Useful Notes: George H.W. Bush

Read my lips. No new taxes.

"We're going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like The Waltons and less like The Simpsons."
— Speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924-) was the 41st President of the United States, serving from 1989 to 1993, following Ronald Reagan and preceding Bill Clinton, and the seventeenth Republican president. He's currently the oldest living former president, beating out Jimmy Carter by less than four months. He is the father of the other President Bush, George W. Bush; he was known solely as "George Bush" until his son was elected. Also sometimes known as "H. W.", "Bush the Elder", "Bush Senior", "Bush 1.0", or "Bush 41" to distinguish him from his son. Along with John Adams, he's one of two Presidents whose son also became President. Bush's own father was also a politician, having served as a Senator.

In his earlier life, he had been a World War II naval aviator (and for a time was the youngest one), completing one mission with an aircraft on fire. He is the last World War II veteran to serve as President. Bush attended Yale University and was a member of the much talked about Skull and Bones society. He then became a millionaire in the Texas oil business and turned to politics, serving two terms in the House of Representatives. His political résumé includes a number of high-ranking positions in the federal government, such as the Ambassador to the United Nations, an envoy to China, and a year as Director of the CIA (the current CIA headquarters is named the George Bush Center for Intelligence in his honor). Richard Nixon appointed him as Chairman of the Republican National Convention in 1973, and Bush was one of the party leaders who, one year later, requested that Nixon resign rather than face impeachment trials. Bush ran for the Republican ticket for the White House in 1980 but lost to Ronald Reagan (the most memorable Bush quote and general media contribution, at least in the minds of liberals, is the phrase "Voodoo economics" to describe the economics of Reagan in one debate in 1980). Bush, expecting his political career to come to an end, was surprised when the Reagan campaign asked him to be Reagan's running mate, and he served two terms as Vice President during The '80s. At the end of Reagan's second term, he was encouraged to run for the presidency again, and won largely with the expectation that he would be a third term for the popular Reagan. This campaign featured three memorable moments: the Willie Horton ads, running mate Dan Quayle being told he is not someone else, and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis attempting to look tough by riding a tank but instead looking horribly out-of-place.

Like his son, Bush was known for generally having a poor media image. He didn't have a very magnetic personality, usually coming across as a bit of a nerdy old man. This was especially bad since he came right after Reagan's movie-star persona. It also didn't help that he wasn't the best speaker, often stumbling during the presidential debates when he had to go off-script. (His son escalated this Up to Eleven.) This, along with domestic problems that will be described below, led to the Republican Party losing the moderate Democratic votes it gained under Reagan. Despite his bad speaking skills, though, Bush actually was pretty intelligent. Many people remember him for using the term "a thousand points of light," in his speeches. However, most forgot that it was a metaphor for a number of Americans stepping up to volunteer in charity organizations after government funding was cut for many federal programs. This isn't helped by the fact that the phrase almost invariably gets quoted out of context, making it seem completely meaningless at best and downright goofy at worst. His satirical portrayal in media was largely guided by Dana Carvey's impression of him as a Cloud Cuckoolander, though the impression became more of a character in itself as time went on. Also mocked were Bush's professed dislike of broccoli and an incident in January 1992 where, overcome by illness at a state dinner, the president vomited into the lap of the Japanese prime minister (this is why ''bush-suru'' means "to vomit" in Japanese). However, it would be the perceived deficiencies of Vice President Dan Quayle that would become the main focus of satire during the presidency. No one who lived through the time will ever forget how he could not spell potato, and jokes about how the Secret Service had orders to kill Quayle if Bush died were shared by nearly everyone.

Nevertheless, he was quite accomplished in the field of foreign policy. As Reagan's VP, he had been a part of many internal policy debates, and was much more decisive than his then-image would imply. He came into office at a time when the world was going through some major changes - South Africa finally freed Nelson Mandela and started to end the apartheid era, free elections removed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and Red China's authoritarian control was challenged by student protesters. But most important was the end of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and the communist bloc collapsed, and many credit him with helping to preside over an orderly end to the Cold War, though he and Margaret Thatcher apparently had some very heated discussions during this period over what to do, primarily about Germany (Thatcher was against German reunification, Bush supported it). He signed treaties with Russia guaranteeing that they would honor the treaties the USSR signed with America during the Reagan years and smoothly established relations with the new governments of eastern Europe. Bush oversaw a 1989 American invasion of Panama to remove dictator Manuel Noriega, the United States' first military operation that wasn't related to the Cold War. He also sent troops to Somalia as part of a UN peacekeeping operation, but this backfired just months after he left office when the troops were attacked by the Somalians they were sent to protect.

