George W. Bush on Principles & Values
President of the United States, Former Republican Governor (TX)
Bill and I checked with the Bushes and the Carters to see what they were thinking. It was no secret that these former Presidents weren't fans of Donald Trump. He had been absolutely vicious to George's brother Jeb in particular. But were they going to the inauguration? Yes.
That gave me the push I needed. Bill and I would go. That's how I ended up right inside the door of the Capitol on January 20, waiting to be announced. It had been such a long journey to get here. Now I just had to take a few more steps. I took Bill's arm.
There was a decent chance I'd get booed or be met with "Lock her up!" chants if I went. Still, I felt a responsibility to be there.
George W. and Jimmy (Carter) had been among the first to call me after the election. It was no secret that these former Presidents weren't fans of Donald Trump. He had been absolutely vicious to George's brother Jeb in particular.
But were they going to the inauguration? Yes. That gave me the push I needed. Bill and I would go.
I didn't have to tell anyone what happened. Every single person in Midland knew. [A family friend, Mike Douglas, died in the other car.] A bunch of Mike's friends came over to our house to sit with me. They still found it in their hearts to be supportive of me. I did not go to the funeral. I wanted to go, and I told Mother and Daddy that I wanted to. But they wanted me to stay home. No doubt they were trying to protect me, thinking that it would be too hard on me, and on the Douglases, if I were to attend. So I didn't go, and I never contacted the Douglases.
Pretty quickly no one mentioned the accident. My parents never brought it up. And neither did my friends.
I worried most about our 17-year-old daughters, Barbara & Jenna. I had learne that being the child of a politician is tougher than being a politician yourself. I understood the pain and frustration that comes with hearing your dad called nasty names. I knew how it felt to worry every time you turned on the TV. And I knew what it was like to live with the thought that any innocent slip could embarrass the president of the US. I had gone through all of this in my 40s. My girls would be in college when I took office. I could only imagine how much more difficult it would be for them
I believed that as the front-runner Bush had to win four "invisible primaries" before facing any of the real ones: Money, Establishment, Reassurance, and Substance. The first was the easiest to understand: Would Bush's fund-raising total be larger than everyone else's in the rest of the pack by a sizable amount?
We didn't want there to be two Bushes--a primary/more conservative Bush; and a general election/more moderate Bush. We wanted to run from start to finish with the same candidate, emphasizing a consistent theme.
We began our own "Front Porch" campaign on June 8, 1998. At first the emphasis was on encouraging Bush's finance network to bring other fund-raisers from their state or region. They'd get into Austin in the morning in time for an early lunch. Governor Bush would break away from the Capitol, come to the Mansion, and join his guests, in groups up to 36, in th formal dining room.
While people ate, Bush stood at his table, held onto his chair, and held forth on his vision, the campaign he'd run, and the country's challenges. He'd take questions until his guests had to leave for planes or were exhausted.
Bush surprised th press and delighted the crowd with a simple, straightforward statement: "I'm running for the president of the United States. There's no turning back. And I intend to be the next president." What followed was what for most Americans would constitute a polite show of enthusiasm; for Iowans, it was a roar of approval.
He said his goal was to help "usher in the responsibility era...that stands in stark contrast to the last few decades, when the culture has clearly said: If it feels good, do it." He talked about tax cuts, Social Security, and education reform, his faith-based initiative, and the need for increased defense spending. He was mildly criticized for being light on specifics. It didn't bother me; there was plenty of time for details later.
The irony of the situation tickled Bush, but he also felt sympathy for Bill. Hey, buddy, Bush said, I know you're coming under attack; you just gotta keep your chin up. Clinton thanked Bush--then treated him to a fifteen-minute tirade about the injustices that had befallen him and the sources of his suffering.
From the beginning, the president wanted the vice president and his staff included in his White House processes and operations. Dick Cheney and his key advisors were considered integral members of the team.
Of course, Cheney heavily influenced foreign policy. He also took particular interest in economic policy, especially tax and energy issues.
Strategery meetings were focused on long-range planning and strategy. Rove's Office of Strategic Initiatives helped coordinate the efforts, including preparing materials and doing research to see how previous White Houses might have handled similar challenges. Electoral success was the ultimate objective--winning more Republican seats in Congress in 2002 and getting George Bush reelected to the presidency in 2004.
Those attending the strategery meetings included Rove, Karen Hughes, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Vice Presidential Counselor Mary Matalin.
Remember that George Sr. had, as director of Central Intelligence, often criticized anybody who identified an intelligence agent and thereby jeopardized not only that life, but the lives of countless others who had worked with them over the years. It illustrates how sacrosanct the family held American intelligence agents. Until, of course, the husband of one of them was deemed an enemy and a threat.
Jeb has been more of a mixture of those two. Unlike his brother, he does enjoy governing as well as campaigning. But like his brother, and unlike his father, he has seen the advantages of governing as if he were campaigning.
