Monday, January 23, 2017

George H.W. Bush: "Read my lips: No new taxes!"

Ronald Reagan leads the nation through the greatest period of economic expansion in U.S. history, and when term limits and age prevented him from running for a third term, an easy decision for republicans was to nominate his Vice President, George Herbert Walker Bush, for President in 1988.

George Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, the second of five children. His parents were Prescot and Dorothy Bush. He was named after his grandfather, whose nickname was "Pop." So, it was only fitting that the younger George H.W. Bush be called "Poppy" or "Little Pot."

His father was a partner in a Wallstreet investment bank, so Prescot and Dorothy  had plenty of money. Despite this, they made sure George and his siblings were not spoiled.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese warplanes on December 7, 1941, George Bush was 17 years old. He vowed that he would join the military as soon as he turned 18. And, true to his word, despite being accepted to Yale, and despite his father encouraging him to go to college prior to joining the service, Bush joined the Navy. On June 9, 1943, he earned his wings, becoming the youngest aviator in the navy.

On September 2, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Despite his plane being on fire and the cockpit filling with smoke, he completed his mission and dropped four bombs. He then flew as far as he could over the ocean until he couldn't stay inside the plan anymore, and ejected.

He inflated a raft. Japanese forces were in the area and were on the way to take him prisoner. However, out of the blue water came a U.S. submarine called the Finback. Bush had to stay aboard for a month while the crew finished their mission.

In total, he would participate in 58 missions. He would serve out his time in the military as a trainer of new navy pilots. He would serve until the end of WWII.

He became a student at Yale, had a son named George W. Bush, and graduated from Yale. His father wanted him to work with him, although Bush decided to take a job as an equipment clerk at an oil company in Texas. It's what got his foot in the door of the oil industry.

In 1951, he and friend started the Bush-Overbay Oil Development Company that they called "Zapata." The business became very successful.

His father was elected as a U.S. Senator out of Connecticut in 1952. By 1962, the younger Bush was bitten by the political bug and decided to get into politics. He was asked to run for chairman of the Harris County Republican Party (in Texas) and he accepted. He easily won.

This set him up nicely to run for the U.S. Senate in 1964. He would be opposed the incumbent Ralph Yarborough. During the campaign, John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Johnson became President.

The very liberal Johnson would face Conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Bush supported Goldwater. Johnson won in a landslide, and riding the wave of this landslide victory was Ralph Yarborough.

After the loss, Bush quipped: "I took some far right positions to get elected. I hope I never do it again. I regret it." This was among the first signs that Bush was not a true Conservative, more of a moderate republican. This would go on to haunt the rest of his political career.

In 1966, Bush ran for a seat in the House of Representative, and this time he won with 56.7% of the vote. He became the first republican to represent Houston in Congress. During his term, he angered his fellow republicans by supporting Johnson's Fair Housing Act.

In 1968, he campaigned for republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and for this Nixon was very thankful. That same year Bush successfully ran for a second term. In 1970, he gave up his seat in the House to run against democrat Lloyd Bentsen for the Texas seat in the U.S. Senate.

Bush lost. However, Nixon, wanting to thank Bush for campaigning for him in 1968, nominated Bush to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In 1972, he was asked by Nixon to chair the Republican National Committee. He didn't necessarily want the job, but he said, "You cannot turn a President down"

After Watergate resulted in Nixon's resignation, Bush became chief liaison officer to the People's Republic of China. Beginning in 1972, Nixon had started to improve relations with China. At the time, little was known about this nation, so Bush considered his new assignment a challenge.

Rather than riding limousines through the streets of China, He and Barbara rode bicycles just like the Chinese residents did. In order to learn about the Chinese way of life, he and Barbara would also participate in many Chinese events and would socialize with the Chinese as much as possible.

Bush was tasked with the job if further improving relations with the Chinese, and improving relations between the two nations. His time in this post was considered by many as a success. It ended in 1975 when President Ford nominated him to head the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

He loved his current job and did not want to change. The CIA at this time was a mess, and failure to fix it might hurt his future political aspirations. However, once again, he did not turn a President down. He used skills he learned in the oil business to fix the CIA. When Ford lost to Carter in 1976, Bush's term as CIA director abruptly ended.

So, this would put Bush in a nice position to begin preparing for a potential run for President in 1980. He was the son of a former U.S. Senator. He was a successful businessman and had gained extensive experience in both domestic politics and foreign affairs. It's probably fair to say he was among the most qualified people ever to seek the office.

