Posted by Curt on 1 December, 2018 at 10:49 am. 1 comment.


Virtually from the moment he defeated Michael Dukakis in the election of 1988, George Herbert Walker Bush made it clear that he was going to be a very different sort of Commander in Chief than Ronald Reagan. He told the Secret Service to turn off its sirens and ordered his motorcade to come to a halt at stoplights. He let it slip that he (sometimes) showered with his dog. He took pictures of his aides when they fell asleep during meetings. He went jogging in the mornings, repaired to a newly built horseshoe pit for a little “prudent R and R” in the afternoons, and liked to zip out to suburban Virginia for Chinese food, sweeping up family, aides and occasionally even perfect strangers in the adventure.

He wrote thank-you notes by the dozen, as if he were winning over the country one correspondence card at a time. Just before Christmas one year, he went bonefishing in the Florida Keys. But he stayed in Washington for the holiday itself so that his bodyguards could spend the day with their families. He treated his traveling press photographers to regular weenie roasts. He dragged Cabinet members up to Camp David for the weekend, whether they wanted to go or not. Asked in the final days of his transition what surprised him most about the spacious White House residence, Bush, who loved to throw spontaneous dinners, replied, “I can have 40 people up there.”

He could be wry. When TIME asked the new president to explain his decision-making process, he ordered an aide to take a Polaroid of him hovering over a crystal ball. The framed picture later arrived in the mail with a note: “The president wanted you to know how he really makes decisions.”\

All of these stories were typical of Bush, but they also had the virtue of cementing one overriding sensation as he prepared to be sworn in as America’s 41st president — that Ronald Reagan and the turbulent era he oversaw were over. Bush hoped, almost by sheer force of will (and impeccable manners), to usher in a more moderate, more reasonable era of American politics. “Normal” was a word that was used a lot around the Bush White House in the first year. He had promised in the campaign to work hard, keep the boat in the channel and get stuff done. He carried that theme into the most memorable, and most applauded, line of his brief 20-minute inaugural address: “The American public did not send us here to bicker.”

If his presidency would be arranged by temperament to be primarily custodial, it would also rarely be risky or unsettling. Bush knew he would need the cooperation of a Congress fully under Democratic control to get anything done. But the 41st president, among the best prepared men to be Commander in Chief in the 20th century, could not have foreseen that his biggest problems would come not from political rivals but from members of his own party. The GOP was approaching the end of a 30-year run, its core ideas and cherished causes largely achieved or overtaken by events. Straddling the end of one era and the start of another, Bush would struggle to keep his balance. His actions weren’t always elegant, but he would accomplish much more than he was given credit for.

Progress at Home — at a Price

Bush’s domestic agenda, at least by today’s standards, would be called ambitious: a quiet remaking of one sector of the country’s financial industry, a new civil-rights law, a bipartisan overhaul of clean-air rules, new investments in technology, and a dramatic rewrite of spending and taxing rules that would help to lay the groundwork for an economic boom. But at the time, it seemed ordinary and pragmatic. A lack of appreciation for its true scope stemmed in part from Bush’s occasional penchant for secrecy and his peculiar political position. The Bush agenda bumped up against a Grand Old Party that was not quite as cohesive as it seemed.

Bush was a social moderate, an internationalist and, despite his years in Texas, an Easterner by nature. Yet he was leading a party that since the mid-1970s had tilted ever more conservative, more Western, more Southern and less tolerant of social progress. That party loved Reagan, it had written Richard Nixon out of its history books, and it was a little suspicious of a man whose father, a senator from Greenwich, Conn., had been a Planned Parenthood supporter. So Bush had campaigned with country-and-western singers in tow, often bragged about eating (and liking) beef jerky, and had promised, forcefully and repeatedly, never to raise taxes.

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