His most famous foreign policy accomplishment was organizing victory in the first Gulf War. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein took the weapons Ronald Reagan, Leonid Brezhnev and Francois Mitterand had given him to fight theocratic Iran and instead invaded Kuwait in an attempt to corner the market on the region's oil and be able to essentially hold the West and the rest of the world hostage. Backed by broad international support, Bush sent in the armed forces—led by Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell—and successfully drove Hussein's forces out of Kuwait (to this day, Bush still has an extremely high favorability rating among grateful Kuwaitis). He then wisely chose not to go all the way to Baghdad and depose Saddam, and pulled the troops out in mid-1991, arguing that an invasion of Iraq would become a quagmire. He was actually criticized at the time for doing this, making the actions and criticism of his son doubly ironic (Bush Jr. would be criticized because he deposed Saddam, and the war indeed became a quagmire). Following success in Kuwait, Bush had a then record-high approval rating of 89%, a record only his son briefly surpassed immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Arguing that the peaceful end of the Cold War and the international support from nearly every country on Earth was a sign of a new era, Bush declared that a "New World Order" of international cooperation was beginning (cooky conspiracy theorists had a field day with this one). Bush openly admitted in an interview while he was in office that he preferred foreign policy to domestic policy. The current sitting President, Barack Obama, is on record as admiring Bush's foreign policy, and they do have some similarities in that department.

That being said, despite Bush's foreign policy accomplishments, it was domestic issues that sunk his reelection bid. Though he did manage a handful of acclaimed domestic acts (notably passing the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect the handicapped from discrimination), it's widely acknowledged that he stumbled when it came to things at home. Running on a promise of "Read my lips—No new taxes!", he did in fact raise taxes after a Democrat-controlled Congress pressured him to do something about the skyrocketing national debt. Many people who voted for him, especially hardcore Republicans, were disappointed by this show of bipartisanship and felt that Bush surrendered. It's probably a Never Live It Down moment for Bush. His nomination of Clarance Thomas to the Supreme Court became very controversial when a woman working under Thomas accused him of sexual harassment (though he was still confirmed to the Court, albeit narrowly, and it was never proven that he did it), painting Bush as a somewhat clueless figure who was unconcerned with women's rights. Concerned over a growing crime epidemic, Bush called on Americans to help make a "kindler, gentler America," but crime rates continued to rise during his four years. Culminating in the infamous Los Angeles race riots of 1992, crime rates in post-WWII America reached an all-time high in the early 90's - they were almost twice what they are today, just slightly over 20 years later.note 

Worst of all, though, was the economy, A recession, caused by economic complications from the end of the Cold War, the savings and loans crisis, and the long-term effects on 1987's stock market crash, started in late 1990. It continued for the next two years, and unemployment, only a bit above a very acceptable 5% when he entered office, rose to 7.8% just months before election day. In less than a year in a half, his record approval rating plummeted to around 30%. His own party wasn't very fond of him by this point, and he had to deal with a nomination challenge from columnist Pat Buchanan; Bush managed to win the party ticket, but it was clear that the Republican Party was not as enthusiastic for him as they were for Reagan. Additionally, most people usually agree that the Bush reelection campaign wasn't very good, and on the campaign trail he seemed tired and unmotivated. Given his poor camera image and the weak economy, it wasn't a surprise when Bush lost the 1992 election to the charismatic and media-friendly Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. Clinton was part of a group of moderate baby-boomer Democrats who helped move the party to the center after the conservative renaissance under Reagan. It also helped that a third party candidate, Ross Perot, took nearly 19% of the popular vote, including many GOP votes. The very divisive NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was signed by Bush in 1992, but it was passed through Congress after he left office.

Bush has received a much higher retrospective rating in public opinion polls (as is common with most former presidents), however, and has even teamed up with Bill Clinton (with whom he is now very good friends) for several charitable projects such as providing relief for the victims of the 2005 tsunami in Asia and other natural disasters. His wife Barbara was often parodied for her white hair, which made her look older than her husband. She was a distant relative of another president, Franklin Pierce, making their son a relative of two presidents. Having currently been married for over 67 years, they are the longest-married presidential couple in American history. Bush's health has been pretty shaky in recent years; he's currently using a wheelchair, and he keeps going in and out of hospitals. Doesn't stop him from going skydiving, though.

He was the first sitting Vice President to win election to the presidency since Martin Van Buren, 152 years earlier. Coincidentally, he also followed a popular two-term president and lost reelection due to a weak economy.

