Pub­lic ser­vant and states­man

41st pres­i­dent’s broad ex­pe­ri­ence and earnest char­ac­ter shaped achieve­ments of his one term

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KAREN TUMULTY

Ge­orge H.W. Bush, the 41st pres­i­dent of the United States and the fa­ther of the 43rd, was a stead­fast force on the in­ter­na­tional stage for decades, from his stint as an en­voy to Bei­jing to his eight years as vice pres­i­dent and his one term as com­man­der in chief from 1989 to 1993.

The last vet­eran of World War II to serve as pres­i­dent, he was a con­sum­mate pub­lic ser­vant and a states­man who helped guide the na­tion and the world out of a four-decade Cold War that had car­ried the threat of nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion.

His death, at 94 on Nov. 30, also marked the pass­ing of an era.

Al­though Mr. Bush served as pres­i­dent nearly three decades ago, his val­ues and ethics seem cen­turies re­moved from to­day’s acrid po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. His cur­rency of per­sonal con­nec­tion was the hand­writ­ten let­ter — not the so­cial me­dia blast.

He had a com­pet­i­tive na­ture and con­sid­er­able am­bi­tion that were not easy to dis­cern un­der the sheen of his New Eng­land po­litesse and his earnest gen­eros­ity. He was ca­pa­ble of run­ning hard-edge po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns, and he took the na­tion to war. But his prin­ci­pal achieve­ments were pro­duced at ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­bles.

“When the word mod­er­a­tion be­comes a dirty word, we have some soul search­ing to do,” he wrote a friend in 1964, af­ter los­ing his first bid for elec­tive of­fice.

De­spite his grace, Mr. Bush was an easy sub­ject for car­i­ca­ture. He was an hon­ors grad­u­ate of Yale Univer­sity who was of­ten at a loss for words in pub­lic, es­pe­cially when it came to talk­ing about him­self. Though he was tested in com­bat when he was barely out of ado­les­cence, he was branded “a

wimp” by those who doubted that he had es­sen­tial con­vic­tions.

This para­dox in the pub­lic image of Mr. Bush dogged him, as did do­mes­tic events. His lack of sure-foot­ed­ness in the face of a fal­ter­ing econ­omy pro­duced a nose-dive in the soar­ing pop­u­lar­ity he en­joyed af­ter the tri­umph of the Per­sian Gulf War. In 1992, he lost his bid for a sec­ond term as pres­i­dent.

“It’s a mixed achieve­ment,” said pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Robert Dallek. “Cir­cum­stances and his abil­ity to man­age them did not stand up to what the elec­torate wanted.”

His death was an­nounced in a tweet by Jim McGrath, his spokesman. The cause of his death was not im­me­di­ately avail­able. In 2012, he an­nounced that he had vas­cu­lar parkin­son­ism, a con­di­tion that lim­ited his mo­bil­ity. His wife of 73 years, Bar­bara Bush, died on April 17.

The af­ter­noon be­fore his wife’s ser­vice, the frail for­mer pres­i­dent sum­moned the strength to sit for 20 min­utes in his wheel­chair be­fore her flower-laden cof­fin and ac­cept con­do­lences from some of the 6,000 peo­ple who lined up to pay their re­spects at St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Houston.

Mr. Bush reached the Oval Of­fice un­der the tow­er­ing, sharply de­fined shadow of Ron­ald Rea­gan, a one­time ri­val whom he had served as vice pres­i­dent.

No pres­i­dent be­fore had ar­rived with his breadth of ex­pe­ri­ence: dec­o­rated Navy pi­lot, suc­cess­ful oil ex­ec­u­tive, con­gress­man, United Na­tions del­e­gate, Repub­li­can Party chair­man, en­voy to Bei­jing, di­rec­tor of cen­tral in­tel­li­gence.

Over the course of a sin­gle term that be­gan Jan. 20, 1989, Mr. Bush found him­self at the helm of the world’s only re­main­ing su­per­power. The Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union ceased to ex­ist; the com­mu­nist bloc in East­ern Eu­rope broke up; the Cold War ended.

His firm, re­strained di­plo­matic sense helped as­sure the har­mony and peace with which th­ese world-shak­ing events played out, one af­ter the other.

In 1990, Mr. Bush went so far as to pro­claim a “new world or­der” that would be “free from the threat of ter­ror, stronger in the pur­suit of jus­tice and more se­cure in the quest for peace — a world in which na­tions rec­og­nize the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity for free­dom and jus­tice. A world where the strong re­spect the rights of the weak.”

