Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

BUSH, GEORGE H. W. (b. 1924)

George Herbert Walker Bush served as the forty-first president of the United States. One of three persons elected to the presidency from Texas, Bush shares with John Adams the distinction of having seen his son inaugurated to the presidency.

Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924, the son of Prescott and Dorothy Walker Bush. His father served as a Republican senator from Connecticut from 1953 to 1965. George Bush grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and attended Yale University. In 1942 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a pilot and flew fifty-eight combat missions in the Pacific. After the war he returned to Yale and graduated in 1948. He married Barbara Pierce in 1945. They had six children: George W., Robin (who died of leukemia at the age of three), John (Jeb), Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy.

After graduating from college, Bush moved to Odessa, Texas, to begin a career in the oil industry. He cofounded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation in Midland in 1953. In 1958 he moved the company's headquarters to Houston, where he became active in Republican politics. In 1964 he ran as a Republican for a seat in the U.S. Senate but lost to Democrat Ralph Yarborough. Two years later he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and was reelected in 1968. In 1970 Bush decided to run for the Senate again, but he lost to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, who had defeated the more liberal Yarborough in the Democratic Party primary.

Following Bush's defeat by Bentsen, President Richard Nixon appointed Bush as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations. In 1973 he became chairman of the Republican National Committee. After Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1974, his successor, Gerald R. Ford, appointed Bush as U.S. ambassador to China and then director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He returned to private life after Ford's defeat in the 1976 presidential election by Democrat Jimmy Carter.

In 1980 Bush ran for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. Although he won several primary elections, he lost the party's nomination to former California governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan asked Bush to serve as the Republican candidate for vice president, and the Reagan-Bush ticket easily defeated Carter and his running mate, Walter Mondale, in the general election.

Bush served as Reagan's vice president from 1981 to 1989. The Reagan-Bush ticket was reelected in a landslide in 1984. Although some conservative Republicans were skeptical of Bush's commitment to conservative policies, Bush was nominated by the Republicans as their presidential candidate in 1988. He and his running mate, Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, defeated the Democratic nominees, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and Senator Bentsen.

Bush was inaugurated on January 20, 1989. During his administration, communist governments in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1990 Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein took over Kuwait. After Saddam declined to restore Kuwait's independence, Bush assembled an international coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait. He received congressional approval to use force, and early in 1991 the U.S.-led coalition used air and ground assaults to oust the Iraqis from Kuwait. Bush also initiated discussions with Mexico and Canada that would lead eventually to the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Bush's foreign policy successes in the Middle East, eastern Europe, and elsewhere won him widespread popularity. Few anticipated that he would have difficulty being reelected in 1992. However, Bush's opponents accused him of neglecting the economy and other domestic issues. With a recession in 1990 and 1991, and increasing levels of unemployment, he was portrayed as being out of touch with, and unsympathetic to, the difficulties faced by poor and middle-class Americans. He was renominated in 1992 but lost the general election to Democrat Bill Clinton. A third candidate, Ross Perot, won nearly 20 percent of the vote and may have taken enough votes away from Bush to secure Clinton's victory in the general election.

After his defeat by Clinton, Bush retired from public life. However, he had the satisfaction of seeing two of his sons achieve high public office. His oldest son, George W. Bush, was elected governor of Texas in 1994 and 1998 and president in 2000. Son Jeb was elected governor of Florida in 1998.

Fred M. Shelley Southwest Texas State University

Bush, George H. W., and Brent Scowcroft. A World Transformed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1998.

Greene, John R. The Presidency of George Bush. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Parmet, Herbert S. George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee. New York: Scribner, 1997.

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