The thousand tropes of light:

  • Ambadassador: Foreign policy scholars have argued that out of the US Presidents of the late 20th century, he probably had the most diplomatic acumen.
  • Arch-Enemy: Saddam Hussein. Inherited by his son George.
  • Attack of the Political Ad: Two words: Willie Horton.
  • Badass:
    • In 1989, during his first televised speech to the nation, Bush held up a bag of cocaine purchased at Lafayette Park, using it as an example of the need to combat recreational drug use.
    • Bush was a bomber pilot for the US Navy during World War II, one of the youngest in service at the time. He narrowly escaped capture by Japanese forces after his plane was shot down, and completed one mission while his plane was in flames.
    • Interestingly; during his time as Vice-President Bush had somehow wound up being considered a "wimp"; an image he didn't begin to shake until the 1988 Presidential campaign following a nearly 10 minute verbal shootout with CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather. His leadership during the Gulf War finished off the last vestiges of the wimp label.
  • Badass Decay: As described in The Other Wiki, throughout 1992 the popular image of Bush went from "conquering hero" to "politician befuddled by economic matters".
  • Badass Grandpa: He began practising skydiving in the age of 80. He has made his latest jump on his 90th birthday.
  • Baseball: He was captain of the baseball team while he attended Yale University, and actually met Babe Ruth once.
  • Bald of Awesome: Shaved his head in mid-2013 to show solidarity with a member of his security detail, whose son has leukemia.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: A 1992 New York Times article famously portrayed Bush as being amazed by a common supermarket scanner, which helped to paint him as an elitist who was out of touch with everyday American life. In reality, the scanner that Bush was so impressed with was an advanced prototype that could weigh groceries and decipher mangled and torn bar codes. It was later discovered that the writer of the infamous article wasn't even present at the convention where Bush was shown the scanner in question.
    • In a 1987 speech, Bush is claimed to have said, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.… I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists." However, the only source of publicity for this remark is from an atheist advocate, none of the major media outlets covering the speech reported or replicated it.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Don't be fooled by Bush's kindly old man personality, his Nerd Glasses or his speeches about strengthening the American family, he is one of the most badass President Actions we have had.
  • Buffy Speak: Before there was Buffy, there was Bushspeak. The term "Bushism" was originally coined to describe these kinds of statements from Bush Sr, before becoming more associated with George W. Bush.
    • "Look, how was the actual deployment thing?"- to astronauts aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, May 9, 1989.
    • "Murder, that kind of thing, and I feel a little, I will say, uncomfortable with the elevation of the religion thing."- Meet the Press, September 16, 1984.
    • "You know, the civil disobedience thing."
    • "I've never felt stronger politically in my life. It's hard to tell, but I just can't accept the tarnished-image thing." (on the effects of the Iran-Contra scandal.)
    • "The drought thing."
    • "The women thing." (On his unpopularity with female voters.)
    • "Oh, the vision thing" (on where he wants to lead the country.) This quote inadvertently gave the Sisters of Mercy the title of their third album, and also inspired the title of an episode of Angel.
  • Conspiracy Theory:
    • Oh, boy. The first Bush is a favorite among conspiracy theorists. With possible exceptions of his son and Barack Obama and the clear exception of John F. Kennedy, there are more conspiracy theories surrounding Bush than any other modern president.
    • The most common one, which has gained some acceptance by the general population, is that Bush knew about the Iran-Contra affair and/or had some kind of involvement in it. The idea that he had some kind of involvement in the affair is mainly driven by how he pardoned everyone who was facing charges as a result of it in January 1993, days before he left office.
    • There are a ton of conspiracy theories surrounding the shootout with militia activists in Ruby Ridge. The incident played a large role in inspiring Timothy McVeigh to commit the Oklahoma City Bombing.
    • There are allegations that he played a role in the John F. Kennedy assassination. How large a role depends on what conspiracy theorist you ask. Of course, pretty much every famous person from the mid-20th century has been accused by conspiracy theorists of playing some part in it.
    • Of course, there are also a number of conspiracy theories surrounding the overthrow of Manuel Noriega and the Gulf War.
    • His talk of a post-Cold War "New World Order" was meant to be an optimistic image of the global community coming to a consensus in favor of liberal democracy and human rights, but paranoid conspiracy theorists immediately seized on the phrase and began feverishly fantasizing about secret international conspiracies, insane theories that NAFTA was some sort of first step to a "North American Union" (which for whatever reason is treated as a much more sinister concept than the fairly innocuous European Union), and other bizarre theories.
    • Another major conspiracy is that he talked the Iranian government into delaying the hostages' release so he and Reagan would have an easier time winning the 1980 election over Jimmy Carter. For what it's worth, former Iranian President Abulhassan Banisadr and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir attest to this.
    • Many conspiracy buffs mistake (or equate) his membership in Skull and Bones, a fraternity at Yale, with him being a Freemason, so he gets lumped in with Masonic world domination plots.
    • Some had speculated Bush was the mastermind of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan due to claims that one of Bush's sons, Neil, was supposed to have met with the father of John Warnick Hinckley, Jr. shortly before the shooting.note 
    • For what it's worth, British conspiracy theory David Icke claims that Bush is a prolific pedophile and a shape-shifting lizard.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • He went skydiving on three of his birthdays after he left the White House. Including on his 85th!
    • In retirement, he has taken to wearing bright, garish ties, with socks to match.
    • How did he celebrate his 90th birthday? By parachuting out of a helicopter. He's been famous for making it a habit to stay as physically active as he can. The fact that he's been skydiving and doing other activities despite being both elderly and dealing with Parkinson's Disease just adds to the badassery.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
