Part I: CAVU
Narrator: September 2, 1944, was what Navy pilots called CAVU -- ceiling and visibility unlimited. It would be Ensign George H. W. Bush's 50th mission in his three-man Avenger bomber. He was commissioned in 1943 at age 19, the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy. Bush had seen action in June over the Mariana Islands in one of the biggest air battles of the Pacific War. The target September 2nd was a Japanese radio tower on the tiny island of Chichi Jima. Bush dove into black puffs of anti-aircraft fire. "Suddenly, I felt the plane jolt," he remembered, "and the smoke started pouring in." He finished his bombing run, banked out to sea so the crew could get out, and then bailed out himself.
George H. W. Bush: Looked up and the parachute had been ripped up. Landed in the water. Swam over, got into my little life raft.
Narrator: The submarine U.S.S. Finback, on patrol for downed pilots, rescued him.
George H. W. Bush: I remember seeing that submarine surface. And I remember pulling along side and I remember a bunch of bearded guys standing there.
Narrator: For the next month, George Bush joined the Finback's crew. Aboard he agonized about the fate of his gunner Ted White and radioman John Delaney. One went down with the plane. The other's chute never opened. "It still plagues me if I gave those guys enough time to get out," the former flyboy said with quiet emotion almost 60 years later. "I think about those guys all the time."
Timothy Naftali, biographer: He was an emotive, an emotional leader, much more emotional than people thought. He cried quite readily. One thing that made George Bush a less appealing candidate was that he refused to show his emotions. That's not what a man did -- a man of his generation and of his upbringing. And so the public saw a slightly awkward man who didn't seem quite ready to share his true self with them. When you got to know him, the human side, the emotional side was there. It came out.
Narrator: "I'll never forget the beauty of the Pacific," Bush would write about the watches he stood at night. He had time to think about "how much family meant to me."
Narrator: George Herbert Walker Bush grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut in a family that came from Ohio and became one of New England's prominent families. His grandfather, Samuel Bush, made his fortune in railroads in Columbus. His father, Prescott, went to Yale and remained in the East. Prescott Bush was a partner in Brown Brothers Harriman, the most prestigious investment bank on Wall Street at a time when the influence of the WASP establishment in America, the white Anglo Saxon Protestants, was near its peak. Averell Harriman, Prescott's colleague and the firm's founding partner, was an aide to President Franklin Roosevelt in World War II. He then became U.S. ambassador in Moscow. His partner Robert Lovett was Assistant Secretary of War. After the war they were among a group known as the "Wise Men" who helped President Truman fashion the policy of containing the Soviet Union.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Prescott Bush was very much at home with the wise men, the essentially bipartisan, consensus-seeking, post-World War II statesmen. If you think of people like Robert Lovett, they didn't run for office, they exercised enormous power and influence from appointed positions.
Evan Thomas, co-author, The Wise Men: Even when Bush was a schoolboy in the 1930's at a time when America was isolationist, these men, these Wall Street financiers, were acutely conscious that America had to stay involved in the world, partly for financial reasons. I mean, Brown Brothers Harriman did business all around the world. They did business in France, in Germany, and in England. But also because of this American tradition of spreading democracy and standing up for democracy and standing up for, as they saw it, for right against wrong.
Narrator: George Bush was raised in this milieu -- people of wealth who devoted themselves to government service. His father, who later became a Senator, was the moderator of the Greenwich town meeting when George was a boy. He was George's model for public service.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: Prescott Bush wanted his children to understand was that there was a world beyond the boundaries of Greenwich, and that they were expected to give something back to that world, whether it be through business, whether it be through public service, or whether it be through military service.
Narrator: Young George also bore the strong influence of his mother, Dorothy Walker Bush.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: It was my grandmother who taught my Dad the basic lessons in life that he still adheres to. One time my dad was playing soccer in elementary school, and he came in and he was thrilled with himself because he'd scored three goals, and he said, "Mom, I've scored three goals." And he said, "Mom, I've scored three goals." And she said, "Well, that's nice, George, but how did the team do? He always heard her voice in his head, saying, "Don't brag about yourself." And that's hard to do when you're running for President of the United States.
Narrator: The Finback, Bush would write, "moved like a porpoise, water lapping over its bow, the sea changing colors, first jet black, then sparkling white. It reminded me of home and our family vacations in Maine." Bush was the fourth generation of his mother's family to summer at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport. It would become his spiritual home. George bore the name of his grandfather, George Herbert Walker, for whom the Walker's Cup, an international golf trophy, was named. His competitive spirit came from the Walkers.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: My grandmother was a champion tennis player. She would play tennis until her feet were blistered and raw. She loved competition. She was a great golfer. She was a great baseball player. One time she hit a home run, rounded the bases, and then went on to the hospital to give birth to my father's oldest brother, Prescott.
Narrator: George Bush was captain of his baseball team at Andover, a prestigious prep school in Massachusetts. In fielding drills he would charge the plate from first base, "right down the baseline, streaking in," a biographer would write, "laughing with the pure joy of contest. That's why he was the one for captain. It was the glint of Walker steel his teammates saw. They wanted their team to be like that." At Andover Bush listened to radio broadcasts on the history of aviation in America.
ANNC radio (archival): Wings Over America... Welcome to Yale Unit Base #1, ladies and gentlemen...
Narrator: A group of wealthy aristocratic Yale students, including Robert Lovett, his father's business partner, turned their college "aero" club into the First Yale Unit. The "millionaire's unit," as the press dubbed it, became the nucleus of the navy air corps and an inspiration for George to become a naval aviator.
