|Biography of President-Elect George W. Bush |
Biography of President-Elect George W. Bush
Biography of President-elect George W. Bush who will be inaugurated the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001. Source: Washington File. U.S. Department of State. EUR406. Washington D.C., December 14, 2000.
George Walker Bush is the president-elect of the United States. He will be inaugurated president on January 20, 2001.
Bush's name is a familiar one in the ranks of America's top leadership: George W. Bush is the oldest son of George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president. The only other set of father-son presidents came early in the nation's history, when John Quincy Adams, son of the second president, John Adams, became the sixth president in 1825.
President-elect Bush joins a recent parade of state governors who have moved up to the highest office in the country: Democrat Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia, elected in 1976; Republican Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, elected in 1980; Democrat Bill Clinton, former governor of Arkansas, elected in 1992; and now George W. Bush, another Republican, who was elected governor of Texas in 1994.
Bush's message during the campaign appealed to a broad spectrum of American voters -- conservatives and moderates in both major political parties, independents, men and women, Hispanics and African-Americans. One of his themes in the campaign was the idea of inclusion. "Our country must be prosperous," Bush said. "But prosperity must have a purpose ... to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out ... to leave no one behind."
The president-elect has called this philosophy "compassionate conservatism." "I am convinced a conservative philosophy is a compassionate philosophy that frees individuals to achieve their highest potential," he told the voters. "It is conservative to cut taxes and compassionate to give people more money to spend. It is conservative to insist upon local control of schools and high standards and results; it is compassionate to make sure every child learns to read and no one is left behind. It is conservative to reform the welfare system by insisting on work; it's compassionate to free people from dependency on government. It is conservative to reform the juvenile justice code to insist on consequences for bad behavior; it is compassionate to recognize that discipline and love go hand-in-hand."
Bush believes that this note of conservatism is "neither soft nor fuzzy. It is clear and compelling. It focuses not on good intentions but on good results. Compassionate conservatism applies conservative, free-market principles to the real job of helping real people, all people, including the poor and the disadvantaged. My vision of compassionate conservatism also requires America to assert its leadership in the world. We are the world's only remaining superpower, and we must use our power in a strong but compassionate way to help keep the peace and encourage the spread of freedom."
In addition, "one of the secrets of [George] W.'s success in appealing to almost everybody," wrote columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., in the Washington Post, "is his mastery of the very oldest political art: He just gets people, all kinds of people, to like him."
An Obligation to Serve
The president-elect comes from a family that has long seen politics as a worthy calling. George Bush's paternal grandfather, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. His father began his career in electoral politics in 1966, when voters in Houston, Texas, sent him to the House of Representatives. The senior George Bush was vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989 and president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. The president-elect's younger brother, Jeb Bush, is governor of the state of Florida.
"My grandfather Prescott Bush believed a person's most enduring and important contribution was hearing and responding to the call of public service," says George W. Bush in his autobiography, A Charge to Keep. "Money and material things were not the measure of a life in the long run, he felt, and if you had them, they came with a price tag: the obligation to serve."
George W. Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father was a student at Yale University. Two years later, after graduating from Yale, the elder Bush took his wife, Barbara, and young son to West Texas, where he began his career in the oil business. Young George W. spent much of his childhood in Midland, Texas, and still thinks of it as his hometown.
"Midland was a small town, with small-town values," he says in A Charge to Keep. "We learned to respect our elders, to do what they said, and to be good neighbors. We went to church. Families spent time together, outside, the grown-ups talking with neighbors while the kids played ball or with marbles and yo-yos. Our homework and schoolwork were important. The town's leading citizens worked hard to attract the best teachers to our schools. No one locked their doors, because you could trust your friends and neighbors. It was a happy childhood. I was surrounded by love and friends and sports."
Especially sports. "We were always playing," says Mike Proctor, a childhood friend, "after school, during recess. We'd head for the appropriate ball field ... pick teams and play. [George would] jump out there to be captain."
Young George was joined by a sister, Robin, in December 1949; the Bushes' third child, John (called "Jeb"), was born in February 1953. Only a few weeks after Jeb's birth, blood tests showed that Robin had advanced leukemia, a disease that is often curable now but about which little was known back then. Robin died that October at the age of three.