    • For left-wingers, it's when he resigned his NRA membership and delivered a "The Reason You Suck" Speech directed at them when they didn't condemn the Oklahoma City Bombings and seemed to support some of bomber Timothy McVeigh's radical views.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Oversaw two during his time in office, Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and the Gulf War in 1990. Main reason for his President Action ranking.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Bush is good friends with Bill Clinton, the Democratic challenger who unseated him in the 1992 Presidential election.
  • The '80s: Bush was a major political figure throughout the decade. Despite being President for the first three years of the decade, people generally don't associate him with The '90s. A good example of how the first few years of the Nineties were largely the remains of the Eighties leaking over.
  • Follow the Leader: 44th President Barack Obama has claimed that his foreign policy is influenced by Bush's.
  • Generation Xerox:
    • 8 years after his Presidency ended, his eldest son George was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States.
    • Coincidentally, Dubya was also a wartime President whose time in office was mostly defined by foreign policy.
    • One of Dubya's twin daughters is named Barbara, after Bush Sr.'s wife and former first lady Barbara Bush.
    • Something of an Aversion, though, since their political stances and executive style are more different than one would expect. (For example, the first Bush was pro-choice while the second was pro-life, and the second had a significantly more aggressive foreign policy.)
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Bush is a universally-admired hero figure in Kuwait due to his near instrumental role in liberating them from Iraq during the Gulf War.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser:
    • The cause of both the 1989 Panama invasion and the Gulf War. Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein were both supported/funded by the CIA and had relations with the Reagan administration. However, both began using their CIA support and funding for unintended purposes; Noriega used his to set up a massive drug empire and Hussein used his to invade Kuwait and try to corner the world's oil market. Bush's role in both conflicts, especially the Panama invasion, were controversial because of his and the Reagan administration's ties to both regimes. A good summary of public opinion in this regard can be seen in Bill Hicks' statement that the government seems to have developed a policy of selling its old, outdated weapons to third-world dictators and then turning around and blowing them into next week with the newest weapons when they start to act out.
    • Bush did this in 1992 and it came back to bite him big time. At that year's Republican National Convention Bush invited Pat Buchanan, the hard right-wing political commentator who unsuccessfully challenged Bush for the Republican presidential nomination that year, a spot as a keynote speaker. The speech Buchanan gave - known at the "Culture War Speech" - talked about an impending "culture war" between conservative white Christian baby boomers and socially liberal minorities and youths of generation X. It claimed that Bush was on their side while Clinton was on the side of the undesirable social liberals. (Its hysterical tone led Molly Ivins to joke that the speech "probably sounded better in the original German".) Needless to say, it did significant damage to Bush's public image and his chances at reelection; it sent moderates running to the Clinton-Gore ticket in droves and is seen today as a significant factor in Bush losing his reelection bid.
      • The "culture war" speech and the damage it did to Bush's public support had a profound effect on his children, especially his son Jeb. Jeb Bush has frequently criticized the Republican party for going too far to the right and for promoting an agenda that appeals to only white Christians, claiming the Republican party is too quickly becoming the "angry white guy party." He has also repeatedly warned that the Republican party needs to become more socially moderate and more inclusive to minorities if it is to remain competitive in the future. His warnings were vindicated with the 2012 presidential election when Barack Obama, who had an approval rating of less than 50%, was decisively reelected against Republican challenger Mitt Romney; Obama won overwhelming support from youth, women and minorities, all of who were driven away from Romney due to the Republican party's strongly socially conservative agenda.
      • It also had an influence on George W. Bush. He made a point to book a very diverse group of speakers from all races and creeds for the 2000 Republican National Convention and throughout his presidency he took neutral positions on a number of social issues, the most notable being homosexuality. However, pressure from politically influential conservative Christian groups such as Focus on the Family close to his 2004 re-election bid forced Bush to promote some controversial pieces of legislation favored by the hard right, such as the Federal Marriage Amendment and Teach the Controversy. Despite this, Bush still tried to maintain social neutrality during the 2004 campaign; most famous is how during a debate when asked if homosexuality is a natural condition, Bush simply responded, "I don't know." After he won reelection and the Federal Marriage Amendment failed in congress, Bush moved back to generally neutral social positions.
  • Graceful Loser: Bush left the following note, addressed to his successor Bill Clinton, on the President's desk upon leaving the oval office for the last time: "I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described. There will be very rough times, made ever more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice; but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well."
  • Handicapped Badass: What Bush is today, now that Parkinson's disease has confined him to a wheelchair.
  • Headbutting Heroes:
    • Despite the US and UK being strong allies, Bush and Margaret Thatcher disagreed on almost everything related to handling the major changes occurring in the world in the late 80s/early 90s. Bush regularly overruled and undermined Thatcher's opinions and initiatives related to handling said changes. He got along a lot better with her successor, John Major.
    • One can not blame Bush for undermining Thatcher the way he did, considering that by 1989 a lot of her views towards foreign policy could be described as hysterical, to say the least. For example, she was afraid that a reunified Germany would behave similarly to how the country behaved under Nazi rule and begin a new period of imperialism; she even called Mikhail Gorbachev and begged him to keep the Berlin Wall shut.