There are real public policy consequences for this style of leadership, not the least of which is an enervating unease for everyone around him, including even the leaders of the legislative and judicial branches. Everything is a fight--with us, or against us. Everything is a crisis.
We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don’t much care which side of the aisle we sit on--as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done.
My brother remembers meeting early on with the former governor of Texas, Allan Shivers, who flat out told my brother he couldn't win. When George asked why, Shivers explained that he would be facing a strong opponent in Kent Hance, a well-respected man who was more suited to the district than George was.
"I listened to him, said okay, and decided to run anyway," my brother recalled.
My brother campaigned nonstop and won the Republican primary. Governor Reagan called to congratulate George after he won. George lost that fall, however, receiving 47% of the vote in a district that had never elected a Republican to Congress.
Clinton's victory in 1992 was the catalyst. "So from 1992, this young man who was a wild young man in his youth, matured, but with a focus on one mission. There's injustice. There's something not right. I am going to correct it."
The 2004 elections were significant for a number of reasons. First, the majority of the voters stated that they based their presidential vote on moral issues, which include opposition to same-sex marriage initiatives and partial-birth abortion.
Second, President Bush received a majority of the vote among Catholic and Protestant voters and increased the percentage of support among a number of other demographic groups, including members of racial minorities and voters who live in urban areas.
Third, the U.S. electorate sent to Congress a "working majority" of Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate.
Dyslexics who operate in the public eye tend to overcome their verbal gaffs by becoming actors, meaning that they emphasize connecting with the audience in nonverbal ways and with short, memorized scripts that make the chances of a blurted inanity less likely. They are personable, make quick studies of people, and often master the body language and quips that draw people in.
I am honored and humbled to stand here, where so many of America’s leaders have come before me, and so many will follow.
We have a place, all of us, in a long story, a story we continue, but whose end we will not see. It is the American story, a story of flawed and fallible people, united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals.
The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise: that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born. Americans are called to enact this promise in our lives and in our laws. And though our nation has sometimes halted, and sometimes delayed, we must follow no other course.
What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort, to defend needed reforms against easy attacks, to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.
“He’d just come up [to the big leagues] and gotten a quick look,” Bush recalled painfully. In 25 games, Sosa was batting a meager .238. Who could have predicted then that Sosa would become a superstar, slamming 66 homers for the Chicago Cubs in 1998 and dramatically dueling Mark McGwire for the all-time season home run record?
The team managers recommended the deal and he approved it, Bush remembered. “We were coming down the stretch, chasing Oakland. We were either going to kick in and stay or fade.” The Rangers faded. Oakland won the pennant and the World Series. “It just didn’t work out. Sosa just didn’t kick in.”
This is the fun stuff to talk about, I noted. “Politics is not, not fun,” Bush instantly replied.
[By 1986], he was already giving his new job his full attention, spending most of his day in an attempt to raise millions of campaign dollars from boot-clad West Texas oilmen for the upcoming primary battle. "They want to talk to me because I'm the candidate's son," Junior acknowledged. "And, of course, I have access to the candidate."
Considered the most politically savvy of the Bush children, Junior assumed a major role in his father's campaign as an unofficial political adviser and chief troubleshooter. "He was an assessor of problems," recalled one strategist. "He was a general morale booster."
"It's a great night for Texas," the former president Bush said, congratulating the new governor-elect.
"I'm a little bloodied and bruised, though," George W. admitted.
"It was a tough race, but we admired you for the way you kept the campaign focus on a positive, forward-looking message," the senior Bush said. "You fought the good fight and stayed on the issues. Barbara is pretty crushed about Jeb losing," his father said, sounding apologetic. "She knows he'll take it hard."
Prosperity is not a given. Governments don’t create wealth. Wealth is created by Americans -- by creativity and enterprise and risk-taking. But government can create an environment where businesses and entrepreneurs and families can dream and flourish.
Republicans have become America's minority party because they have been poor salesmen of the benefits of true freedom. As Americans have become more dependent on government, Republican have tried to use a "Democrat lite" approach, trying to appeal to voters' desire for more security. George W. Bush tried to appeal to America's need for security with his big-spending, "compassionate conservative" agenda. But few Republicans have been willing to tell Americans the truth: people are most secure when they are most free.
But the lines that divided the two groups [of voters] were not mainly lines of race, nor class, but of family status and religious observance. Bush’s strongest supporters were the people most outraged by Clinton’s misconduct. What they wanted most from him was simple: They wanted him not to be Clinton. They were pretty much indifferent to everything in his program except the promise to lay off the interns. That was not much of a mandate to govern.
Well, if the country wanted an un-Clinton administration, they had hired the right man. Was Clinton famously unpunctual? Bush was always on time. Were the Clintons morally slack? Bush opened every cabinet meeting with a prayer.