ANNC radio (archival): Our standard long-range bombardment airplane is known in the Air Corps as the B-17, the Boeing Flying Fortress.
Narrator: "Today our world is presented with the clearest issue between right and wrong which has ever been presented to it," Andover's commencement speaker warned on June 14, 1940 shortly after Hitler launched his blitzkrieg. The speaker was Henry L. Stimson, a Republican, a Wall Street lawyer, the very embodiment of the East coast establishment. Two days later President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, named him Secretary of War.
Evan Thomas, co-author, The Wise Men: When Bush was an impressionable schoolboy, a 16-year-old schoolboy, he heard Henry Stimson give a speech about the coming threat from Nazism, from fascism, that it was the duty of the country to stand up to fascism. This is 1940. This is early in the game. A lot of Americans are still isolationists. But Stimson's telling these schoolboys, "Look, it's up to you, to you young leaders, future leaders of America, to stand up to evil and fight back."
Narrator: These were words the 16-year-old sophomore never forgot. Stimson, whom Bush regarded as "a towering world figure", returned to Andover two years later and urged the graduating class to go to college before joining the service. Bush rejected both Stimson's advice and his father's. Later that day, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. It was June 12, 1942, his 18th birthday.
Barbara Bush, wife: His father took him to Penn Station, and George said his father put his arms around him and had tears in his eyes when he said good-bye.
Narrator: That was, Bush recalled, the first time he saw his father cry. From the Finback, Bush wrote his girl back home, "I hope my own children never have to fight a war." Friends disappearing. Lives being extinguished. It's just not right." Barbara Pierce grew up in Rye, New York. Her father, who became the publisher of McCall's magazine, commuted to New York on the same train as Prescott Bush. When Barbara was 16 she met George, age 17, at a Christmas dance in Greenwich.
Barbara Bush, wife: Well, he was the handsomest living human I ever saw, and maybe the nicest, most relaxed. They played a waltz and he said, "I can't waltz." So we sat down and talked, and that was sort of it. But I fell in love at first sight, practically.
Narrator: George's mother invited Barbara to Kennebunkport when he was on leave in August 1943.
Barbara Bush, wife: His whole family was up here. And we were never left alone. Had four uncles and four young brides, and a grandmother and grandfather and his mother and father. So we had to walk around outside. And we sort of got engaged secretly. We were way too young to be engaged.
Narrator: Barbara waited for two years while George Bush flew 58 combat missions, logged 1,208 hours of flying time and made 126 carrier landings. On January 6, 1945, Barbara Pierce married, she would come to say, "the first man I ever kissed."
Narrator: After the war, Bush followed his father and his brother Prescott and entered Yale. Two and one-half years later, he had a degree in economics, Phi Beta Kappa -- and a son. George W. was born in New Haven in 1946. Like his father, Bush was tapped for Skull and Bones, Yale's most elite secret society. Henry Stimson, now retired as Secretary of War, presided over his initiation. Despite his admiration for his father and for Stimson, Bush did not follow them into the world of finance. All three of his brothers did.
Barbara Bush, wife: He told me, "I want to work with something I can touch. I don't want to work on Wall Street with money, and I don't want to go into a sort of family business. I really want to work with something I can touch."
Ajax commercial (archival): Use Ajax, boom boom, the foaming cleanser.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: One of his very first job interviews, maybe his first, was at Procter & Gamble. He had an interview. And he got rejected, got turned down for the job. And I asked him one day, I said, "Have you ever thought about that much, how your life might have been totally different? And he said, "I'd probably been a lousy soap salesman." Actually he said, "It helped me, because I thought: You know, I'm going to show these people that I do have the right stuff. I'm going to go out and make it somewhere else."
Narrator: Lured by the romance of a post-war oil boom, the Bushes headed to West Texas.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: He wants an adventure. He wants a challenge. And there was nothing more challenging than Wildcatting oil. This is the greatest adventure you can have on the continent -- on the United States continent after World War II. It's the closest thing to uncharted territory that you can have.
Narrator: George Bush started in the oil business in Odessa in 1948 painting spare pumps for $375 a month. He was on a management track, but within two years, with two children to support, he struck out on his own as a wildcatter.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: George got investments from his uncle Herbie, his father, and people like Eugene Meyer of the Washington Post. It was not only a way to make a fortune. It was a way for him to stake out on his own.
Narrator: Bush's company Zapata Petroleum hit it big in 1954. Five years later George and Barbara moved to Houston, the headquarters of Zapata Offshore. George was prospering as its president, but there was a void in their lives. They hoped that Barbara, who was pregnant, could fill it. Their second child, Robin, had been born in 1949. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was three. Their doctor advised them to let her die at home. Instead, they took her to New York's Sloan Kettering Hospital. Yale classmate Lud Ashley visited daily.
Lud Ashley, classmate: George was running the household back in Texas, flying up weekends -- flying from Texas when it used to take eight or nine hours to fly to New York. Barb was there all the time. Almost 24 hours a day. In all my years I've seen such a strength of character as she showed during that desperately difficult time.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: My Dad told me that he had trouble looking into her eyes and comforting her and doing the things he wanted to do. My mom was the one who was able to hold her hand and love her and comfort her. But then later on, when my mom fell apart after Robin died, it was my dad who looked in her eyes and held her hand, and gave her the strength to go on.
Narrator: Robin died on October 12, 1953, two months before her fourth birthday.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: I believe that the death of Robin sobered George Bush and turned him into an adult that could be an empathetic politician, that could be an individual who could strike on civil rights and disabilities for Americans. I really think that it was that important.