    • He got along so well with Major that after Bush lost in 1992, Anglo-American relations suffered greatly because Major and Bill Clinton couldn't even stand to speak to one another. As above, Clinton got on better with Tony Blair.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: At a December 22, 1989 press conference about Operation Just Cause, in response to a reporter's question about sending members of his cabinet to China without telling the public, Bush stated noted that sometimes the President has to act in secret to protect American interests in foreign policy, stating, "I am going to do my job in the best way I see fit and if the American people don't like it, then I am going to see somebody else take my job." And then Bush lost reelection.
  • History Repeats: Consciously ran to the left of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primaries and 1988 general election.
  • Hyper Competent Sidekick: To Ronald Reagan.
    • Some Presidential historians have theorized that by 1987, Bush was all-but running the Reagan Administration and that Reagan himself had been reduced to being a figurehead. See The Man Behind the Man below.
  • Iconic Item: His double-bridged trifocals and his World War II service pistol.
  • Idiot Ball: Bush during the 1992 election, where he more or less defeated himself. Remember he had an approval rating near 80% the year before.
  • Lighter and Softer: His stated goal for his time in office was to make America a "kinder and gentler nation" and a "global force for good" in the post-Cold War world.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Some Presidential historians have theorized that during Reagan's second term, the high demands of the Presidency and his advanced age had taken detrimental effects on his mental health, and that by 1987 Bush was basically running the Administration and that Reagan himself was barely more than a figurehead. However, this has been disputed.
  • Nerves of Steel: As Vice President, in 1983 Bush confronted El Savadorian leader Alvaro Magana, threatening to end all US aid to his country unless he ended the use of death squads and held fully free elections... while sitting in a bloodstained room in Magana's palace, surrounded by gunmen brandishing semiautomatic rifles.
  • Nerd Glasses: He regularly wore a pair of double bridged trifocals throughout his years in power.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In hindsight, many feel that Bush defeated himself in the 1992 election. In late 1991, his approval ratings were above 80% and most observers thought that he would skate to an easy reelection. This must have made Bush complacent, as he ran a halfhearted campaign and quit putting serious effort forth to stimulate the economy, believing that it was "good enough" for him to get reelected. This allowed him to be easily overshadowed by the charismatic and energetic Bill Clinton by the media. Bush's failure to distance himself from his hard right challenger Pat Buchanan (See "Go Karting With Bowser") and his horrible debate performances (See "Oh Crap" below, as well as an incident where he was caught checking his watch while an opponent was answering a question) were the nails in the coffin, and Clinton soundly defeated him.
  • Oh Crap!: Bush hilariously displayed a "Oh Crap" look on his face after Bill Clinton handily outwitted him on a question he fumbled in a 1992 Presidential debate. Many have theorized it was at that moment Bush realized he had no hope of winning the election. (As the election inched closer, one of Bush's campaign advisers openly admitted that the campaign wasn't expecting a victory and its main goal was to "draw even with Clinton". This didn't happen either.)
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Bush is the Trope Codifier for the "President Action" variant.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome:
    • While Bush was respected, he never achieved the widespread adulation that Ronald Reagan enjoyed. He was first overshadowed by Reagan's awesomeness during the 1980 Presidential primaries, when Reagan defeated Bush for the nomination, and then was overshadowed again during the Reagan-Bush presidency, and then during Bush's own presidency Reagan still seemed to overshadow him. That being said, the two ended up having a close relationship and the eulogy Bush delivered at Reagan's funeral is definitely a Tear Jerker.
    • This can also be applied to the 1992 Presidential election, where despite being the sitting President, Bush found himself endlessly overshadowed by the energetic and charismatic Bill Clinton. However, some have argued that this is Bush's own fault as he ran a very half-hearted reelection campaign.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • While he was generally spurned and ignored by Reagan, Bush regularly invited 39th President Jimmy Carter to the White House and sought his advice on a number of issues, which played a significant part in bringing Carter newfound respect from the American public as an elder statesman and rehabilitating his image after his unpopular one-term presidency.
    • While there were some rumors that Bush 41 was in favor of same-sex marriage (unlike his son), they were pretty much confirmed when he served as the official legal witness to the same-sex marriage of a lesbian couple he was friends with.
  • Politician Guest Star: Bush frequently made appearances in TV shows and movies throughout his Presidency. Notable in that he actually played himself, as opposed to the film just using archive footage to portray the President.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Bush's Vice President, Dan Quayle. Many Republicans saw Quayle as such a liability that they suggested that Bush find a new running mate for his 1992 reelection bid.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: During the 1984 Vice Presidential debate, Bush was the calm, pragmatic and knowledgeable Blue Oni to Geraldine Ferraro's energetic and partisan Red Oni.
