Who Is George W. Bush?
Born in July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States. He narrowly won the Electoral College vote in 2000, in one of the closest and most controversial elections in American history. Bush led the United States' response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and initiated the Iraq War. Before his presidency, Bush was a businessman and served as governor of Texas.
George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut. He is the eldest of six children of George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush. The Bush family had been involved in business and politics since the 1950s. Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a former Wall Street banker and progressive Republican senator from Connecticut, and his father was a businessman, diplomat, and vice president and president of the United States.
In 1948, George H.W. Bush moved the family to Midland, Texas, where he made his fortune in the oil business. Young George spent most of his childhood in Midland, attending school there until the seventh grade. The family moved to Houston in 1961, and George W. Bush was sent to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. There he was an all-around athlete, playing baseball, basketball and football. He was a fair student and had a reputation for being an occasional troublemaker. Despite this, family connections helped him enter Yale University in 1964.
George W. Bush was a popular student at Yale, becoming president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and also playing rugby. For Bush, grades took a back seat to Yale’s social life. Despite his privileged background, he was comfortable with all kinds of people and had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Like his father and grandfather before him, George W. Bush became a member of Yale’s secretive Skull and Bones society, an invitation-only club whose membership contains some of American’s most powerful and elite family members.
Two weeks before graduation, at the end of his draft deferment, George W. Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard. It was 1968 and the Vietnam War was at its height. Though the Guard unit had a long waiting list, Bush was accepted through the unsolicited help of a family friend. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he earned his fighter pilot certification in June of 1970. Despite irregular attendance and questions about whether he had completely fulfilled his military obligation, Bush was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserve on November 21, 1974.
After his Guard duty, George W. Bush continued his education, enrolling at Harvard Business School, where he earned a Masters of Business Administration degree in 1975. He then returned to Midland and entered the oil business, working for a family friend, and later started his own oil and gas firm. In 1977, at a backyard barbeque, Bush was introduced by friends to Laura Welch, a school teacher and librarian. After a quick three-month courtship, he proposed, and they were married on November 5, 1977. The couple settled in Midland, Texas, where Bush continued to build his business.
George W. Bush credits his wife for bringing his life in order. Prior to marriage, he had several embarrassing episodes with alcohol. Soon after marrying Laura, he joined the United Methodist Church and became a born-again Christian. In 1981, the couple enjoyed the arrival of twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. In 1986, Bush sold his struggling oil business to Harken Energy Corporation for stock and a seat on its board of directors. It was also at this time that he quit drinking and became deeply involved in his church.
Governor of Texas
In 1988, George W. Bush moved his family to Washington DC to work on his father’s bid for the White House, participating in campaign activities and meeting influential people. After his father’s victory, he returned to Texas, and in 1989 joined a group of investors purchasing the Texas Rangers baseball team. George W. Bush quickly emerged as the group’s leader and made some savvy trades. The team did well and Bush earned a reputation as a successful businessman. In 1998, Bush sold his share of the team for a reported 17 times his initial investment.
After his father’s 1992 reelection loss to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush decided to run for governor of Texas as a Republican. His affiliation with the Rangers and his family reputation helped him in the 1994 campaign against incumbent Democrat Ann Richards. His campaign focused on welfare and tort reform, crime reduction, and education improvement. The contest was contentious and bare knuckled, with accusations of financial impropriety on one side, and homosexuality on the other. Bush won the election with 53 percent of the vote and became the first child of a U.S. president to be elected a state governor. In 1998, Bush became the first Texas governor to be elected to consecutive four-year terms.
As governor, George W. Bush appealed to moderate Republicans and Christian conservatives in his own party and earned a reputation for bipartisan governing. He implemented the philosophy of "compassionate conservatism," which combined limited government with concern for the underprivileged and personal responsibility. The previous gubernatorial administration left the Texas treasury in a surplus, so Bush pushed for a tax cut and increased funding for education. He promoted educational reform, tying teachers’ salaries to student performance on standardized tests, and signed into law legislation lowering the age at which juveniles could be tried in adult courts.
First Term as President
In 1999, George W. Bush began his quest for the presidency, and after a contentious series of primary elections, he won the Republican presidential nomination. The 2000 presidential election pitting George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore was close and controversial. As Election Day unfolded, there was no clear winner. The late-night news declared one candidate the winner, then the other the winner. By early the next morning, Bush had 246 electoral votes and Gore had 255, with 270 needed to win. Florida’s 25 electoral votes were held in the balance where several counties reported problems with balloting. After more than a month of recounts and legal maneuvering, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the election, giving George Bush the victory. Though Gore lost the election in the Electoral College (271 to 266) he received over 543,000 more popular votes than Bush, a result that further complicated Bush’s victory.
In the first two years of his presidency, George W. Bush enjoyed a political majority in both Congressional houses but faced a strongly divided government. At times, his political rhetoric fueled this divide. Taking a budget surplus left by the previous Democratic administration, Bush pushed through a $1.35 trillion tax cut to stimulate the economy, but critics contended it favored the wealthy. His administration prompted further controversy when he announced the U.S. would not abide by the Kyoto Protocol for reducing green-house gas emissions, citing potential harm to the U.S. economy.