Narrator: In the late 1950s, after the birth of Jeb in 1953, Neil in 1955 and Marvin in 1956, Bush wrote a letter to his mother: "There is about our house a need. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to offset those crew cuts. We need a dollhouse to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards. We need someone to cry when I get mad -- not argue. We need a little one who can kiss without leaving egg or jam or gum. We need a girl."
Jeb Bush, son: I read that letter in my mom's book, and actually listened to it on tape. I was driving home on I-95, the traffic was going crazy, and I started crying uncontrollably. I had to stop in the middle of this interstate. I called my mother up to tell her how much I loved her and how much I loved my dad, and she of course -- her immediate response was, "You didn't read the book. You had to wait for the tape to come out." She gave me grief for that. But it was pretty typical of my dad to write those kinds of letters.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: I just learned this story a few years ago, on my birthday, when my mom wished me a happy birthday and she told me that she remembered the day I was born, that Dad came to the nursery and pressed his face against the glass and sobbed.
Narrator: The success of Zapata Petroleum, Bush recalled, "gave me the financial base to risk going into public life." George's father, Prescott Bush, was a Republican senator from Connecticut. "I knew what motivated him, "George would write, "He'd made his mark in the business world. Now he felt he had a debt to pay."
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Noblesse oblige has become a pejorative, but it wasn't always a pejorative. The notion of an American meritocracy, which is what the wise men represent, that's the old Eastern establishment. It isn't simply the nexus of power. It's the obligation to use that power in a responsible way, not for one's own benefit, but for what you sincerely believe to be the benefit of your fellow countrymen. Prescott Bush represented that establishment. His son had one foot in that establishment.
Narrator: During his ten years in the Senate, Prescott Bush was a moderate, or Eisenhower Republican. He was pragmatic and non-ideological, believed in balanced budgets and was pro-business. He was also pro-civil rights and a social liberal. Prescott had joined the Senate when he was 57. His wife said if he had run earlier, he would have been President. His son would not make that mistake. George decided to enter politics when he was 38. He faced an obstacle his father never had. The Republican Party in Texas hardly existed.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: You could probably have held a precinct meeting in a phone booth then. That's how many Republicans were around.
James A. Baker, III, friend: My first wife was from Ohio. And that's a big Republican state. And when we moved back here from Austin after law school, she conducted the precinct convention in my living room, and one guy showed up. I served him drinks. I mean that's how limited the Republican participation was in Texas back in those days.
Narrator: Houston's few Republicans, Bush among them, were members of the establishment -- country club Republicans. Their party was about to change. The radical anti-communist John Birch Society tried to take it over. Birchers thought President Eisenhower was a communist -- he had appointed a Chief Justice who turned out to be a liberal.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: The country club Republicans, the establishment, what I call the big-government Republicans even in those days, they would be uncomfortable with true believers. People who really had deeply held philosophical, ideological beliefs makes establishment Republicans uncomfortable, quite frankly.
Narrator: In 1962 Bush was asked to run for chairman of the Harris County Republican Party to keep the Birchers out. It was his first political campaign. "I'm not voting for 'nother country club asshole," one of the right-wingers said. "Y'can jus' fergit it."
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: George stepped right into the middle of it. And you know, I have loved George Bush for 40 years, but he does have one failing. He does not recognize an enemy.
Barbara Bush, wife: My dad at that time was president of McCall Corporation, and they printed and published Red Book, Blue Book, and McCall's. And they sent out -- one meeting we went to, the lights went out, someone was speaking, and papers were all passed down. When the lights went on, it said, "Mrs. Bush's father is a Communist. He prints the Red Book. Crazy. They said things like, " George is a Rockefeller plant," or, you know, "He grew up in the east. He's not one of us." "He's liberal."
Narrator: After he won his race, Bush wanted to give some Birchers positions in the party. "George, you don't know these people," a colleague warned. "They mean to kill you."
Victor Gold, friend: George Bush's instinct politically is to bring people together, to be a uniter. And so he didn't come in in a confrontational style, slam the door and throw all the Birchers out. His idea was, "Let's get the Birchers and have some common meeting ground with them, because if we want to beat Democrats, if we want to we need those people.
Narrator: Bush saw another opportunity to expand the party after groundbreaking legislation on civil rights was introduced in June 1963 by President John Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy (archival): Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law.
Narrator: Civil rights was about to tear the country, and the Democratic Party, apart. Many Democrats in the South were committed to segregation. As they saw their party support integration, they began to seek refuge in the Republican Party.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Poor white workers in Texas and elsewhere felt there was a threat, of all these hordes of blacks becoming unleashed and competing with them for status and jobs. And so you have the mass turnover to Republican Party in the South, state after state.
Narrator: Among the disgruntled Democrats in Houston were dockworkers who felt their jobs would be threatened by African American workers. They sought out the new Republican chairman, George Bush.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: They were segregationists. They were trying to maintain conservative control over Harris County.
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: And I didn't like them being Republicans, because I thought it gave our party a bad name. George didn't see a thing wrong with it. He was eager to expand the Republican Party, and he felt the only way to expand it was to attract Democrats.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Bush thought they were crazy. But he thought that politically he had to accommodate himself to them.
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: I didn't think they were crazy. I thought they were very dangerous. They wanted to convince the world that the Republican Party was now going to be a segregationist extension of the old Democrats. The Democrats called me up and congratulated me on getting those bastards out of their party.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: Throughout his political career, George Bush often seemed to lack a sense of principle. As a candidate, he often sacrificed principle for political gain.