  • Retired Badass: At 90 years young, he's a World War II veteran. As mentioned at the top of the page, he was a naval aviator and once completed a mission while his plane was on fire.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Progressives, moderates, and even moderate conservatives began to grow increasingly alarmed by the rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party, which began during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Even if they didn't dislike Bush personally or won't necessarily opposed to his job performance, they felt that knocking him off in the 1992 election was a necessity in order to send a message of rejection to the Christian Right's attempts to inject fundamentalist religion into mainstream American politics and hopefully stamp out their influence within the party before it went too far. This formed a large portion of the support for Ross Perot's third-party nomination, while the more progressive leaning voters swung to Clinton. Bush getting a bit too close to hard-right challenger Pat Buchanan during the 1992 Republican National Convention only solidified their concerns. While they were successful in ousting Bush, it failed to have the intended effect as the Christian Right only got stronger throughout the 1990s as Bill Clinton turned out to be the perfect bogeyman for them to rally their conservative base against. The Christian Right would reach their peak influence during the Turn of the Millennium under George W. Bush, before seeing their influence begin to decline in The New Tens under Barack Obama. After Obama soundly defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney for reelection in 2012 despite having an approval rating in the 40s, the Christian Right began becoming more alienated from mainstream politics as Republican strategists began viewing them as more of a liability for the party than an asset.
    • How concerned were establishment conservatives with the growing influence of the Christian Right come the early 1990s? As Barry Goldwater famously warned in 1994: "Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them."
  • So Okay, It's Average: Historians' general consensus of his presidency.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In perhaps the most famous moment of his post-presidency, Bush delivered one to the NRA when he resigned his life membership in 1995 because they refused to condemn the Oklahoma City Bombing and seemed to support some of bomber Timothy McVeigh's radical views.
    • More recently, he delivered one directed at conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist in 2012 due to all the fiscal cliff brinkmanship going on because the Republican-majority House of Representatives refused to support Barack Obama's plan to raise taxes on top earners back to 1990s levels as they signed Norquist's Taxpayers Protection Pledge. Said pledge more-or-less states that they will never raise any taxes under any circumstances. (One alienated representative described it as "No taxes, even if your country goes to shit!") Norquist responded to Bush with, "Your tax increases got you booted out of office by the voters, so shut the fuck up."
  • The Spymaster: Was the head of the CIA at one point. Afterwards, his experience in this field helped hone his foreign policy skills.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When running for President in 1988, he sold a Bush Presidency as being comparable to a third term for sitting President Ronald Reagan.
  • Those Two Guys: Worked with Bill Clinton to rally bipartisan support for various causes starting during the administration of George W. Bush.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Having to follow the charismatic Ronald Reagan hurt people's perception of him.
  • Vindicated by History:
    • Despite having a 34% approval rating throughout 1992, a survey conducted in December 2008 showed that 60% of Americans now view him as a good President.
    • If this 2013 editorial is any indication, political scholars and commentators are also coming around to acknowledge that Bush was a better president than he is given credit for.
    • Bush's commitment to reducing the Reagan budget deficits is widely justified today, as the current large budget deficits and high amount of public debt the United States government faces is now a major political issue.
    • On that note, while Bush's actions to curb the deficit were unpopular at the time, many now credit them for being fundamentally behind the consecutive budget surpluses the government posted at the end of Bill Clinton's second term.
    • One of the reasons Bush negotiated a compromise with the Democratic-majority Congress that included tax increases was that the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act had been adopted years earlier under Reagan, mandating that the deficit be reduced or else mandatory cuts that would've been bitter to swallow for both parties would be implemented as part of the budget sequestration procedure, and that a long standoff between Bush and Congress would've risked a government shutdown and triggered the automatic cuts. Now why does that sound familiar?
    • Word of God says that the reason why Bush didn't overthrow Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War is because he felt that overthrowing Hussein would lead to a long and messy occupation of Iraq that he wouldn't want the United States to be involved in. While many questioned his decision at the time, it was later justified as his prediction of a long and messy occupation came true when his son overthrew Hussein 12 years later.
    • Some view his tax increases as actually being a positive thing that helped limit the damage of the recession that hit his term.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: In January 1992, Bush was famously videotaped vomiting in the lap of then-Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa after falling ill at a state dinner.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • In 1988, Bush famously promised "No new taxes" during his Presidency. However, one of his biggest goals was the eliminate the huge budget deficits left over from Reagan; While Bush wanted to accomplish this with spending cuts and closing tax loopholes, the Democratic majority in Congress refused to consider any proposal that didn't include tax increases. Scrambling, Bush caved to the Democrats and increased tax revenues. While reneging on a prominent campaign promise was bad enough, the fact that the United States was in the middle of a recession at the time made his decision look even more stupid.
    • Interestingly, Bush's economic adviser during the 1988 campaign, Richard Darman, fiercely criticized the pledge - when shown an initial draft of the acceptance speech, he crossed out the "no new taxes" part and called it "stupid and dangerous", worrying that it would handcuff the administration. Darman, a key architect of the 1982 tax increase signed by Reagan, turned out to be right.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Bush was a very competent foreign policy President who steered America through the 1989 invasion of Panama, the fall of Communism in late 1989, the reunification of Germany in 1990, the Gulf War of 1990-1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to unanimous success and high approval ratings. However, as the world stabilized and attention turned instead to domestic issues through 1992, which Bush handled lacklusterly and admitted that he wasn't as interested in as foreign policy, his popularity tanked and voters happily voted him out in favor of Democratic challenger Bill Clinton later that year.