9/11 and Iraq War
On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four U.S. commercial jetliners. Three of them hit their targets in New York and Washington, D.C. A fourth plane crashed into a farmer’s field in Pennsylvania. The war on terror had begun, and President George W. Bush promised the American people that he would do all he could to prevent another terrorist attack. A comprehensive strategy was formed with the creation of the Homeland Security Department, the Patriot Act and the authorization of intelligence gathering that, for a time, included monitoring international phone calls made by U.S. citizens. The Bush administration also built international coalitions to seek out and destroy Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban government was said to be harboring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
As the conflict raged on, United States military forces in Afghanistan began transferring Taliban fighters and suspected Al Qaeda members to a special prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a permanent U.S. naval base. Hundreds of prisoners were held there as enemy combatants, a classification given by the Bush administration that stated terror detainees were not protected by the Geneva Conventions. As a result, many were subject to enhanced interrogation techniques, which in the opinion of various international organizations, including the Red Cross, amounted to torture.
In September, 2002, the Bush administration announced that the United States would preemptively use military force if necessary to prevent threats to its national security by terrorists or "rogue states" especially any that possessed weapons of mass destruction. Based on what would prove to be inaccurate intelligence reports, the Bush administration successfully obtained a UN Security Council resolution to return weapons inspectors to Iraq. Soon afterward, Bush declared that Iraq hadn’t complied with inspections, and on March 20, 2003, the United States launched a successful invasion of Iraq, quickly defeating the Iraqi military. Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, fell on April 9, 2003, and Bush personally declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003. With a power vacuum in place, Iraq soon fell into a sectarian civil war.
Second Term as President
In 2004, George W. Bush ran for re-election. Though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not going well, and his efforts in Social Security reform had met with great resistance, Bush's political core remained supportive, and he was able to win reelection over Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry in the November election. During his second term, Bush pushed for immigration reform, which received criticism from many conservatives, and eased environmental regulations, which received criticism from many liberals. The Bush administration's poor response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans further pushed down his favorability rating.
In 2008, as George W. Bush entered the final year of his presidency, the country faced enormous challenges. The United States was fighting two foreign wars, and the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration had transformed into a multi-trillion-dollar debt—the effects of military spending, tax cuts, and slow economic growth. In the early fall of 2008, the country was hit with a severe credit crisis that sent the stock market into free fall and led to massive layoffs. The Bush administration scrambled and encouraged Congress to enact a controversial $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act to bail out the housing and banking industries.
Life After the White House
George W. Bush left office in January, 2009, leaving behind much unfinished business and low approval ratings. The country remained politically divided. Critics laid much of the country’s misfortunes at his feet, while supporters defended him for his strong leadership during one of the country’s most dangerous periods. Bush and his wife settled in Dallas, Texas, where he participated in the building of his presidential library and wrote his memoir "Decision Points." At the request of President Barack Obama, Bush and former president Bill Clinton led private fundraising efforts in the United States for disaster relief, after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
After years of leading a relatively quiet life in Texas, Bush returned to the media spotlight in 2013. He was on hand for the opening of the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the grounds of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The other living former presidents, including Bill Clinton and Bush's own father, attended the event as did President Barack Obama. Bush joked that "There was a time in my life when I wasn't likely to be found at a library, much less found one," according to Fox News. Speaking on a more serious note, Bush seemed to defend his time as president. "When people come to this library and research this administration, they’re going to find out we stayed true to our convictions," he said.
George W. Bush played up to his Texas roots through most of his political life. For both his supporters and detractors, it provided reasons for their support and criticism. For some, his folksy image and manner suggested he was "not ready for prime time," politically adept, but not a statesman at a time when the country need one. For others, he was perceived as a president of big ideas who eagerly embraced large visions and the risks involved. His supporters credit him with re-establishing America’s place as the world’s uncontested leader. Internationally, he has been maligned for his "cowboy diplomacy" in foreign affairs. Like many presidents before him, the George W. Bush presidency will find its place in history balanced against his successes and failures.
In July 2013, George W. Bush made history when he joined President Barack Obama in Africa in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Osama bin Laden's first attack on the United States—marking the first meeting on foreign soil to commemorate an act of terrorism between two U.S. presidents.
Bush ran into some health problems later that summer. On August 6, he underwent surgery to insert a stent in his heart to open a blockage in one of his arteries. The blockage discovered during his annual physical. Through a spokesperson, Bush expressed his gratitude to "the skilled medical professionals who have cared for him," according to the Associated Press. Bush also thanked "his family, friends, and fellow citizens for their prayers and well wishes. And he encourages us all to get our regular check-ups."
That October, it was revealed that Bush's heart condition was more serious than originally described. He had a 95% blockage in that artery before his surgery, according to CNN.com. If he had not been treated, Bush would have been at risk of having a heart attack.
As time brought him further away from his tenure in the White House, Bush came to be viewed as more of a wise elder, offering measured tones to contrast the combustibility of the 45th president, Donald Trump. When Trump sought to blame both sides of the racially charged protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017, Bush and his father put out a joint statement that read, "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms." The following winter, the younger Bush refuted President Trump's insistence that reports of Russian attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election were "fake news," saying there was "pretty clear evidence" that the Russians had gotten involved.
In January 2018, CNN released a poll showing that 61 percent of Americans held a favorable view of the 43rd president, up from the meager 33 percent when he left office nine years earlier.
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