Narrator: If he did something unsavory to advance his career and his party, the result would be momentous. The people Bush accommodated in 1963 would support Senator Barry Goldwater for President in 1964 and thereafter Ronald Reagan.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: And they become the nucleus of the new Republican Party, not only in Texas but across the country. And this was the beginning of the conservative movement, and to this day it serves as the base of the Republican Party.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: You could say that George Herbert Walker Bush was in on the creation, with this organization of Harris County Republicans, because that's where it began. Think of what that started.
Narrator: The party that George Bush created in Houston in 1963 grew into the party which he would lead -- and struggle with -- as president.
Barry Goldwater (archival): Those who do not care for our cause we don't expert to enter our ranks in any case.
Narrator: The champion of Americans who had flocked to the Sun Belt in the 1950s, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona led a sagebrush insurgency in 1964 against the Eastern establishment. He ran against big government, the New Deal, labor unions, and liberal or "Rockefeller" Republicans. Everything Prescott Bush represented, Goldwater saw as a threat to individual freedom.
Barry Goldwater (archival): I would remind you that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.
Narrator: Prescott Bush tried to keep Goldwater off the ticket. George Bush ran for U.S. Senate, embraced Goldwater, and begged his father to keep quiet. After winning the first Republican primary in Texas history, Bush tried to unseat liberal Democratic Senator Ralph Yarborough. It was a bold move for someone who had only been a county party chairman.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Ralph Yarborough is the darling of the AFL-CIO bosses, and the committee on political education... I'd like my children to be able to pray in school if they want to. And I'd like that right to be a part of our constitution.
Campaign film narrator: Young George, the oldest Bush boy, is a college freshman. He spent his entire summer working at Bush headquarters, assembling campaign materials, answering phones and sweeping up too... We think George Bush is quite a man. A real American. A real Republican. A responsible conservative.
Narrator: Bush ran to the right. He denounced the United Nations, and pledged to vote against Kennedy on civil rights. Like Barry Goldwater, he argued federal enforcement of civil rights was a violation of states' rights.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: George Bush was anxious to launch his political career. And there was a fervor in the Republican Party for conservative principles in those days, and that was not his ideology but he felt that in order to get elected, I will go along, I won't try to convert people to my belief, I will flow with them.
Narrator: On November 22, 1963, a Houston Chronicle poll showed Goldwater leading President John Kennedy by 50,000 votes. Kennedy came to Dallas to gain support and to heal a rift between liberal and conservative Democrats in Texas. Kennedy's assassination that day completely changed the political landscape.
Shirley Green, Texas Republican: After the assassination, it was awfully uphill. Not that anybody gave up, I must say, starting with him. It was a real, real vigorous contest, because he inspired so many new people to come to the Republican side.
Narrator: Although Bush got 200,000 more votes in the state than Barry Goldwater, more than any Republican ever had, Texans voted the ticket led by their native son, the new President, Lyndon Johnson. Bush was trounced. He was also haunted by some of the far right positions he had taken, especially his pledge to vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: And George Bush wrote me a letter saying that he was so troubled about this vote, because he didn't want his children or anyone to consider that he was voting against integration.
Narrator: Two years later, George Bush ran for Congress from a Houston district more moderate than Texas as a whole. He was elected handily, the first Republican Congressman from Houston since Reconstruction. One issue he faced was about to explode. African Americans took to the streets in 1967 demanding that the civil rights movement include fair housing.
Lyndon Johnson (archival): I am asking Congress to bar discrimination in housing and to secure very basic rights for every citizen of this land. I am doing it for one reason because it is right. And I am doing it in the name of millions of Americans, both white and Negro, who object to treating their fellow citizens one way on the battlefield and another way in the country that they're fighting to defend.
Narrator: In 1967 President Johnson proposed to ban racial discrimination in housing. His Fair Housing bill came to the floor for a vote on April 10th. Once again the race issue would force George Bush to take a stand.
George H. W. Bush (archival): You got to wrestle with your conscience. You got to listen to people. It doesn't come so easy to me that this is right and that's wrong. It's never that simple. The tough votes are the ones you agonize over and then you do what you think is right.
Narrator: Bush did not vote as a Goldwater Republican. He supported Lyndon Johnson. Many in his district were outraged.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: Dad got a lot of death threats. People called up on the phone. Velma Johnson, an African American staff member in my dad's office, picked up the phone, and the person on the other end was rambling and screaming ugly, nasty things. Tears were streaming down her face. My dad grabbed the phone from her and said, "I don't know who this is. This is George Bush. Don't you ever call here again and treat anyone on my staff like that again."
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: He was threatened and denounced, and vilified for having betrayed his political constituents. And there was one woman who had been a big supporter of George's. And she wrote him a letter and said that she felt that she'd been violated, and that he would never be welcome in her house again.
Robert Mosbacher, political supporter: Mainline Republicans in those days were against open housing. And they were absolutely convinced that they were against him, would never vote for him, would vote for recall. I offered to talk to some of his main money backers, because a lot of them were furious at him. And he said, "No, no. Just get them together and I'll talk to them."
Narrator: Bush prepared to meet not just his funders but the rank and file.
Chase Untermeyer, Congressional intern: He said that he was going to face a angry crowd and that he was being fitted for iron underpants for whatever they might decide to do when they had him on the griddle.
Narrator: On April 17, 1968, Congressman Bush addressed a hostile audience of 400 at Houston's Memorial High School.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: There were boos, hisses. It was ugly. There was sheet lightning in that auditorium that night. They were out to get George Bush. They were unhappy with George Bush. It was not a pretty scene.