In media:

Anime and Manga

  • He's the president in The Naked Gun. He applauds Drebbin's inspiring speech, but a little less whole-heartedly when he talks about his desire for a viable Democrat candidate to the White House.
  • James Cromwell portrays him as an exasperated yet enabling dad in Oliver Stone's film W., a biopic about George W. Bush.
    "Poppy" (paraphrased): Drinking and partying... You're a Bush, not a Kennedy! Jr. explains that he was celebrating getting into Harvard Business and: "Of course you did, who do you think pulled the strings to get you in?"
    And later, in one of Jr.'s nightmares: Dream!Poppy: A hundred years it took to build up the Bush name and you single-handedly destroyed it!
  • He appears at the beginning of Under Siege, giving the ship it's final sendoff.
  • Appears briefly on TV in The Big Lebowski. His "This aggression will not stand" speech serves as a motto for The Stoner protagonist, whose rug has been defaced. It's a peculiar movie.

Live-Action TV
  • He visits McKinley High School in Freaks and Geeks. Though he is never shown, the episode ends with Liz asking him a pointed political question.
  • His puppet was a frequent visitor to DC Follies
  • Dana Carvey has talked about the time that Bush invited him to the White House. So Bush does have some sense of humor.
    • Bush actually appeared on Saturday Night Live, essentially imitating Dana Carvey's imitation of him ("Wouldn't be prudent.")
  • One episode of The Golden Girls featured a Secret Service member interviewing the girls for a potential meet and greet with the president; Dorothy, an outspoken liberal, plans to chew him out. This backfires when he actually shows up.
    Bush: You're a teacher. Do you have any ideas on how we could improve the education system?
    Dorothy: (shaking his hand) ...Bush!
    Bush: Well then, it's nice to meet you too. ...Could you let go of my hand now?
  • The script of The Day After called for a Bush impersonator to make the presidential speech broadcast near the end of the film. For unknown reasons, the production actually used a voice actor who sounded like Ronald Reagan, which prompted criticism (as the writer correctly forecast) from the political right; in later DVD releases, the speech is given by a stereotypically presidential voice unlike either Reagan or Bush.