Mr. Bush’s pres­i­dency was not all swords-to-plow­shares. He or­dered an at­tack on Panama in 1989 to over­throw strong­man Manuel Antonio Nor­iega. Af­ter Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein in­vaded Kuwait in the sum­mer of 1990, Mr. Bush put to­gether a 30-na­tion coali­tion — backed by a U.N. man­date and in­clud­ing the Soviet Union and sev­eral Arab coun­tries — that routed the Iraqi forces with un­ex­pected ease in a ground war that lasted only 100 hours.

How­ever, Mr. Bush de­cided to leave Hus­sein in power, set­ting up what is widely re­garded as the worst and most fate­ful de­ci­sion of his son’s pres­i­dency a dozen years later.

In the wake of that 1991 vic­tory, Mr. Bush’s ap­proval at home ap­proached 90 per­cent. It seemed the coun­try had fi­nally achieved the cathar­sis it needed af­ter Viet­nam. A year and a half later, only 29 per­cent of those polled gave Mr. Bush a fa­vor­able rat­ing, and just 16 per­cent thought the coun­try was headed in the right di­rec­tion.

The con­ser­va­tive wing of his party would not for­give him for break­ing an ill-ad­vised and cocky pledge: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” What cost him among vot­ers at large, how­ever, was his in­abil­ity to ex­press a con­nec­tion to and en­gage­ment with the strug­gles of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans or a strat­egy for turn­ing the econ­omy around.

That he was per­ceived as lack­ing in grit was an­other irony in the life of Mr. Bush. His was a char­ac­ter that had been forged by trial. His was an ex­em­plary story of a gen­er­a­tion whose youth was cut short by the Great De­pres­sion and World War II.

The early years

Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was born in Mil­ton, Mass., on June 12, 1924. He grew up in tony Green­wich, Conn., the sec­ond of five chil­dren of Prescott Bush and the for­mer Dorothy Walker.

His fa­ther, an Ohio na­tive and busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive, be­came a Wall Street banker and a se­na­tor from Con­necti­cut, set­ting a course for the next two gen­er­a­tions of Bush men to fol­low. His mother, a Maine na­tive, was the daugh­ter of a wealthy in­vest­ment banker.

Mr. Bush’s early years were hard ones for the coun­try, al­though not for his fam­ily, which had a cook, a maid and a chauf­feur. He at­tended the pri­vate Phillips Academy in An­dover, Mass. The close-knit Bushes spent sum­mers at the fam­ily house at Walker’s Point, Maine, and Christ­mases at his grand­fa­ther’s shoot­ing lodge in South Carolina.

At a prep school party dur­ing the 1941 Christ­mas season, he spot­ted a girl in a red-and-green dress. He asked an­other boy to in­tro­duce him to Bar­bara Pierce, whose fa­ther was head of the McCall’s pub­lish­ing em­pire.

“I thought he was the most beau­ti­ful crea­ture I had ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t even breathe when he was in the room,” Bar­bara Bush would later say, adding, “I mar­ried the first man I ever kissed.”

Prescott Bush wanted his son to go right to Yale upon grad­u­a­tion from An­dover. But Mr. Bush said his fa­ther had also in­sisted that priv­i­lege car­ried a re­spon­si­bil­ity to “put some­thing back in, do some­thing, help oth­ers.”

His own time to serve came on his 18th birth­day, when he en­listed in the Navy; within a year, he re­ceived his wings and be­came one of the youngest pi­lots in the ser­vice.

Sent to the Pa­cific, he flew tor­pedo bombers off the air­craft car­rier San Jac­into. On Sept. 2, 1944, his plane was hit by Ja­panese ground fire dur­ing a bomb­ing run on Chichi Jima in the Bonin Is­lands in the western Pa­cific. He pressed the at­tack even though his plane was aflame.

Mr. Bush bailed out over the ocean and was res­cued by a sub­ma­rine. His two crew­men were killed. The fu­ture pres­i­dent was awarded the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross.

Af­ter the war, he went to Yale, where he was a mem­ber of Skull and Bones, the univer­sity’s sto­ried se­cret so­ci­ety, and cap­tain of the base­ball team. Bar­bara took their baby son, Ge­orge W., to the games.

In 1948, fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion, he was re­jected for a post he wanted with Proc­ter & Gam­ble. So he moved to Texas to go into the oil busi­ness and snagged an en­try-level job through a fam­ily con­nec­tion.