The 2000 election was the messiest and most nerve-racking in 125 years. Bush’s reinvention of the Republican Party did not quite work. He lost the popular vote by half a million ballots and had to be carried over the finish line by the Supreme Court.
In the nineteenth century, three presidents received fewer votes than their main opponent. But it has been a long time since it last happened, and in the meantime, the country’s attitudes toward voting and democracy have changed dramatically. Bush arrived in office politically crippled.
Many of Bush’s early proposals fit this approach, [such as his support for Charitable Choice], AmeriCorps, and character education in schools. Bush’s inaugural address was full of words like “civility,” “responsibility” and “community.”
Communitarians say Bush has yet to embrace some of their other favorite ideas: workplace flexibility, limits on urban sprawl, campaign finance reform, and having the wealthy pay more for certain government benefits.
We do not accept this, and we will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice & opportunity. I know this is in our reach, because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, who creates us equal in his image. And we are confident in principles that unite and lead us onward.
America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens. Every child must be taught these principles. Every citizen must uphold them. And every immigrant, by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American.
[Referring to Gore’s health care plan, Bush said], “Trust me, this is an incredible maze of what the health care plan would look like under the vision of more government control in our lives. We’ll modernize the system. by trusting seniors with other options if they’re unhappy with the Medicare plan.” Bush said, “We’ll say you can have other options, you know why? Because we trust you.”
[Bush concluded by echoing his nomination speech theme], again hitting Gore on the Clinton-Gore administration’s record on Medicare and Social Security: “On all the big issues facing this country, our message on November 7 will be loud and clear: You’ve had your chance. You have not led, and we will.”
My generation tested limits -- and our country, in some ways, is better for it. Women are now treated more equally. Racial progress has been steady, if still too slow. We are learning to protect the natural world around us. We will continue this progress, and we will not turn back. At times, we lost our way. But we are coming home.
Bush’s address was his latest attempt to say “I will be different” as he outlined a series of steps that he said would help de-escalate tensions, encourage compromise, and clean up some of the pork-barrel spending practices that have soured the public on politicians from both sides.
Bush explicitly promises to change the way Washington does business by reaching out to Democrats, sharing credit, and seeking results over partisan gains. But he also promises to restore a sense of moral purpose to the presidency.
Month by month that negative feeling intensifies. The housing market is collapsing, setting off a wave of foreclosures. The middle class is imperiled an unemployment rises.
Seldom in American history had a president experienced such a roller-coaster ride. After 9/11, Bush received the highest presidential approval rating ever recorded (90%) in all the years since the Gallup Poll began its first opinion surveys during FDR's presidency. By Jan. 2007 his public standing hovers at 60 points below its peak and plummets toward depths not recorded since Nixon at the time of his forced resignation.
Nixon "substituted power for law, to impose a standard of amorality." Today that power runs "dark" prisons in paid-off countries, where loosely defined "terrorists" can be tortured out of our moral and media sight.
Wha Nixon did was "demean the importance of national security by using it as a handy alibi to protect common burglars." What Bush did was to exploit real fears for our national security after 9/11 to protect and advance the [neoconservative] agenda.
In a press briefing, I was asked. "You told us that neither Karl Rove nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information. I wondered if you could tell us more specifically whether they told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA."
I was ready with a reply. "I spoke with those individuals, they assured me they were not involved in this." It sounded final & definitive--just as I intended. I'd chosen my words carefully. I could never know with 100% certainty that it was true. So I purposely put the onus on them. I was confident, at the time, that neither the president nor the vice president would knowingly send me out to mislead the public.
There was only one problem. What I'd said was not true.
The next step in the development of the Niger controversy was the president's 2003 State of the Union address.
What would become known as "the sixteen words"--his first presidential reference to the Niger uranium claim: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Those sixteen words would become the nexus of the controversy that delivered a near-fatal blow to the credibility of the president and his administration.
BUSH: On the big questions, about whether or not we should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we should have removed somebody in Iraq, I’ll stand by those decisions because I think they’re right. When they ask about the mistakes, that’s what they’re talking about. They’re trying to say, “Did you make a mistake going into Iraq?” And the answer is absolutely not. It’s a right decision. On the tax cut, it’s a big decision. I did the right decision. Our recession was one of the shallowest in modern history. I made some mistakes in appointing people, but I’m not going to name them. I don’t want to hurt their feelings on national TV. But history will look back, and I’m fully prepared to accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration, because the president makes the decisions, the president has to take the responsibility.
The Bush campaign billed his visit to Beaverton as a chance for ordinary citizens to pose questions to the president. But this was no town hall appearance before a cross-section of citizens. Bush-Cheney re-election headquarters had instructed Oregon campaign officials to distribute tickets, so the school gymnasium was filled last Friday with 2,000 passionate Bush backers.