His sister's death was a devastating experience for young George W. "I was sad, and stunned," he says in A Charge to Keep. "I knew Robin had been sick, but death was hard for me to imagine. Minutes before, I had had a little sister, and now, suddenly, I did not. Forty-six years later, those minutes remain the starkest memory of my childhood, a sharp pain in the midst of an otherwise happy blur."
Three more children were born to the Bushes in West Texas -- Neil in 1955, Marvin in 1956, and Dorothy in 1959. Soon after Dorothy was born, her father moved the family to Houston, in the southeastern corner of the state, where he took over operations of an offshore oil-drilling company he had helped to found. George W. had just finished the seventh grade at San Jacinto Junior High in Midland and had been elected class president for the following year. His family's move meant he had to leave this familiar school for a private academy, Kinkaid School, in a Houston suburb.
A Traditional Education
In the fall of 1961, George Bush's parents sent him to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the country's most prestigious college preparatory schools and his father's alma mater. He went there as a 15-year-old boy who had never lived away from home, who was far more used to the wide-open landscapes of the Southwest than to the wooded hills of the Northeast. But he adjusted.
"Andover taught me how to think," Bush has said. "I learned to read and write in a way I never had before. And I discovered a new interest, one that has stayed with me throughout my adult life. It was sparked by a great teacher, Tom Lyons, who taught history. He had a passion for the subject and an ability to communicate his love and interest to his students. He taught me that history brings the past and its lessons to life, and those lessons can often help predict the future."
After graduating from Andover in 1964, Bush went to Yale University in Connecticut, where he concentrated on traditional activities. He was elected president of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and continued to pursue his love for sports. Baseball remained his favorite, but, he says, "my talent never matched my enthusiasm; I was a mediocre pitcher on the Yale freshman team. In my junior year, I was introduced to rugby, and I worked my way onto the first team for my senior year."
George W. graduated from Yale in May of 1968 with a major in history. Two weeks before graduation, he went to the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Air Force Base outside Houston to sign up for pilot training. One motivation, he said, was to learn to fly, as his father had done during World War II. George W. was commissioned as a second lieutenant and spent two years on active duty, flying F-102 fighter interceptors. For almost four years after that, he was on a part-time status, flying occasional missions to help the Air National Guard keep two of its F-102s on round-the-clock alert.
Business, Politics, and Poverty
During this period, George W. worked for a former partner of his father's, who had left the oil-drilling business to start an agricultural company in Houston that had interests in a wide variety of things, from cattle and chickens to tropical plants. George's job was to travel around the United States and to countries in Central America looking for plant nurseries his company might want to acquire.
In the spring of 1972, he left this job and went to Alabama to work on the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blount.
Returning to Houston, he became a counselor for African-American youngsters in a program called PULL (Professional United Leadership League). The program brought together volunteers from the athletic, entertainment, and business worlds to work with young people in a variety of ways. George taught basketball and wrestling and organized field trips to juvenile prisons, so his young charges could see that side of life and resolve not to end up there themselves.
"He was a super, super guy," says Ernie Ladd, a professional football player who also worked with the program. "Everybody loved him so much. He had a way with people. ... They didn't want him to leave."
His work with Project PULL, Bush says in A Charge to Keep, gave him "a glimpse of a world I had never seen. It was tragic, heartbreaking, and uplifting, all at the same time. I saw a lot of poverty. I also saw bad choices: drugs, alcohol abuse, men who had fathered children and walked away, leaving single mothers struggling to raise children on their own. I saw children who could not read and were way behind in school. I also saw good and decent people working to try to help lift these kids out of their terrible circumstances."
In the fall of 1973, Bush enrolled in Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Harvard was a great turning point for him," his mother, Barbara Bush, told the Washington Post. "I think he learned ... what is that word? Structure."
Professional Setbacks, Private Gains
After receiving his master's of business administration degree in 1975, George decided to go back to Midland to try his hand at the oil business. He started out as a "landman" -- a small-businessman who researches the mineral rights to pieces of property and then seeks to negotiate leases for the promising oil properties. Before long, he began trading mineral and royalty interests and investing in drilling projects.
In the summer of 1977, at a dinner at the home of friends in Midland, George W. met Laura Welch. She had been born in Midland and had earned a bachelor's degree in education from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a master's degree in library science from the University of Texas at Austin. She was working as the librarian at an elementary school in Austin when she met George.
Their friends were not sure the two would get along. "Laura is calm," George has said. "I am energetic. She is restful; I am restless. She is patient; I am impatient." Their opposite personalities seemed to complement each other, and the two fell in love and were married three months after they met.