His po­lit­i­cal ca­reer

Mr. Bush be­gan his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer as chair­man of the Har­ris County Repub­li­can Party at a time when be­ing a Repub­li­can in Texas was as much an elec­toral li­a­bil­ity as hav­ing North­east­ern roots.

In 1964, he ran for the U.S. Se­nate and was de­feated by Demo­crat Ralph Yar­bor­ough. In 1966, af­ter sell­ing his in­ter­est in his oil com­pany, Mr. Bush was elected to the first of two terms in Con­gress from a House dis­trict in Houston.

In 1970, at the re­quest of Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon, who wanted to shore up Repub­li­can for­tunes in Texas and else­where in the Sun Belt, he made a sec­ond

run for the Se­nate and lost to Demo­crat Lloyd Bentsen.

Mr. Bush re­cruited his long­time friend James A. Baker III — a nom­i­nal Demo­crat with lit­tle in­ter­est in pol­i­tics — to run that cam­paign, in part to help Baker get through his be­reave­ment af­ter the death of his wife. Baker switched par­ties, and their friend­ship be­came an al­liance that would help shape pol­icy and pol­i­tics for decades.

Af­ter Mr. Bush’s 1970 Se­nate de­feat, there came a rapid pro­gres­sion of high-pro­file jobs that be­gan when Nixon named him am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions. In 1973 and 1974, Mr. Bush served as chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee dur­ing the wan­ing days of the Water­gate scan­dal that would re­sult in Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion.

He was dis­ap­pointed when Nixon’s suc­ces­sor, Ger­ald R. Ford (R), chose Nel­son Rock­e­feller, rather than him, as vice pres­i­dent in 1974. In 1974 and 1975, Mr. Bush was the chief U.S. en­voy to China. In early 1976, he be­came head of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency. He was well re­garded but left no great mark in any of those jobs. Nor did he com­mit any ma­jor blun­ders.

Af­ter for­mer Ge­or­gia gov­er­nor Jimmy Carter (D) de­feated Ford in the 1976 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Mr. Bush re­turned to pri­vate life and be­gan prepar­ing for his most au­da­cious move yet: a run for pres­i­dent.

Dur­ing the 1980 pri­maries, Mr. Bush po­si­tioned him­self as a mod­er­ate, prag­matic al­ter­na­tive to Rea­gan, and he de­rided as “voodoo eco­nom­ics” the for­mer Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor’s vow to si­mul­ta­ne­ously cut taxes, boost de­fense spend­ing and balance the bud­get.

Mr. Bush pulled off a sur­prise win in the Iowa cau­cuses and de­clared that he had “big mo’ ” that would carry him to the nom­i­na­tion. Ul­ti­mately, he proved no match for Rea­gan and the con­ser­va­tive forces that had come to dom­i­nate the party.

Yet he found an­other open­ing at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion that year, when he emerged as the con­sen­sus choice to be Rea­gan’s run­ning mate, af­ter party el­ders botched an ef­fort to put to­gether a Rea­gan-Ford ticket.

It took no small amount of ad­just­ment for Mr. Bush to re­mold him­self ac­cord­ing to Rea­gan’s brand of con­ser­vatism. Among other things, he changed to Rea­gan’s po­si­tions on abor­tion and sup­ply-side eco­nom­ics. The comic strip “Doones­bury” later de­scribed him as hav­ing put “his po­lit­i­cal man­hood in a blind trust.”

The ticket won in back-to-back land­slides in 1980 and 1984. Once elected, Mr. Bush main­tained a rel­a­tively low-pro­file role as vice pres­i­dent — chair­ing a num­ber of task forces, of­fer­ing coun­sel on for­eign pol­icy — while sharp­en­ing his bona fides and his po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion to make an­other run for the pres­i­dency.

Mr. Bush was barely brushed by Iran-con­tra, the ma­jor scan­dal of the Rea­gan pres­i­dency. He said he had been “out of the loop” when de­ci­sions were made to sell mil­i­tary equip­ment to Tehran to gain the re­lease of U.S. cit­i­zens held hostage by pro-Ira­nian ter­ror­ists in Le­banon. This was con­trary to Rea­gan’s de­clared pol­icy of never deal­ing with ter­ror­ists. The prof­its from the sales were used to pro­vide aid to the an­ti­com­mu­nist con­tra rebels in Nicaragua, which was a vi­o­la­tion of U.S. law.

Never fully ac­cepted into the Rea­gan in­ner cir­cle, Mr. Bush es­tab­lished some dis­tance from his for­mer boss in his 1988 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion speech, when he promised a “kinder, gen­tler na­tion.” Rea­gan’s wife, Nancy, was widely re­ported to have bris­tled, ask­ing: “Kinder and gen­tler than whom?”

