Brian Messing, Managing Editor
Former President George H.W. Bush passed away on Saturday, at 94 years old. Bush lived a life dedicated to public service. He served in World War II, held a variety of governmental positions including Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, Director of Central Intelligence, Vice President, and was most notably the 41st President of the United States. Bush is survived by his sons George W. Bush, a former President of the United States himself, and Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida.
Bush was born in 1924 to Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush in Milton, Mass., and grew up in New England. On his 18th birthday, Bush enlisted in the United States Navy as a naval aviator. One of Bush’s most heroic moments of the war came on Sept. 2, 1944. Bush was piloting one of four light bombers tasked with the bombing a Japanese radio station on Chi Chi Jima. Bush encountered tough anti-aircraft fire. His plane was hit and the engine caught fire, yet despite this, Bush completed his mission and bombed the target, striking damaging hits. Bush’s aircraft crashed in the ocean, where he waited in a life raft for four hours after another pilot’s parachute did not open. Bush was rescued later that day by the submarine USS Finback.
After the war, Bush married Barbara Pierce, with whom he would have six children, George, Robin, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Bush was admitted to Yale University, where he would go on to graduate with honors in an accelerated program that took only two and a half years to complete. Bush also played college baseball at Yale, taking the team to two college world series.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Bush gained national attention as a rising star in the Republican Party. In 1964, Bush ran for the U.S. Senate in Texas, positioning himself as a young conservative in contrast to the older liberal Senator, Ralph Yarborough. Bush was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 from Texas’ 7th congressional district. In congress, Bush supported Nixon’s foreign policy, voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968-despite its unpopularity in his district, and voted to abolish the draft.
Bush was persuaded by Nixon to not seek re-election in the House in 1970, and run for the Senate for a second time. Bush lost the Senate race, but was appointed by Nixon to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. This gave Bush foreign policy experience that was essential to his rise to head of state. Bush would be appointed to Chair the Republican National Committee (RNC) during the Watergate scandal, and despite being initially loyal to Nixon, ultimately was a voice pushing for resignation for “the good of the party,” as his actions came to light. Bush would later serve as Envoy to China (similar to Ambassador), and Director of Central Intelligence under President Gerald Ford.
Bush first ran for president in 1980, but lost to Ronald Reagan in the Republican primaries. Reagan would later ask Bush to serve as Vice President, a position that he was first considered for under President Ford. Bush was reminded that he was second in line to the presidency in 1981, after Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr., and subsequently recovered in the hospital. Bush’s aides recommended that after arriving in Washington the day that Reagan was shot that Bush fly to the White House via helicopter to portray an image of functioning government. Bush dismissed the idea saying, “Only the president lands on the south lawn,” cementing a positive impression with Ronald Reagan.
Bush ran for president a second time in 1988. Bush won the Republican nomination and faced Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts in the general election. The campaign was intense and both candidates fought passionately for the Presidency. Bush went on to win a landslide victory with 426 electoral votes, a feat which no one has accomplished since, and became the 41st President of the United States on Jan. 20, 1989, succeeding fellow Republican Reagan, the first time that one party held the White House for three consecutive terms since 1953, and the most recent time that it has happened.
On the economy, Bush faced congressional opposition when dealing with the budget deficit. Bush had famously promised during the 1988 presidential campaign, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Bush believed that the best way to lower the deficit was to cut spending, however, congressional democrats believed that the only option was to raise taxes. Bush believed it was in the national interest to curb the deficit, so he raised taxes to build consensus, despite it being a politically unpopular move at the time.
Bush was President during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the victory of the United States in the Cold War. This included the fall of the Berlin Wall, the symbolic end of the iron curtain in Eastern Europe, paving the way for German reunification in 1989. Additionally, the period during which Bush was President saw many countries across the world transition from authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to democracies, in some cases for their first time in history. The end of the Cold War was possible because of the courage and steadfastness represented by Reagan and Bush while they were President and Vice President in the 1980s respectively.
Bush also oversaw the signing of NAFTA, a comprehensive free trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The agreement eliminated the majority of tariffs between the three countries, and allowed them to develop a strong economic partnership that created millions of jobs across the continent in the process. Additionally, NAFTA grew a strong diplomatic partnership between the North American nations that still lasts today.
Bush stepped up to defend the sovereignty and self-determination of Kuwait in 1991, when they were invaded by Ba’athist Iraq, headed by dictator Saddam Hussein. Hussein had invaded Kuwait for its vast oil reserves. Bush led a coalition of 37 different countries to liberate Kuwait and push the Iraqis out of the nation for good. The war was a decisive victory and a ceasefire was declared only 100 hours after the ground campaign started.
Bush would go on to lose the presidency in 1992 to Bill Clinton, in another vicious campaign, similar in many ways to the 1988 campaign. Despite being political adversaries, Bush and Clinton developed a close bond and were friends up until Bush’s death. The two developed their connection while providing disaster relief to Indonesia in 2004, and later helped provide relief after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
Bush was not dull later in life. Bush was proud to see his two sons follow in his footsteps in public service. Additionally, Bush was an avid golfer, fisherman, and jogger. Bush also loved to play horseshoes, installing the first horseshoe pit at the White House. He will be remembered as someone who always fought for his country, no matter how tough it was, and the changes he won will be remembered by generations of the future.