A problem he faced was that he was up against a true conservative by the name of Ronald Reagan. While he was a conservative, it was quite clear that he was no Ronald Reagan conservative. While running against Reagan in the Republican primaries in 1980, he referred to Reagan's economic plan (which would later be dubbed "Reaganomics") as "Voodoo Economics." This would end up haunting Bush more than his opponent.

Many people thought Reagan was going to name former President Gerald R. Ford to be his Vice President. However, Ford sort of stepped in it when he said that if he were nominated for the post it would be like there were two Presidents in the White House. Reagan wasn't happy with that idea. So, he went with his #2  choice for the position and gave George H. W. Bush a surprise call.

The problem with Bush is that he is one of many republican politicians who are afraid of conservatism. Even though they might support the conservative agenda, they developed a fear that if they gave the impression they were too far to the right that their careers would take the same path as Goldwater.

Reagan was well aware that Bush was very qualified for the job. He was also well aware of his fear of Conservatism. So, he asked Bush if he would be able to support his Conservative agenda. Bush said he could.

Reagan campaigned as a Conservative. When elected he acted like a conservative, and cut regulations, cut taxes, and created an economic environment that set off the greatest period of economic expansion in U.S. history.

As Reagan's second term was coming to an end, George Bush was set up nicely to be the Republican nominee for President. Haunting him, however, were his comments in the past that hinted that he would not be conservative enough to gain the support of the republican conservative base.

In 1984, for instance, democratic nominee for President Walter Mondale said that if Bush were elected President he would raise taxes. While Reagan said he would not raise taxes during his second term, Bush said that there are times when taxes needed to be raised.

At the Republican National Convention on August 18, 1988, even though he had secured the nomination, these comments still hung over Bush's head. So, in order to gain the support of conservative voters, he said:

"Read my lips: No new taxes!"

These six words would go on to define his presidency, and not in a good way.

They would see him rode the wave of Reagan's popularity and a booming economy and handily defeat Democrat Michael Dukakis by an electoral vote of 426 to 111. He won 40 states to Dukakis's 10 and won the popular vote by a total of 53.4% to 45.6%.

I was freshman student at Ferris State University at this time. I watched the results come in with my friend Frank in the Bond Hall lobby. He was a democrat. Early in the evening, it appeared quite apparent that Bush was going to win. I remember my friend saying, "It's looking pretty apparent to me that Bush is going to win. Congratulations!

This landslide victory put Bush in a great position to continue the Reagan economic boom.

He failed.

He failed because he decided to play it safe and make no changes, rather than continuing the Reagan trend of reducing the size and scope of government. It became apparent, even to those who were new to politics such as myself, that Bush wasn't a true conservative. In fact, he was afraid of it.

And it was so sad to see. He was set up so nicely, if only he just acted as a conservative. He was not alone in this type of failure, as it plagued Ford in 1976, just as it would plague Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Reagan proved conservatism worked. Yet, for one reason or another, republicans, like Bush, continue to be afraid of it. It was because of this stupid idea that you have to move to the center, and to cater to democrats, and to negotiate with democrats, that doomed the Bush presidency.

It was for this reason that he reneged on his promise of no new taxes. However, not helping matters was that he did have to deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress.

In 1990 this Congress believed new taxes were needed to pay off the debt. Bush attempted to compromise so he didn't renege on his promise. The bill created no new taxes, per se. However, it did raise existing taxes.

This was called a broken promise, a sign that he could not be trusted. Nationalist Conservative Pat Buchanan played on this theme during the republican primaries in 1992. After Bush won the nomination, this theme was also used against him by former Arkansas Governor and democratic nominee for President Bill Clinton.

If winning re-election is considered as a sign of a President's success, then Bush's Presidency was flat out repudiated by voters, as he would go on to lose to Clinton by an electoral vote of 370 to 168.

To be fair, however, we must note here that Bill Clinton only earned 43% of the popular vote. So, during a typical election day, this would mean that Bush should have won.

However, businessman Ross Perot ran as a Reform Party candidate. He appealed to  voters by paying for commercial time and speaking directly to them, often referring to graphs and charts. He won a whopping 18.9% of the popular vote.

Most political analysts will claim that Perot cost Bush the election. However, some believe that if Perot shifted votes from Bush or Clinton, he did so equally, as exit polls showed he drew equally among conservative, liberal, and independent voters.

I'll let you decide if Perot cost Bush the election. However, I think it's fair to assume that Bush could have helped his chances if he would have had more faith in Conservatism.