Kerry’s more open approach carries political risks. Sometimes protesters show up and try to disrupt his appearances. Such dissent is never a problem for Bush. When the time came to “Ask President Bush” Friday, none of his 16 questioners challenged him on his policies. Several did not ask questions at all, but simply voiced support.
The entire performance was a manifestation of Bush’s intense distaste for acting and pretense. When responding to loaded questions from reporters or an unfair charge by Gore, Bush’s honesty impelled him to signal, if ever so subtly, what he really thought. The smirk was not a signal of arrogance but rather an effort to convey his true feelings: that he was participating in a charade. When emerging from sessions with political types, he would roll his eyes and grouse under his breath about the “B.S.” meeting he had just had. In debates with Gore, he could not very well say, “That’s B.S.,” so he would smirk.
“He’s a bad actor, a bad pretender,” an aide said. “What you see is what you get.. A real actor would not show that.”
From time to time, I fired off flares, hoping to throw a bit of light-if not a warning-on where they were headed. I did so by raising these matters in my regular Find Law column. For one such column, in which I discussed the potential of impeachment if the Bush administration had intentionally manipulated government intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction an editor at Salon, which reprinted the column, used the title “Worse than Watergate”-drawing his own conclusion from the material. I could not deny that it describes perfectly what I have to say in more ways than I had anticipated.
It goes without saying that it would be best to have neither a scandal nor something far worse. There is, however, only one antidote: an end to the obsessive, unjustified, and disproportionate secrecy that defines the Bush-Cheney White House.
My hope along the way is not to scandalmonger, but rather to spray as much antiscandal disinfectant-called light-as I possibly can.
Now George W. Bush--son of a former president and brother of Florida's chief executive--seems destined to inherit the White House simply because he is viewed as a member of what is essentially a political aristocracy, propelled by instant name recognition, and a ready-made political network of his father's contacts.
But he has reached this point in spite of the fact that most of the country knows virtually nothing about him or where he stands on political issues. Most Texans could not answer the following questions:
On Election Day, these instructions were printed for voters to see: "After voting, check your ballot card to be sure your voting selections are clearly and cleanly punched and there are no chips left hanging on the back of the card."
The law said that any ballot with a hanging chip, or "Chad" to use the media's favorite term, was not a legal vote. The question was if that law would be followed or if election boards would throw it out and use different standards at different times--or different standards at the same time in the same room--to determine voter intent.
The question before us, however, is whether the recount procedures [may include that] the intent of the voter be discerned from ballots. The recount mechanisms implemented in response to the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court do not satisfy the minimum requirement for nonarbitrary treatment of voters necessary to secure the fundamental right. The want of those rules here has led to unequal evaluation of ballots in various respects. As seems to have been acknowledged at oral argument, the standards for accepting or rejecting contested ballots might vary not only from county to county but indeed within a single county from one recount team to another.
Rev. Mark Craig, in his sermon, spoke about when God called Moses to action. Moses' first response was disbelief: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?" He had every excuse in the book. He hadn't led a perfect life; he wasn't sure if people would follow him; he couldn't even speak that clearly. That sounded a little familiar.
Mark described God's reassurance that Moses would have the power to perform the task he had been called to do. Then Mark summoned the congregation to action. Like Moses, he concluded, "We have the opportunity, each and every one of us, to do the right thing, and for the right reason."
Then Mother caught my eye and mouthed, "He is talking to you." After the service, the pressure evaporated. I felt a sense of calm
Putting aside the details of policy issues, consider the metamessage of the past 28 years: Republicans may run roughshod occasionally, but they keep the country safe. I don't like a lot of [Reagan's, Bush's] position, but at least yo know where he stands.
Even someone as verbally incoherent as George W. Bush could be made to sound like a leader because he was anchored in a coherent set of principles. Free market good, government bad. Poor people are the consequence of poor values. America must be strong. Even Bush could remember that much. In the end, however, no amount of technique or resolution could compensate for policies that drove the economy aground.
Arthur Schlesinger is among the most articulate champions of the idea of America as a nation united by a shared belief in the ideas found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address: The American Creed.
In his first inaugural, George W. Bush endorsed the creedal nation concept: "American has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests, and teach us what it means to be citizens."
Bush had no problem trusting his instincts. It was almost his second religion. In an interview with me several years later, on August 20, 2002, he referred a dozen times to his "instincts" or his "instinctive" reactions as the guide for his decisions. At one point he said, "I'm not a textbook player, I'm a gut player."
Bush became a cheerleader at the all-boys school. He would wield a megaphone at football games and make barbed remarks about spectators and players. The show that he and his cohorts put on overshadowed the game, causing some grumbling. But the school paper came to his defense. ”George’s gang has done a commendable job, and now is not the time to throw a wet blanket over cheerleading,“ an editorial said. ”School spirit had never been higher,“ Johnson said.
