as he gave to it."
"Millie has made me legitimate," Barbara said. "Who else do you know that wrote a book that made a million dollars for charity and gave it all away?" The President told reporters, "You have read my tax returns. You can tell who the breadwinner is in the family. The dog made 5 times as much as the President of the US."
For her official White House portrait, the First Lady [had] Millie painted into a frame on the table. Barbara Bush wrote [to the portrait artist] thanking him for giving Millie a permanent place in the White House.
Q: "How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives?"
Bush: "I'm sure it has. I love my grandchildren. I'm not sure I get... help me with the question."
After more struggle, it was Clinton's turn--and he did something quite extraordinary. He took three steps toward the woman and asked her, "Tell me how it affected you again?"
The woman was speechless. Clinton helped her along, but the words weren't as important as the body language: the three steps he had taken toward the woman spoke volumes about his empathy, his concern, his desire to respond to the needs of the public.
Bush, by contrast, was caught gazing at his wristwatch--hoping desperately that this awkward moment would soon be done. And indeed, it was: The presidential campaign was, in effect, over.
“We heard our son on national television declared the winner. We heard his opponent concede - I was in the house when it happened [when Gore telephoned to concede] - and it was a moment of euphoria. There has not been a euphoric moment since,” Bush said.
This book is not meant to be an autobiography. It is not a historical documentation of my life. But hopefully it will let you, the reader, have a look at what’s on the mind of an eighteen-year-old kid who goes into the Navy, and what a President is thinking when he has to send someone else’s son or daughter into combat. It’s all about heartbeat.
He rarely talks about the experience personally; he is more likely to recite his mother's admonition "Don't brag." When he was running for president, he was asked what he thought about as he drifted in hostile seas after being shot down, and he answered in that clumsy but endearing way of his, "Oh you know--the usual things, duty, honor, country." As a political answer it was a groaner, nonetheless, it was probably very close to the essence of George Bush. Yes, he often thinks about the day he was shot down, but when he does, he's more likely to think about his two buddies who were killed. Could he have done more to save them?
And yet, when it came to making a decision, American voters ended up saying, "But you know, I like him." People were more interested that someone reflect who they were rather than someone they wanted to be or thought they should be. When voters got up in the morning and looked in the mirror, they didn't see fighter pilot, CIA director, China envoy, President Bush. That made them uncomfortable. They were more like that young, flawed, sincere man Bill Clinton.
"It's not rediscovering my youth. It's not a thrill. That's not what this is about. It's a quiet inside thing that I am sure nobody will understand.
It's about doing something right that I did imperfectly back in September 1944. I made a parachute jump then. It had tragedy to it. My life was saved. And I didn't do it right.
And I'm kind of a goal-oriented person--and I decided long ago, in my heart of hearts, I wanted to make a parachute jump."
-- Interview with Jim Nantz, CBS's Sunday Morning, Yuma Arizona
Most of those House Republicans were Reaganites, another group the Bush White House took great pains to exclude from policy making. The younger Conservative Opportunity Society members were known derisively around the White House as "bumper-sticker conservatives."
Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: “Use power to help people.” For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord. Amen.
I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For in man’s heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over.
We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.
For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to live. We don’t have to wrest justice from the kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must act on what we know.
I say it without boast or bravado. I've fought for my country, I've served, I've built--and I'll go from the hills to the hollows, from the cities to the suburbs to the loneliest town on the quietest street, to take our message of hope and growth for every American to every American.
I will keep America moving forward, always forward--for a better America, for an endless, enduring dream and a thousand points of light. This is my mission. And I will complete it.
|Other past presidents on Principles & Values:||George Bush Sr. on other issues:|
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Past Vice Presidents:
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