George had already decided to run for Congress, for the seat being vacated by a Democrat who was retiring from the House of Representatives after serving for 43 years. After the wedding, therefore, the couple postponed their honeymoon in order to start campaigning, traveling all over the large West Texas congressional district. Bush won the Republican nomination but lost the race. He was pleased, however, by the fact that, in a district that had never elected a Republican, he had received 47 percent of the vote.
"Defeat humbles you," Bush says in A Charge to Keep. "You work, you dream, you hope the people see it your way, then suddenly it's over and they did not. It's hard not to take a political loss personally; after all, it's your own name spelled out there on the ballot. Yet if you believe in the wisdom of the voters, as I do, you get over the disappointment, accept the verdict, and move on."
Moving on, for George, meant going back to the oil business in Midland. He formed a company called Arbusto (Spanish for "bush") Energy, later changed to Bush Exploration, but things did not go well. Oil prices began falling in the early 1980s, making it difficult for the new company to operate. In 1984, Bush decided to merge his company with another small exploration firm and became president of the new company, called Spectrum 7.
During this time, in 1981, twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, were born to George W. and Laura Bush. "There was never any question that I would help take care of them," Bush says in A Charge to Keep. "I was a modern dad, plus we had our hands more than full. For a while we had a nurse, but I learned to change diapers, give baths, and feed them. We took them for long walks in the stroller."
The steep decline in oil prices continued, leaving Spectrum in serious financial trouble. In 1986, a larger company, Harken Energy Corporation, bought the small company. George W. worked for a while as a consultant to Harken, but then began helping with his father's presidential campaign, as an adviser and speechwriter.
Baseball Executive to Governor
After his father was elected to the presidency in 1988, George W. moved to Dallas, Texas, with the intention of opening a business there. However, news that the Texas Rangers professional baseball team, which played in a suburb of Dallas, was for sale changed his plans. Here was a chance to act on his lifelong love for baseball. He assembled a group of wealthy investors who bought the team for about $75 million. Bush himself used the money he had received when Spectrum was sold to buy a small share. He and another investor named Edward "Rusty" Rose were asked to handle the day-to-day management of the team.
"Rusty didn't like to give speeches or talk with the media," Bush says in A Charge to Keep, "so I became the face and voice for the management of the Texas Rangers. I worked hard to sell tickets. I traveled the Rangers' market, which encompasses a huge part of Texas, speaking to civic groups and chambers of commerce. I did thousands of media interviews, touting baseball as a family sport and a great entertainment value."
In the process, George W. also became a prominent figure in Texas in his own right, out from under the shadow of his famous father. In 1993, after his father had been defeated in his bid for re-election, George W. decided to try again to run for office - this time for governor of Texas. He challenged the incumbent, Democrat Ann Richards, running on promises to improve public education and to reform the juvenile justice system, welfare, and the state's tort laws -- the system under which an injured person may sue for damages.
"All four are important," he has said, "but education is closest to my heart. As I said in speech after speech, education is for a state what national defense is for the federal government, the first priority and most urgent challenge. If a state doesn't educate children, if the federal government doesn't defend America from foreign threat, whatever important issue comes next seems a very distant second."
In November 1994, Bush defeated Ann Richards by a margin of 53 percent to 46 percent and became governor of Texas. Most observers agree that his first year in office was a very successful one. He worked well with the Democrats who controlled both houses of the Texas legislature -- and managed to get bills passed that dealt with the issues he had emphasized in his campaign.
As governor, Bush advocated and signed the two largest tax cuts in Texas history, totaling over $3 billion. During his time in office, legislation emphasized local control of schools, raised standards, and rewrote the state's curriculum to insist on academic basics. Other laws passed while Bush was governor effectively abolished parole for violent adult offenders in Texas, lowered the age at which violent juveniles can be tried as adults, and required automatic jail time for juveniles who carry firearms illegally or commit crimes with a gun. Welfare rolls were reduced by requiring work and limiting how long people can stay on welfare. And tort reforms were enacted to reduce what Bush called "frivolous" lawsuits.
As soon as he was elected, Bush put his interest in the Texas Rangers baseball team into a trust and gave up his managerial responsibilities. The team was later sold to a Dallas businessman. Bush ran again for governor in 1998 and was reelected with 69 percent of the vote. Soon after that, he began thinking about the possibility of running for president of the United States.