In the 1988 elec­tion, Mr. Bush’s Demo­cratic op­po­nent was Mas­sachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, who cap­tured his party’s nom­i­na­tion largely on the strength of the “Mas­sachusetts Mir­a­cle,” a surge of tech­nol­o­gy­driven eco­nomic growth.

The Bush cam­paign turned Dukakis into an ob­ject of scorn, rais­ing ques­tions about his pa­tri­o­tism, his com­pe­tence, his en­vi­ron­men­tal and fis­cal records and, most dam­ag­ing, his at­ti­tude to­ward crim­i­nals.

Dukakis had sup­ported a pro­gram that al­lowed con­victed mur­der­ers in Mas­sachusetts prisons to earn fur­loughs for good be­hav­ior. One such in­mate was Wil­lie Hor­ton, who, while on fur­lough, went to Mary­land and raped a woman af­ter beat­ing and knif­ing her fiance. Dukakis was ap­palled and promptly shut the pro­gram down.

To Lee At­wa­ter, Mr. Bush’s chief cam­paign ad­viser, Hor­ton was an ir­re­sistible op­por­tu­nity. Hor­ton was black, and his el­e­va­tion into a na­tional fig­ure by Bush sup­port­ers was widely de­nounced as a crude ap­peal to racism. At­wa­ter him­self ex­pressed re­grets about the 1988 cam­paign be­fore he died of can­cer, at 40, in 1991.

Mr. Bush won the elec­tion with 53 per­cent of the vote. He car­ried 40 states and re­ceived 426 elec­toral votes. He was the first sit­ting vice pres­i­dent elected to the na­tion’s high­est of­fice since Martin Van Buren suc­ceeded An­drew Jack­son in 1837.

‘The vi­sion thing’

As pres­i­dent, Mr. Bush worked long hours and had a pen­chant for de­tail. Fred Malek, his cam­paign man­ager in 1992, de­scribed him as “a guy who wanted to do ev­ery­thing well.” But in stark con­trast to his pre­de­ces­sor, Mr. Bush failed to ar­tic­u­late an over­ar­ch­ing view of the prin­ci­ples by which he gov­erned.

“The vi­sion thing,” as he called it, eluded him. “Some wanted me to de­liver fire­side chats to ex­plain things, as Franklin D. Roo­sevelt had done,” he con­fided to his di­ary. “I am not good at that.” He was, he said, a “prac­ti­cal man,” who pre­ferred “what’s real,” not “the airy and ab­stract.”

Mr. Bush es­poused gen­er­ally con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic and so­cial pro­grams: lower taxes, reg­u­la­tory re­form, more sup­port for com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment and ac­cess to for­eign mar­kets. He ne­go­ti­ated the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment with Canada and Mex­ico, a mea­sure that was rat­i­fied by the Se­nate in Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s first term.

Mr. Bush sup­ported vol­un­tary prayer in pub­lic schools and adop­tion rather than abor­tion. He also sup­ported gun own­ers’ rights. “Let’s not take away the guns from in­no­cent cit­i­zens,” he said in a speech. “Let’s get tougher on the crim­i­nals.”

Faced with Demo­cratic con­trol of both houses of Con­gress, Mr. Bush fol­lowed what be­came known as his “veto strat­egy.” In all, he ve­toed 44 bills. Ten of them were in­tended to ease re­stric­tions on abor­tions. The oth­ers concerned var­i­ous reg­u­la­tory, tax and spend­ing mea­sures. All but one of his ve­toes — of a bill to reg­u­late the ca­ble tele­vi­sion in­dus­try — were sus­tained.

But Mr. Bush could not al­lay sus­pi­cions in some quar­ters that he lacked core be­liefs. To crit­ics, par­tic­u­larly in the right wing of the GOP, he seemed will­ing to say what­ever was nec­es­sary to get elected.

His was a team of sea­soned ad­vis­ers who forged an ac­tive but prag­matic for­eign pol­icy and set a less di­vi­sive and less ide­o­log­i­cal course on do­mes­tic mat­ters.

Mr. Bush placed a high value on loy­alty and on cul­ti­vat­ing re­la­tion­ships that be­came part of the through line of his ca­reer.