Clinton had brought in eccentrics, some of them, perhaps, but also powerful intelligences, open to new ideas. The country could trust the Bush administration not to cheat or lie. But could the administration cope with an unprecedented problem? That might be rather dicier.
The reason for the bias toward the ordinary was Richard Darman, the most conspicuously brilliant person in Bush 41’s White House. In the 1992 election, he attacked Bush 41 himself. And the lesson the younger Bush took from that experience was: no new Darmans.
The first is ideological. Bush, they say, is a president beholden to something they call the radical right wing. This suffers from an important defect: It’s just wrong. Bush is indeed a generally conservative president, and those who oppose conservatism are right to oppose him. But he is nothing like a pure ideologue.
The second explanation for the rising anger against Bush focuses not on his policies but his politics-and especially on his supposedly uniquely ruthless campaign methods. This also falls a little short of the truth. Bush virtually never speaks disrespectfully of the Democratic Party and he rarely criticizes his opponents at all. Bush is certainly a competitive politician, and yes, he prefers to win rather than lose. But that’s politics-and by the standards of the recent past, gentle politics.
BUSH: It requires a clear vision, willingness to stand by our friends, and the credibility for people, both friend and foe, to understand when America says something, we mean it.
GORE: I see a future when the world is at peace, with the United States of America promoting the values of democracy and human rights and freedom around the world. What can I bring to that challenge? I volunteered and went to Vietnam. In the House of Representatives, I served on the House Intelligence Committee. When I went to the United States Senate, I asked for an assignment to the Armed Services Committee. I was one of only 10 Democrats, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, to support Governor Bush’s dad in the Persian Gulf War resolution. And for the last eight years, I’ve served on the National Security Council.
GORE: Sometimes people who have great dreams, as young people do, are apt to stay at arm’s length from the political process because they think if they invest their hopes, they’re going to be disappointed. But thank goodness we’ve always had enough people who have been willing to push past the fear of a broken heart and become deeply involved in forming a more perfect union. We’ve got to address one of the biggest threats to our democracy: the current campaign financing system. I will make the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill the very first measure that I send to the Congress as president.
BUSH: A lot of people are tired of the bitterness in Washington. There are a lot of young folks saying, you know, “Why do I want to be involved with this mess?” And what I think needs to happen is to set aside the partisan differences and set an agenda that will make sense. I don’t think it’s the issues that turn kids off. I think it’s the tone.
BUSH: The first question is what’s in the best interests of the United States. Peace in the Middle East is in our nation’s interests. Having a hemisphere that is free for trade and peaceful is in our nation’s interests. An administration is dedicated citizens who are called by the president to serve the country. One of the things I’ve done in Texas is I’ve been able to put together a good team of people. I’ve been able to set clear goals.
BUSH: It’s important for the president to be credible with Congress and foreign nations. It’s something people need to consider. I’m going to defend my record against exaggerations. Exaggerations like only 5% of seniors receive benefits under my Medicare package. That’s what he said the other day. That’s simply not the case.
GORE: I got some of the details wrong last week. I’m sorry about that. One of the reasons I regret it is that getting a detail wrong interfered with my point. However many days that young girl in Florida stood in her classroom doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of overcrowded classrooms in America and we need to do something about that. I can’t promise that I will never get another detail wrong. But I will promise you that I will work my heart out to get the big things right for the American people.
Q: Does that resolve the issue?
BUSH: That’s going to be up to the people.
A: I know it comes across that way. I don’t think it’s fair. This will be an administration of people well suited to their jobs. I’m secure enough that I want smart people around me. I’m comfortable with people who have high intellects.
Q: So how do you assure folks you’re smart enough to be President?
A: I’m confident of my intellect. I wouldn’t be running if I wasn’t. My job will not be to out-think everybody in my administration. My job will be to assemble an administration full of very capable and bright people.
Q: So getting the smartest people to tell you what to do.
A: No, no, no. Not tell me what to do. Make recommendations. Plus, I’m not going to have a group of people who say the same thing.
Q: So what happens when they disagree?
A: These people don’t decide for me. I’m going to have to decide. I will overrule my advisers. I’ve done that before. My job is to get good thinkers and get the best out of them.
Laura and I discovered that we had grown up nea each other and both attended San Jacinto Junior High. We had even lived in the same apartment complex in Houston.
I've never been afraid to make a decision, and in late September I made a big one. I said, "Let's get married." She said yes right away. Ours had been a whirlwind romance, but we were ready to commit.
We picked the first Saturday available, Nov. 5, 1977. We had a small wedding with family and close friends in Midland. We had no ushers, no bridesmaids, and no groomsmen. It was just me, Laura, and her dad to walk her down the aisle.
