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:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: In The Simpsons episode "Two Bad Neighbors", Homer and Bart attempt to prank Bush by posing as his sons Jeb and "George Bush Jr." Simpsons creator Matt Groening has stated that when they wrote that scene, they intended it as a joke and were completely unaware that there really was a George Bush Jr.
  • Arch-Enemy: Saddam Hussein. Inherited by his son George.
  • Attack of the Political Ad: Two words: Willie Horton.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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: 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: Has cultivated this image in his post-presidency.
    • Has made a habit of going skydiving on his birthday, up to his 90th in 2014....which is shared a photo and video of on his Twitter account. 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.
    • In retirement, he has taken to wearing bright, garish ties, with socks to match.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Gulf War ended up being one of these in favor of the United States and it's partners, which brought Bush then-record high approval ratings throughout 1991.
  • Follow the Leader: 44th and current President Barack Obama has spoken positively of Bush, he has said that his approach to foreign policy is inspired 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.
  • 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: Bush inviting his far-right primary challenger Pat Buchanan to speak at the 1992 Republican National Convention is regarded in hindsight as a major blunder. 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. It has also had a notable effect on his politician sons George W. Bush and Jeb Bush, as both have made significant efforts to use inclusive and multicultural platforms when running for office.
  • 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.
  • Iconic Item: His double-bridged trifocals and his World War II service pistol.
  • 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.
  • Nerd Glasses: He regularly wore a pair of double bridged trifocals throughout his years in power.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Subsequently, the Japanese have coined the slang-term "Bushu-suru" in reference to vomiting on another person.
  • 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 the public even more angry at him.
    • 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.


Appears in the following works:

Anime and Manga

Film
  • 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.

Music
  • 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.

Webcomics

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