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: I thought my heart would just really stop. I was so afraid of what might happen. People said he ought to be killed.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: Once all the hubbub died down, he defended his vote on that piece of legislation.
Narrator: "Your representative owes you not only his industry, but his judgment," Bush told his audience, quoting 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, "and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices his judgment to your opinion. I voted from conviction," he explained, "not out of intimidation or fear but because of a feeling deep in my heart that this was the right thing for me to do." Earlier that year, Bush had visited U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: When he went to Vietnam in 1968, he came back with a very strong sense of outrage that although blacks were so prominent in the American military, and so prominent among those who were giving their lives, that they were treated so poorly in this country.
Narrator: Now, Bush asked his audience, "How would you feel about a black American veteran of Vietnam returning home, only to be denied the freedom that we, as white Americans, enjoyed? Somehow it seems fundamental that a man should not have a door slammed in his face because he is a Negro or speaks with a Latin American accent."
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: And I'll tell you by the time that speech was over, the atmosphere in that auditorium had changed considerably. It had transformed.
Marjorie Arsht, political supporter: It was one of the few times I ever saw a few words completely transform an audience. It was probably one of the most dramatic incidents in all of George's public life, including when he was president.
Narrator: Tonight I got on this plane," Bush wrote a friend, "and this older lady came up to me. She said, "I'm a conservative Democrat from the district, but I'm proud, and will always vote for you now," and suddenly somehow I felt that maybe it would all be OK -- and I started to cry -- with the poor lady embarrassed to death." More than 20 years later, Bush would write, "I can truthfully say that nothing I've experienced in public life, before or since, has measured up to the feeling I had when I went home that night." Once in office, George Bush tended to follow his conscience. That night in 1968 he put his political future at risk. It worked. He would not always be that lucky.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Bush was portrayed in some aspects of the media as an up-and-coming romantic hero. The future, romantic future of the Republican Party. Young, good-looking guy, full of energy, with a devoted wife and children. It was a good package.
Narrator: In 1970 President Richard Nixon asked Bush to run for Senate -- again against Ralph Yarborough -- promising him a job if he lost. Bush's House Seat was secure. He was a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and he was torn. He had often reached across the aisle to vote for legislation important to his fellow Texan President Johnson. Now he consulted LBJ. "Son," Johnson said, "I've served in the House, and in the Senate too, and the difference between being a member of the Senate and a member of the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit. Do I make my point?"
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: My dad chose the chicken salad.
George H. W. Bush: Today I am announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate. It hasn't been an easy decision. I have been very happy in the House of Representatives. I have been particularly happy...
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: There were high hopes for him in that race. It was one of the premier races of that year, and a lot of people thought, well, Bush is going to win this Senate race, and there's probably a good chance that'll be the stepping stone for him ultimately going to run for president.
Narrator: Bush asked his friend James Baker, a prominent Houston lawyer with deep Texas roots, to run his campaign.
James A. Baker, III, friend: I lost a wife to cancer when she was only 38 years of age. And George Bush was my tennis doubles partner, and he came to me and he said, "Bake," he said, "you need to take your mind off your grief. How about helping me run for the Senate?" And I said, "Well, George, that's great except for two things. Number one, I don't know anything about politics." I'd never done anything in politics. "And number two, I'm a Democrat, and he said, "we'll take care of that." And we did. And I changed parties.
Narrator: Bush had confidence he could beat Ralph Yarborough this time -- Texas was growing more conservative. Then Lloyd Bentsen, a businessman more conservative than Bush, challenged Yarborough in the Democratic primary and won. The Nixon White House moved into action.
Richard Nixon (archival): We have to think in terms of what is best for America and it's because I believe that George Bush will do better for Texas and better for America, that I'm for George Bush for the United States Senate.
Narrator: Despite the endorsement, White House staff considered Bush too tame a candidate.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: They considered Bush loyal, a source of money, but basically weak. He didn't have the drive to play the game the way they wanted it played. He was too much the gentleman. The aristocratic gentleman. And that's what Prescott Bush was.
Narrator: Many of Yarborough's liberal Democratic supporters considered Bush a more attractive candidate than Bentsen. But the polarizing presence of Nixon convinced them to vote against Bush.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: Early on, the networks called it for Lloyd Bentsen. And I was up in the suite with him there, and he just kind of sunk deeper and deeper into the couch there. And finally somebody said, "It's time to go downstairs and concede." And he felt pretty low.
George H. W. Bush (archival): And nobody likes to lose, but certainly he ran a good tough race. I feel kind of like Custer, There were too many Indians. Well, there are too many Democrats in some of these counties I guess. The other thing is that I have a horrible problem between now and kind of figuring this thing out, because I can't think of anyone else to blame. Thank you very much.
Lud Ashley, classmate: He was brought up not to show great disappointment in defeat or great glee in victory. But he doesn't like to lose. He does not like to lose.
George H. W. Bush: I think in defeat you grope for things that are happy, and it's hard. But I think I would be less than frank if I said I felt good or could see anything from a personal standpoint to be excited about at this point. We're hurt and we lost. We wanted to win.
Narrator: With two unsuccessful Senate campaigns, Bush's political future was in doubt. For the next 18 years, George Bush would not be in control of his political career. He would try to advance his career by serving others in administrative posts, to which he was well suited, but which, to many, seemed a dead end. When Nixon offered Bush an insignificant job as assistant to the president, Bush made his case for more.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: He said, what this administration needs is someone who could strongly represent the administration not only in the United Nations but in New York, and who would have clout in the social society of New York. And I'm your man.