I believe there is a reason Laura and I never met all those years before. God brought her into my life at just the right time, when I was ready to settle down and was open to having a partner at my side.
Their so-called social class, based on nothing more than private schools and country clubs, did give them a common meeting ground, but the bonding sprang more from their own emotional needs.
Both George and Barbara were accustomed to corporal punishment. George from his father's leather strap and Barbara from her mother's wooden coat hanger. Both had been exposed to the ravages of alcoholism; in an eerie coincidence, each had an alcoholic uncle named Jim.
Even Barbara's most illustrious relative, her 4th cousin four times removed, Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the US (1853-57), was an alcoholic. The insidious disease with its genetic predispositions had already wrapped its tentacles around the roots of both family trees.
Bush’s parents had not told him how serious her condition was. They were afraid he might tell her. When they drove to his school to tell him she had died, George, in the second grade, spotted them and thought he saw Robin. “I got to the car still thinking Robin was there,” Bush said later, “but of course, she was not.”
Barbara Bush said in her memoirs, “He asked a lot of questions and couldn’t understand why we had known for a long time.“ George felt an obligation to comfort his mother, who leaned on her son for support while her husband traveled. He would joke and laugh and make her feel better. The loss gave him a sense of how fleeting and arbitrary life can be, contributing to his lighthearted approach. Bush was bothered by the fact that, outside their family, no one mentioned Robin and her death. As he would later in life, Bush liked to confront issues.
On paper, Richard Nixon was one of the smartest presidents, with an IQ of 143, yet he orchestrated the Watergate cover-up, leading to his resignation. Bush had little interest in learning for its own sake. He was goal oriented and prized actions over words. Only if learning helped him to make a decision was he interested. What he wanted, he would say in rare reflective moments, was to “get as much out of life as possible and to do as much as possible.” When he retires someday to his ranch, he has said, “I want to turn to my wife and say, My dance card was full. I lived life to the fullest.”
In Skull & Bones’ house were faded portraits of venerable Bonesmen-Rockefellers, Harrimans, Tafts, Whitneys, and Bushes-posing with skull and crossbones. Members called themselves “good men,” a term Bush would use to describe people he trusted and admired.
Bush drank at fraternity parties and engaged in pranks. “George was a fraternity guy, but he wasn’t Belushi in Animal House,” recalled Calvin Hill, a DKE with Bush. He was a goodtime guy. But he wasn’t the guy hugging the commode at the end of the day.
“I think he was far less wild than the media portrays it,” his Skull and Bones friend Donald Etra said. “He drank but not to excess. I never saw any drugs.”
And yet he also falls outside some of the stereotypes of his generation. He seems less imprisoned by its destructive narcissism. He is not very introspective and does not seem to be caught in the cycle of extremes that dizzy many in his generation. He is less easily impressed, more energetic, and a bit more respectful than his peers. And he has seldom veered far from his mooring in family, faith, and a sometimes too simple political philosophy.
Junior grew suspicious, though, when his parents' friends would come over to the house but wouldn't let their children get near his sister. Years later, he would learn that many people thought the little-known disease was contagious and others simply couldn't cope with a dying child.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Junior repeatedly asked his parents, to which his mother would reply, "Well, it wouldn't have made a difference." Decades later, however, George W.'s mother questions the decision not to tell her son that Robin was terminally ill. "I don't know if that was right or wrong," she confessed. "I mean, I really don't."
The wedding plans were proclaimed in a Jan. 1, 1967 Houston Chronicle society column: "Congressman's Son to Marry Rice Co-Ed." But according to Bush, within 6 months, the young couple "just grew apart" due to their long-distance relationship. By 1968, they cancelled their wedding plans completely.
Friends of the couple surmised otherwise about the reasons for the couple's breakup, noting that there were some "nasty, snobbish whispers" about the young Wolfman woman's "merchant" family. "The Bush family pressured their son to call off the wedding because the prospective bride had a Jewish background", claimed one friend.
The Bushes vehemently denied this explanation for the breakup. Barbara said the family was "enthusiastic" about the engagement.
Junior did go, however, in 1973. "I thought Harvard would open up more horizons," he said later. "It was a lot stricter environment than Yale. What Harvard provided were some tools. It was a vocational training exercise in capitalism."
Young Bush was unpretentious, hard working, hard playing, and popular while attending Harvard. He lived in an apartment in a 3-story walkup near Cambridge's Central Square and jogged every morning along the Charles River.
His aunt, Nancy Ellis, living nearby in Boston, remembered the turbulent early 70s and the Watergate scandal as a trying time for her nephew. "You know Harvard Square and how they felt about Nixon. But here was Georgie, his father head of the RNC. So he came out a lot with us just to get out of there."