Chief among those re­la­tion­ships was his friend­ship with Baker, who at var­i­ous points served as Mr. Bush’s cam­paign man­ager, sec­re­tary of state and White House chief of staff. Baker also did stints as Rea­gan’s chief of staff and trea­sury sec­re­tary, and in the messy af­ter­math of the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, led the Repub­li­can team mon­i­tor­ing the Florida re­count that put Mr. Bush’s el­dest son, Ge­orge W. Bush, over the fin­ish line.

Other re­la­tion­ships would also link the two Bush pres­i­den­cies. Af­ter his first choice for de­fense sec­re­tary, Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.), failed to be con­firmed by the Se­nate, Mr. Bush tapped an­other old friend, Richard B. Cheney, a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Wyoming, for the job. For chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he picked Gen. Colin L. Pow­ell, who had been na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in the Rea­gan White House.

Baker, Cheney and Pow­ell played cen­tral roles in U.S. in­ter­ven­tions in Panama and the Per­sian Gulf dur­ing Mr. Bush’s pres­i­dency. Cheney and Pow­ell went on to hold high of­fice in Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion: Cheney as vice pres­i­dent and Pow­ell as sec­re­tary of state.

One of Mr. Bush’s more im­pul­sive se­lec­tions was his choice of Dan Quayle, the ju­nior se­na­tor from In­di­ana, to be his run­ning mate in 1988. Mr. Bush made the move with­out con­sult­ing even his clos­est aides, leav­ing his cam­paign un­pre­pared for what fol­lowed.

There were im­me­di­ate ques­tions about Quayle’s ser­vice in the In­di­ana Na­tional Guard dur­ing the Viet­nam War. He also at­tended law school at In­di­ana Univer­sity dur­ing that pe­riod. Crit­ics noted that he had never prac­ticed law and sug­gested that he had used the Guard to avoid the draft.

Quayle never fully laid to rest those ques­tions or the broader doubts about his qual­i­fi­ca­tions for step­ping into the pres­i­dency. While the vice pres­i­dent earned high marks as the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s emis­sary to con­ser­va­tives, Mr. Bush wrote in his di­ary that he “blew” the de­ci­sion on Quayle in 1988. But in 1992, he re­fused to re­place him on the ticket.

Mr. Bush made two nom­i­na­tions to the Supreme Court. The first was David H. Souter, a fed­eral ap­peals court judge, who was con­firmed with­out dif­fi­culty. The sec­ond was Clarence Thomas, an African Amer­i­can who was a mem­ber of the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit.

Thomas was ap­pointed to suc­ceed Thur­good Mar­shall, the first African Amer­i­can to serve on the high court. Anita Hill, a for­mer aide to Thomas, ac­cused him of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Af­ter ran­corous hear­ings by the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee in 1991, the full Se­nate con­firmed him by a vote of 52 to 48, the clos­est mar­gin since the 19th cen­tury.

For­eign pol­icy tri­umphs

It is not pos­si­ble to ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­na­ture for­eign pol­icy achieve­ments that oc­curred on Mr. Bush’s watch with­out view­ing them in the con­text of the four decades that pre­ceded them.

In the era af­ter World War II, the United States sought to con­tain Soviet in­flu­ence around the world. The na­tion fought di­vi­sive and de­mor­al­iz­ing wars in Korea and Viet­nam, headed the NATO al­liance that stood against War­saw Pact forces in Eu­rope and en­gaged in a global nu­clear



THE LAST CAM­PAIGN: Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush is show­ered with con­fetti at a Nov. 1 rally in Cleve­land dur­ing his un­suc­cess­ful 1992 re­elec­tion cam­paign.


THE DAD: U.S. Rep. Ge­orge H.W. Bush, in 1970, with his sons, from left, Neil, Jeb, Ge­orge W. and Marvin. That year, he ran for Se­nate and lost. But soon he was ap­pointed am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.


THE YOUNG PI­LOT: Navy Lt. j.g. Ge­orge H.W. Bush, cen­ter, with Joe Re­ichert, left, and Leo Nadeau dur­ing World War II.


IN MOSCOW: Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev hold a news con­fer­ence at the end of a 1991 sum­mit.


ON CAPI­TOL HILL: Ge­orge H.W. Bush, the vice pres­i­dent-elect, with Pres­i­den­t­elect Ron­ald Rea­gan af­ter the 1980 elec­tion.


AT CAMP DAVID: Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, with Am­bas­sador Robert Strauss at right, gives Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Boris Yeltsin birth­day boots in 1992.


FREE FALL: The for­mer pres­i­dent plum­mets with a mem­ber of the Army Golden Knights para­chute team in Novem­ber 2007.

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