  • Ministry's "New World Order" looped quotes from his speech mentioned above, arguably making it the first Stupid Statement Dance Mix.
  • Epica used George HW Bush's "No new taxes" quote in their song "Semblance of Liberty." However, it should be stated that he said this twenty years ago, and hardly has the same level of relevance (some say they picked the wrong Bush to attack).
    • Megadeth used the same quote much sooner after the fact, in 1992's "Foreclosure Of A Dream."
  • Neil Young references Bush's "thousand points of light" comments in "Rockin' in the Free World".
  • Anthrax also references "thousand points of light" with the song "1000 Points of Hate".
  • The 2LiveCrew sampled a soundbite where he proclaims the United States government to be a government "Of the people, for the people, by the people" in their 1990 song "Banned in the USA". Video of Bush giving the soundbite is included in the song's music video.

Newspaper Comics
  • In Doonesbury, like many politicians, he was a literally Invisible President. After simply not being depicted for a time (outside of an sequence where he "signed his manhood over" to President Reagan), representing his avoiding the Iran-Contra and Noriega affairs and low-key style, then by a spark referring to a "thousand points of light" speech.


Web Original
  • He appears in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72, an Alternate History about a different 1972 presidential election. Bush, who was serving as Nixon's representative to the United Nations, is made Secretary of State by President Spiro Agnew. However, he's appalled by the President's ineptitude and swiftly becomes important in a conspiracy to have him impeached.
  • Brazilian webcomic wwwchargesdotcomdotbr had a short series of stories called "Novas Versões para Velhos Desenhos" (New Versions for Old Cartoons). The first was with George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush as Augie Doggie And Doggie Daddy. Bush Junior told his "dear old Dad" he'd bomb Iraq just like he did. Bush Daddy said he was proud of his son. In another one, a woman was giving her daughter tips of how to dress and the daughter rejected, stating the decade they were living wasn't the eighties. The mother then pointed out similarities between the two decades. One of them was the US having a President Bush who declared war on Iraq.
  • In the Alternate History A Giant Sucking Sound, he is killed in a 1993 attack by Iraqi security forces that was stopped OTL. This leads to a long presence of US troops in the Middle East.

Western Animation
  • Has one of the more epic introductions in Saturday Night Live "TV Playhouse" segment "The X-Presidents", and they always lampoon his active post-presidential life. Whenever the team is summoned, he's having sex with Barbara. Whenever the X-First Ladies are summoned, Barbara is smoking.
  • Having first premiered during his presidency, The Simpsons frequently takes potshots at him.
    • In "Two Bad Neighbors", he and Barbara moved to Springfield, becoming next-door neighbors with the Simpson family. "Now apologize for the tax-hike".
    • In "Rosebud", he is not allowed to attend Mr. Burns' birthday because he was a single termer. He was kicked to the curb with Jimmy Carter.
    Bush: [shoving Carter out of his way] Get away from me, loser.
    • In "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington", when Lisa won her family a trip to Washington, they met then-First Lady Bush.
    • In "Realty Bites", when Marge got a job as a realtor and was fired, she was seen at unemployment offices receiving a check and stating she felt bad for taking it for doing nothing. Bush, who was also there, told her it gets easier with time.
    • In "Large Marge", he is once seen with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton building domiciles for the destitutes. Their interaction is like The Three Stooges featuring Clinton as Curly, Carter as Larry, and Bush as Moe.
    • Harry Shearer, who voices Bush, also based the voice of survivalist Herman on him.
    • In "The Old Man and the Lisa", Mr. Burns' trip to a grocery store on his own was inspired by the apocryphal account of Bush's amazement at a grocery store scanner.
  • Bush 41 and his wife Barbara (in live action) introduce Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue.
  • Histeria! took his broccoli ban and made it the subject of a Green Eggs and Ham parody.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures had an episode where Bush 41 and Dan Quayle are called in by Buster and Babs to save Wackyland from being robbed of its humor by a Moral Guardian. Hilarious in Hindsight considering the episode premiered the day AFTER Bush 41 was defeated in the 1992 Presidential election by Bill Clinton. He is portrayed as a Reasonable Authority Figure who tells Babs and Buster he can't solve everything.
  • Naturally, as the title character's father, he appeared frequently on Lil Bush.
  • He can be seen talking on the telephone in the Adventures Of Super Mario Bros 3 episode "Reptiles in the Rose Garden", apparently unaware of Bowser uprooting the White House out of Washington DC.

Alternative Title(s):

George HW Bush