Finally, in 1977, mutual friends matched up the two and he says their blind date "has to be described as love at first sight," admitting that he was attracted to her because he found her to be "a very thoughtful, smart, interested person--one of the great listeners. And since I'm one of the big talkers, it was a great fit."
"By then, I'd lived a lot of life, and I was beginning to settle down," George W. acknowledged. "When we met, I was enthralled." Bush often bristles at comments from his family and friends that Laura transformed him from drunk and reckless to sober and mature. "If I were a totally irresponsible person, she wouldn't have married me." He does give her credit, though, for slowing him down. "She brings a lot of stability, a lot of common sense to our relationship."
Bush was consistent in his belief, as he said, that "prayer and religion sustain me." But Kerry changed his tune depending on the policy in question. On the issue of abortion, Kerry insisted, "I can't legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith."
Fair enough. But then the topic shifted to government Programs for the poor and the environment, and Kerry changed his tune. His faith, he said, was "why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice." This kind of hypocrisy when it comes to religion is widespread on the left, inside and outside Washington.
I read the Bible occasionally and saw it as a kind of self-improvement course. But for the most part, religion was more of a tradition than a spiritual experience.
In the summer of 1985, I was captivated by meeting Billy Graham. There's nothing wrong with using the Bible as a guide to self-improvement, he said. But self-improvement is not really the point of the Bible. The center of Christianity is not the self. It is Christ.
Billy had planted a seed. His thoughtful explanation had made the soil less firm and the brambles less thick. I could not have quit drinking without faith. I also don't think my faith would be as strong if I hadn't quit drinking.
It stunned the audience and made some in the press corps nearly apoplectic. Many in the media just didn't get it and saw it as a cynical and raw appeal to evangelical voters. But it struck lots of ordinary people who said grace before a meal, went to church on Sunday, and turned to their Maker in times of need as being sincere and revealing of who Bush really was. And that's what it really was. It was not the kind of answer you would draw up in advance.
BUSH: My faith plays a big part in my life. Prayer and religion sustain me. When I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am. I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. And that’s been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty.
KERRY: I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do. We have an unequal school system. And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. I talked about it earlier when I talked about faith without works being dead.
In this most Christianized of countries, premarital sex, homosexual unions, and abortions are considered normal and moral by our cultural elites. Islamic societies reject them as immoral. Who does President Bush believe is right? At the UN, Christians cooperate with Muslims to defeat European and American progressives. Who does the president believe is on the side of "moral truth"? If moral truth is the same "in every culture, in every time, and every place," why do men yet disagree on the morality of what we did to Hamburg, Hiroshima, Dresden, and Nagasaki?
“When I left here, I didn’t have much in the way of a life plan,” Bush told students when he returned to Yale in 2001. “I knew some people who thought they did. But it turned out that we were all in it for the ups and downs, most of them unexpected. Life takes its turns, makes it own demands, writes its own story. And along the way, we start to realize we are not the author.“
No one could have anticipated the peril that America would face during the presidency of George W. Bush. Yet no one could have been better suited to confronting that peril. It required vision, courage, patience, optimism, integrity, focus, discipline, determination, decisiveness, and devotion to America.
There can also be no doubt that this president will be remembered as the man in the White House on September 11, 2001.
There is another likely pillar of George W. Bush's legacy. This is the matter of his religious faith and his attempts to integrate faith as a whole into American public policy. It is here that we come to one of the most unique characteristics of the Bush presidency and very possibly to one of the most defining issues of our time.
He found it suited him better, as he explained years later: "The Episcopal Church is very ritualistic, and it has a kind of repetition to the service. It's the same service, basically, over and over again. Different sermon, of course. The Methodist Church is lower key. We don't have the kneeling. And I'm sure there is some kind of heavy doctrinal difference as well, which I'm not sophisticated enough to explain to you." His change of church was typical of his brand of decision-making: relational, practical, nonintrospective, and defined in the simplest terms.
Baseball inspires Bush. When he talks about the game, he rises to his philosophical best. It is his natural religion. Listen:
"Baseball inspires the Muses. Baseball does not have time limits or clocks; we are under no artificial deadlines except 3 outs to an inning. The true baseball fan loves the dull spots in a game, because they allow you to think and remember, to compare the present with the past. The competitor in me also loves the challenge of baseball, a challenge all of us identify with, because baseball is a sport played by normal-sized people."
The fact is that George W. Bush in not unique as a president because he speaks openly of religion. All American presidents have done so, and it has become part of our national lore. In the first century and a half of our history, most Americans were religious and understood their lives and their country in religious terms. By the early decades of the 20th century, however, religion had declined as an influence in the US, but presidents still spoke religiously of the nation as a nod to a Christian memory and as an attempt to baptize the American culture of the day.
In 1984, as Bush later wrote, "Midland was hurting. A lot of people were looking for comfort and strength and direction." [He heard] famed evangelist Arthur Blessitt, billed as "Decision '84." Bush looked at Blessitt and said, "Arthur, I want to talk to you about how to know Jesus Christ and how to follow Him."