George W. Bush (archival): The relief for me is really great just to know that my family is so happy after a kind of a tough defeat in November but now, you know, a new life and a new vigor has kind of sprung back into our veins.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I, George Bush, do solemnly swear...
Lud Ashley, classmate: I wondered how on earth he could be appointed to the United Nations with as little foreign policy experience or knowledge that he had at that time. And I asked him about that. I said, "What the hell do you know about foreign policy? And he just gave me this big smile and he said, "You ask me in a month."
Chase Untermeyer, reporter, Houston Chronicle At the time a lot of people, myself included, thought, well, this is the end of the road. Because what does it mean to be ambassador of the United Nations? That is certainly not a way to get any vote in Texas.
Narrator: Bush plunged with relish into the organization that he had denounced in his '64 campaign. He knew little about foreign policy, a lot about dealing with people.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: From the time Bush became the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, he began to collect foreign friends. Leaders, soon to be leaders, deputies, ambassadors, foreign ministers. He was very good at empathizing with them. In fact, at the United Nations, he developed friendships with people who didn't like U.S. policy.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: He started a practice of walking down the halls and dropping in on his fellow ambassadors, just to say, "How are you? How are things in your country? What do you think of the United States? What do you think of the UN? What are the problems of the world as you see them?" And he developed that into a fine art.
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: He's a master of the personal touch. He's an incredible "thank-you" note writer. He would meet somebody somewhere, and the next day they'd have a little note in the mail: "Thank you, Joe. I enjoyed meeting you." You'd say, "Here's somebody took time to write me a thank-you note." Who does that anymore?
News anchor (archival): Five men wearing white gloves and carrying cameras were caught earlier today in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. They apparently were unarmed and nobody knows yet why they were there.
Narrator: In November 1972, just shy of two years on the job, Bush was summoned to Camp David. It was five months after news reports at the Democratic Party election headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. "George," Bush recalled Nixon saying, "the place I really need you, is over at the National Committee running things. This is an important time for the Republican Party, George. We have a chance to build a new coalition in the next four years, and you're the one who can do it."
Barbara Bush, wife: I sent him off saying, "Under no circumstances be Republican National Committee Chairman. It's just a no-end job. You'll be gone all the time. Please don't do that." So he went, and because he believes you never say no to a president, when President Nixon asked him to do that, he said yes.
George H. W. Bush (archival): What I want to do is build the party in a constructive positive image. The president is setting a good program for this. Our challenge is to implement it and to have room for diversity and to have room for growth, and I've got to go.
Lud Ashley, classmate: I said, "You've got this all wrong. I don't know what's happened to you, but you don't go from-from being the President's man at the United Nations to being chairman of a political party. You're coming down the ladder," and I said, "that's the wrong direction."
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: Nixon knew that it was about to hit the fan, and George Bush could be counted on for absolute loyalty in front of a camera. Nixon knew instinctively that as Watergate unfolded, as the disaster began to build, Bush could be counted on to stick by Nixon right through until the bitter end.
Narrator: Less than a month after Bush took the job, the Senate established a Watergate Committee to hold hearings on the break-in.
Senator Ervin: ...begins hearings into the extent to which illegal, improper and unethical activities were involved in the 1972 presidential election campaign.
Narrator: As the scandal unfolded, Bush traveled to 33 states and made 190 appearances defending the president and the Republican Party.
George H. W. Bush (archival): As you look across the country, the Watergate has not obscured the positive record of this administration.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: When he goes out in front of a television camera for Richard Nixon, George Bush has the perfect public face. The other part about Bush that the Nixon White House liked was his combative nature with the press. And the press was just beginning to feel its oats in 1973. Bush was not going to let them get away, in his mind, with this type of picking on the President.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The President has said that he is not involved in Watergate. That he didn't know about it, that he is not involved in the cover up. And I accept that, and I don't think it helps the stability of the forward progress of the country to speculate hypothetically when the man had made that statement.
Barbara Bush, wife: Nixon lied to George. George couldn't believe someone would look you in the eye and say, "I had nothing to do with this. I have not lied."
Peter Roussel, press aide, 1970-74: I can remember, because I was there with him, I can remember many of our friends and, you know, wise men and politicos that were around then, saying, "That's the end of Bush's career. That's the end of George Bush. His time's over." And certainly the media had written him off.
Chase Untermeyer, presidential aide, 1989-91: I think of all the things that George Bush did prior to being asked to run for vice-president with Ronald Reagan, being chairman of the Republican National Committee during Watergate was the most valuable, because during that miserable time for grassroots Republicans, there was George Bush keeping up the faith and trying to keep people's spirits up.
Senator Howard Baker (archival): Tell me what the president knew and when he first knew it.
John Dean (archival): At a meeting on September 15th ...
Narrator: Testimony from Nixon staffers on June 3, 1973 marked the beginning of revelations that would bring the President down. "I've never seen such an unhappy man as George was during this period," a White House insider recalled. "because now all of us had come to the conclusion that we'd all been lied to for many, many months." Bush fumed in his diary, "This era of tawdry, shabby lack of morality has got to end," Bush wrote in his diary. "I am sick at heart. Sick about the President's betrayal and sick about the fact that the major Nixon enemies can now gloat because they have proved he is what they said he is."
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Bush was caught up in it. Bush was embarrassed by it, and the thing he told me embarrassed him most of all was, he had given assurances to fundraisers that Nixon was not involved. Nixon let him down.
