Updated: Dec 5, 2018
The last 30 years have seen five men rise to the achievement of President of the United States of America. Any historian of American politics would be hard-pressed to find any five presidents differ so much in demeanor, values, character and personality. The office of President has all too often defined the lives of those who inhabit the oval shape of the room that describes it. We recently lost one of these five men as George Herbert Walker Bush passed away Friday, November 30th at the age of 94.
The legacies of American Presidents have often been categorized and remembered for one event; something that can fit easily into a history exam or a Jeopardy question. A president is fortunate when the event defining them is one that history looks favorably on. For Clinton, unfortunately, it is the Lewinsky scandal; for Bush “42” it is likely Katrina or the economic collapse of 2008. Barak Obama will likely be fortunate to be known for becoming the country's first black President. Donald Trump? … Let’s hold the biography on that one. Bush “41” holds a legacy that will likely send one to the Google machine to know more but it is one to study and view as an important one for what it accomplished globally.
Here is what we can say blankly about the domestic/international divide: A struggle on the domestic front and incredibly impactful on the world's stage. His great accomplishments in the world are seeing through the end to the Cold War, successfully uprooting a Latin American dictator in Manuel Noriega in Panama; and containing the ambitions of the Iraqi despot, Saddam Hussein, from occupation of the small oil nation of Kuwait. Bush was not overly ambitious on the world's stage and saw the value of parlaying political capital from one success to another as he helped establish the United States as a credible force in the world peace process. Often enough the successes of the Presidents are not fully completed within their presidency and one man’s initiatives become their successors reigning achievements. Bush 41’s economic and domestic policy no doubt was the reason for his failure to achieve a second term yet helped Bill Clinton to his first presidency and an economic momentum that he would capitalize on. 41’s greatest quote will likely be his famous response to the crowd at the 1988 Republican National Convention as he accepted the nomination. Bush uttered the famous phrase “read my lips: No new taxes” This retort shows us the difficulty in transitioning campaign promises to the realities of holding the office of President of the United States. Bush struggled to cut spending in his term while manning global conflicts and battling a Democratically held congress. Economically let’s dissect his failures. Bush suffered at the hands of market forces largely out of his hands.
The Reagan presidency which spanned most of the eighties was marked by massive government spending into programs that would dissolve because of the ending of the Cold War. The war left but the bills remained. A mild recession would emerge in 1990 right in the middle of Bush’s presidency and would end in March of 1991. Despite emerging from this recession the job market, when healthy a key ally of the current administration, became sluggish and resulted in the unemployment rate hitting 7.8% in June 1992. As is usually the case bad timing and fortune worked against the candidate Bush in the election season of 1992 and afforded him a lack of confidence from the electorate in his handling of the economy. One of the most significant trade agreements of the 20th century was worked on yet signed in the ‘lame duck’ portion of his presidency. Bush attempted to push NAFTA through the democratically held congress but was unsuccessful in allowing that to save his tattered economic policies. These movements in the economy contributed to the Bush’s demise in the campaign as a charming and energetic Bill Clinton pounced on Bush’s inability to foster growth and stability in the American economy.
Many would pass by the presidency of George HW Bush as a mere footnote in presidential history but as with many significant historical narratives his legacy is better seen by the discreetness it took rather than the bombastic tones it inflicted on a nation seeking stability in their lives and peace abroad. My relationship with the Bush Presidency became most pronounced on the night of the 1992 presidential election when George HW Bush lost his bid for a second term. I remember crying over the inevitable result as I mourned the grandfather like character I saw in George Bush who represented the values I saw in our family and the community in which we lived. Bush held to the conservative ideals of Reagan and in many ways showed how humble a great leader could be. He lived to the notion that true leaders do so by action and not speech. In the posthumous reflections of George Bush we are seeing the last president of the Greatest Generation and having grandparents from this very generation I can say he will be greatly missed.