The evangelist asked, "What is your relationship with Jesus?"
"I'm not sure," Bush replied.
Blessit probed, "If you died this moment, do you have assurance you would go to heaven?"
Bush did not hesitate, "No," he answered. The evangelist then began to explain what it meant to know and follow Jesus.
Would you rather live with Jesus in your life, or live without Him?
"With him," Bush replied.
Goodness had been one of the main themes of Bush’s campaign speeches. He often observed that if the government could ever write a law that could make people love their neighbors, he would be glad to sign it. This was, when you think about it, an odd thing for a Republican president to say. If Congress had sent Ronald Reagan a law obliging people to love their neighbors, he would have vetoed it as an impertinent infringement of personal liberty, and unconstitutional besides.
But Bush came from & spoke for a very different culture from that of the individualistic Ronald Reagan: the culture of modern Evangelicalism. To understand the Bush White House you must understand its predominant creed. It was a kindly faith, practical and unmystical.
No matter what our background, in prayer, we share something universal -- a desire to speak and listen to our maker, and to know his plan for our lives.
An American president serves people of every faith, and serves some with no faith at all. I have found my faith helps me in the service to people. Faith teaches humility.
Dubya has taken his testimonial on the road and tells of his conversion experience--but only before selected audiences. Dubya's use of his religion for political purposes gives him a good leg up with evangelical voters. Bush had a dramatic tale--saved from a life of sin, drinking, womanizing (before marriage), and, by inference, drugs--all of which comes under the rubric "indiscretions of my youth." It's not clear what went on in that valley of despair from which the governor was saved, but we know he was saved. He retails the story in niche markets around Texas, telling it for evangelical audiences only.
A charge to keep I have,[Hanging in my office is] a beautiful oil painting by W.H.D. Koerner entitled A Charge to Keep. The painting, inspired by the hymn, [pictures] a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep & rough trail. This is us. [The painting and] hymn have been an inspiration for me & for members of my staff. “A Charge to Keep” calls us to our highest and best. It speaks of purpose and direction. In many hymnals, it is associated with a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
A God to glorify,
A never dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill;
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
Alone in the hotel bathroom, Junior stared at the face in the mirror--a man with disheveled hair, crusted vomit on his chin, and bloodshot eyes. He fell to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably, asking God to save him before he drank himself to death. From that moment on, he swore he'd never touch another drop of alcohol again. And he hasn't.
"Christ has made a huge difference in my personal life," Bush told a church congregation years later. "I firmly believe in the power of intercessory prayer."
George W. has been repeatedly hounded by the press with scrutinizing questions about his hard-drinking years and why he abruptly stopped one morning. "A lot of people say, 'Well, gosh, what's in his background, that he had to quit drinking?'" Bush often states. "What they ought to say, 'This is a guy that's disciplined enough to quit drinking.'"
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Such factors as religious service attendance, belief, practice, familiarity with doctrine, belief in certain creeds, etc., may be important to sociologists, religious leaders, and others. But these are measures of religiosity and are usually not used academically to define a person’s membership in a particular religion. It is important to recognize there are various levels of adherence, or membership within religious traditions or religious bodies. There’s no single definition, and sources of adherent statistics do not always make it clear what definition they are using.
The National Governors Association (NGA) is the collective voice of the nation’s governors and one of Washington’s most respected public policy organizations. NGA provides governors with services that range from representing states on Capitol Hill and before the Administration on key federal issues to developing policy reports on innovative state programs and hosting networking seminars for state government executive branch officials. The NGA Center for Best Practices focuses on state innovations and best practices on issues that range from education and health to technology, welfare reform, and the environment. NGA also provides management and technical assistance to both new and incumbent governors.
Since their initial meeting in 1908 to discuss interstate water problems, governors have worked through the National Governors Association to deal with issues of public policy and governance relating to the states. The association’s ongoing mission is to support the work of the governors by providing a bipartisan forum to help shape and implement national policy and to solve state problems.
Fortune Magazine recently named NGA as one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying organizations due, in large part, to NGA’s ability to lead the debate on issues that impact states. From welfare reform to education, from the historic tobacco settlement to wireless communications tax policies, NGA has influenced major public policy issues while maintaining the strength of our Federalist system of government.
There are three standing committees—on Economic Development and Commerce, Human Resources, and Natural Resources—that provide a venue for governors to examine and develop policy positions on key state and national issues.
[Note: NGA positions represent a majority view of the nation’s governors, but do not necessarily reflect a governor’s individual viewpoint. Governors vote on NGA policy positions but the votes are not made public.]
|Other past presidents on Principles & Values:
|George W. Bush on other issues:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)
Past Vice Presidents:
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