Narrator: On August 6, 1974 Bush attended a cabinet meeting. Nixon's agenda was to talk about the economy.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: Ford turned to the President and said, "We have other issues that we have to discuss. We have to discuss the fate of this presidency." George Bush stood up, interrupted Nixon and told him that Watergate was sapping public confidence in the party and the county. The next day he advised Nixon to resign. "Dear Mr. President," he wrote, "I expect in your lonely embattled position this would seem to you as an act of disloyalty from one you have supported and helped in so many ways." George Bush had accepted the party chairman's job because of his loyalty to Nixon. That loyalty, Nixon found to his dismay, had its limits.
Narrator: In August 1974, Bush retreated to Kennebunkport.
Barbara Bush, wife: Here he feels at peace. It's roots of his family. His mother was born here. He'll tell you it's CAVU. Now, I never can remember what that means, but it's Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited. And that's what he feels about Kennebunkport, Maine. He's at peace here.
Narrator: President Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, was about to choose his vice-president. Bush was the first choice of party leaders. At Walker's Point, he anxiously awaited the news.
Willard "Spike" Heminway, friend: Barbara Bush called up, says, "Come on over. Got to do something with George. He's getting finicky over here." So I go over, and there he is underneath the toilet, fixing toilets. And I said, "Is this the way a potential vice-president's going to act?" And he said, "Get in here and help me fix these toilets."
Narrator: Ford called him to say he has selected former governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller. "Yesterday was a real downer," Bush wrote Lud Ashley. "I guess I had let my hopes zoom unrealistically, but today perspective is coming back, and I realize I was lucky to be in the game at all."
Lud Ashley, classmate: It's his way of relaxing. And it's nonstop. It's just from-from one event to the other. I often say that in his crankcase, there's no reverse. There's no neutral. There's just drive. [laugh] And that's all there is in his crankcase. He's just always on the go.
Narrator: Ford offered Bush another ambassadorship. He could have chosen England or France, but he chose China. A friend recalled, "he wanted to get as far away from the stench of Watergate as possible." After little more than a year, another odor wafted his way. Congress was investigating CIA abuses.
Senator Frank Church (archival): We must insist that these agencies operate strictly within the law...
Narrator: The Bushes were bicycling in Beijing when a cable arrived from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Would Bush take over the CIA?
Barbara Bush, wife: It just was a huge shock. And George got the message, and then he called George W. and said to him, "George, please call your brothers and sisters," and see how they'd feel about my coming home and heading the CIA." And George called back in about an hour and said, "They say, come home." And I've always thought George never called them. That he just decided arbitrarily that we should come home. And I thought then that this was the end of politics, that this would be just the end of our political life.
Narrator: "Here are my heartfelt views," Bush cabled Kissinger, "I do not have politics out of my system entirely and I see this as the total end of any political future." But "If this is what the President wants me to do the answer is a firm 'Yes.'"
George H. W. Bush (archival): Some of my friends have asked me, "Why do you accept this job with all the controversy swirling around the CIA with its obvious barriers to political future?" My answer is simple. First, the work is desperately important to the survival of this country and to the survival of freedom around the world. And second, old fashioned as it may seem to some, it is my duty to serve my country. And I didn't seek this job but I want to do it, and I will do my very best. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Narrator: Bush found CIA staffers demoralized. "We did have the feeling we were terribly alone, and there was no one out there defending us," one remembered. "George became a champion." Bush saw his job as boosting morale at CIA headquarters and reassuring Congress that the "rogue elephant" was under control.
George H. W. Bush: I can say, sir, that we would not disseminate that kind of intelligence on American citizens to the Cabinet committee, but we would disseminate it to the Justice Department.
Narrator: He made 51 appearances on Capitol Hill in less than a year.
After six months on the job he wrote President Ford: "Morale at the CIA is improving. Our recruitment is up. Our people are willing to serve abroad and take the risks involved."
When Jimmy Carter was elected President in 1976, Bush offered to remain at the CIA to burnish the agency's reputation as bipartisan.
News announcer (archival): There is increasing speculation that CIA Director George Bush may be asked to stay at his post during the new administration, but as he arrived today, he and Carter aides all refused comment on that.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I'm going to use the same ground rules that we had before, which is we're here to have a professional intelligence briefing.
Narrator: Bush became the first CIA director to be dismissed by an incoming president.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Here was Bush, having made this concession in order to reaffirm the CIA post as being non-political, only in the end to see himself forced out because of the advent of a new administration. Well, Bush was determined to fight back, and fight back into the political arena.
Narrator: Demoralized, George Bush returned to private life in Houston. "He felt like a race horse under wraps," a biographer wrote. Bush described his "withdrawal symptoms" to a friend. "I just get bored silly about whose daughter is a Pi Phi or even about who's banging old Joe's wife," he wrote. "I think I want to at least be in a position to run in 1980. But it seems so presumptuous and egotistical." George did his best to drown out his mother's voice. For two years he served on corporate boards and built his war chest for a presidential campaign. "He is finally getting better about blowing his own horn," Barbara wrote, "the thing we were taught as children never to do."
On May 1 1979 George H. W. Bush returned to Washington.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, I am a candidate for president of the United States. Before responding to questions, I would like to introduce you to my family. My mother, Mrs. Prescott Bush, who some of you may remember. My wife Barbara, most of you know. My oldest son George and his wife Laura, from west Texas. My son Jeb, his wife Columba from Houston, Texas.
Narrator: Bush distanced himself from the Republican front-runner, Ronald Reagan, the conservative governor of California, by invoking language used by President Eisenhower.
George H. W. Bush (archival): There is in our affairs at home a middle way between the untrammeled freedom of the individual and the demands for the welfare of the whole nation.