The Presidential Campaign
With his election behind him, "the pressure to make a decision about seeking the presidency began mounting," Bush has said. "I wrestled with the decision. I was worried about my family, worried about exposing them to an environment that I know better than most. I know what it feels like to have someone you love torn up on the national stage, and I worried about putting my girls and my wife through that difficult process. On the other hand, I worried about my country, about an increasing drift that I felt threatened America's promise of opportunity for all at home and America's place as the keeper of freedom in the world."
He did decide to run, won his party's nomination in August 2000, and defeated Democrat Al Gore, who had been vice president under Bill Clinton for eight years, in the November election.
Being the son of a former president may be an asset for the president-elect. "I learned a great deal from my dad's presidency and campaigns, lessons large and small," George W. Bush has said. "I learned the value of personal diplomacy as I watched my dad build friendships and relationships with foreign leaders that helped improve America's stature in the world. I learned firsthand the importance of surrounding yourself with smart, capable, and loyal people, friends who are not afraid to tell you what they really think and will not abandon ship when the water gets choppy. I learned you must give your senior advisers direct access to the boss, or they become frustrated and disillusioned.... And from a great leader, my dad, I learned the most important lesson of all: you can enter the arena, serve with distinction, absorb the slings and arrows, and emerge with dignity and integrity and the love of your family intact."
The president-elect's speeches and writings, before and during the recent campaign, give a good idea of what he will work for during his presidency.
He has said often that Americans cannot depend on the federal government to solve all of society's problems, but must be willing to help their fellow citizens themselves. "We can now say, without question, that the belief that government could solve people's problems instead of people solving people's problems was wrong and misguided. That does not mean we should not help people. It means we should look for more effective means of help. We must reduce the reach and scope of the federal government, returning it to its proper, limited role, and push freedom and responsibility back to local governments, to neighborhoods, and to individuals....
"The problem with government bureaucracies is not only that they are too costly. They are also too cold. Often when a life is broken, it can be rebuilt only by another caring, concerned human being -- someone whose actions say, 'I love you, I believe in you, and I'm in your corner.' This is compassion with a human face and a human voice."
One of his concerns is making sure that everyone in the United States has full economic opportunity. "Ours is an age of unmeasured prosperity...," he has said. "Yet, in this plenty, there is need. At the edges of affluent communities, there are those living in prosperity's shadow. The same economy that is a miracle for millions of Americans is a mystery for millions as well.... Our newspapers and television programs praise and profile the winners in our high-tech economy. But we must never become a winner-take-all society. Our economy must also honor and reward the hard work of factory and field, of waiting tables and driving cabs -- not just enterprise, but sheer effort, not just technology, but toil.... It will be said of our times that we were prosperous. But let it also be said of us that we used our wealth wisely. We invested our prosperity with purpose. We opened the gates of opportunity. And all were welcomed into the full promise of American life."
The president-elect's vision also extends beyond the borders of the United States. "The world seeks America's leadership," he writes in his autobiography, "looks for leadership from a country whose values are freedom and justice and equality. Ours should not be the paternalistic leadership of an arrogant big brother, but the inviting and welcoming leadership of a great and noble nation. We have an individual responsibility to our families and our communities, and a collective responsibility as citizens of the greatest and freest nation in the world. America must not retreat within its borders. Our greatest export is freedom, and we have a moral obligation to champion it throughout the world."
A Vision for the Future
In accepting the Republican Party's nomination for the presidency in August 2000, George W. Bush pronounced himself "eager to start on the work ahead" to renew America's purpose. "If you give me your trust, I will honor it.... Grant me a mandate, and I will use it.... Give me the opportunity to lead this nation, and I will lead," Bush told the American people.
Reflecting on the country's economic prosperity during the past decade, Bush noted that times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of the American character.
"Prosperity can be a tool in our hands -- used to build and better our country," he said. "Or it can be a drug in our system -- dulling our sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty."
He pledged to seize this moment of American promise and use these good times for great goals. "We will confront the hard issues -- threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security -- before the challenges of our time become crises for our children," he said.
"And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten corner of this country. To every man and woman, a chance to succeed. To every child, a chance to learn. To every family, a chance to live with dignity and hope."
Bush concluded: "I know how serious the task is before me. I know the presidency is an office that turns pride into prayer. But I am eager to start on the work ahead. And I believe America is ready for a new beginning."