Narrator: In one year Bush traveled 329 days calling in all his chits from his years at the Republican National Committee. In a surprise victory, George Bush defeated Reagan in the Iowa caucus.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Iowa has set something in motion. The forward momentum is clearly established, and I am absolutely convinced I will be your next President.
Narrator: In the important New Hampshire primary, Reagan challenged Bush to a one on one debate and agreed to pay the cost of the event. At the last minute, in a clever ploy, Reagan wanted to change the rules to include the other candidates. Bush -- and the moderator -- stuck to the original agreement.
Ronald Reagan (archival): Mr. Breen. If you ask me if you--
Moderator (archival): Can you turn off that microphone please?
Ronald Reagan (archival): I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green.
Narrator: That night George Bush learned how formidable a candidate Ronald Reagan could be.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: George Bush is like a boy who's dropped off at the wrong birthday party. He's just so awkward and doesn't know what to do, and he looks a little bit miffed.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I have been invited here as a guest of the Nashua newspaper. I will play by their rules. I am their guest, and I am very glad to be here. Thank you very, very much.
Narrator: Bush lost New Hampshire, but continued to challenge Reagan -- ridiculing his so-called "supply side" tax policy -- the notion that taxes could be cut without reducing spending.
George H. W. Bush (archival): This theory that Governor Reagan is talking about is what I call a 'voodoo economic' policy.
Narrator: Reagan appealed to staunch anti-communists and social conservatives, two of the groups Bush welcomed into the Republican Party in Harris County almost 20 years before. As a moderate, George Bush was chasing the caboose of the party he had helped to create. By May campaign manager James Baker urged him to pull out.
James Baker: Reagan had-had collected sufficient number of delegates to be- to be nominated, and my advice to George at the time was that we ought to fold up our tent, and not go out to California and try and contest Reagan in his home state, because if we did that, there'd be no chance whatsoever that he would be put on the ticket.
Ronald Reagan: I have asked and I am recommending to this convention that tomorrow, when the session reconvenes, that George Bush be nominated.
Narrator: In many ways George Bush was what Ronald Reagan pretended to be. As an actor, Ronald Reagan played the war hero. George Bush was a war hero -- a decorated naval aviator. Ronald Reagan played the athlete. George Bush was the captain of his Yale baseball team and played twice in the college championship game. He was also a first rate tennis player. Both preached family values, but only Bush could point to a happy family. Reagan turned to Bush because he wanted to unify the conservative and moderate wings on the party and because Bush was the only other candidate to win any delegates.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Reagan took him in spite of his doubts. He had seen Bush at his worst. He had seen Bush, in effect, wilt under pressure at the famous Nashua debate. And he didn't like what he'd seen. More than that, Bush had come up with some very powerful phrases, including "voodoo economics," that in effect trivialized Reagan's beliefs.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Reagan disliked him for using the term "voodoo economics;" he disliked him, Reagan thought he was a wimp; Nancy detested him bitterly. Reagan did not turn to Bush happily, and when I said to Bush was there anything Reagan asked of you in order to nominate you as Vice President, he simply said he wanted me to accept his position on abortion, which I did.
Narrator: Despite their political differences, Bush pledged his loyalty.
Shirley Green, press aide: I will never forget the very first staff meeting we had, before they were even sworn in. Ambassador Bush really kind of laid down the rules to us. And he said, "I don't want to ever pick up the paper and see any suggestion that anybody on my vice-president staff has been anything but loyal to Ronald Reagan."
Narrator: Bush's experience in foreign affairs was especially useful to Reagan. His connections with Deng Xiaoping helped ease tensions over arms sales to Taiwan. His message in El Salvador was stop the right wing death squads or Congress will cut off aid to fight communist insurgents. To Communist Poland he brought a message of freedom.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Poland should be strong and prosperous and independent and play its proper role as a great nation in the heart of Europe.
Narrator: When three Soviet presidents died in less than three years, Bush was the first among world leaders to greet the new leader after the funeral. He would explain America's policies and report directly to Reagan. Bush's deep interest in foreign policy served him well -- until a report broke that the Reagan administration was secretly selling arms to Iran to get its help in releasing hostages held in Beirut, a violation of its own policies.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I was aware of our Iran initiative and I support the president's decision.
Narrator: More serious was the charge that the administration illegally used profits from the arms sales to fund the anti-communist Contras who were trying to topple the Marxist government in Nicaragua. It became known as the Iran Contra affair.
George H. W. Bush (archival): And I was not aware of and I oppose any diversion of funds, any ransom payments, or any circumvention of the will of the Congress or the law of the United States of America."
Narrator: What Reagan may have told his vice president during their Thursday lunches or what advice Bush may have given his president was something both considered confidential. As the scandal unfolded, the former Director of Central Intelligence would be under suspicion that he was involved in more than he let on.
George H. W. Bush (archival): There's no question about trying to jump away from it. I support the President.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, what do you know about money going to the Contras?
Ronald Reagan (archival): All I know is this is going to taste wonderful, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, hasn't this damaged your presidency?
Narrator: This was nothing new. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau had caricaturized Bush's loyalty as "putting his manhood in a blind trust." As Bush planned his run for the presidency, conservative columnist George Will called him a "lap dog" for trying to prove to conservatives he was Reagan's heir.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I am here today to announce my candidacy for President of the United States.
Narrator: The week he announced in October 1987, Newsweek called him a wimp.
Evan Thomas, Newsweek: That's an awful word to use, and we used it on the cover of Newsweek, I think, to our regret. It was too harsh a word. But there was a perception that he was somehow not a standup guy. He was under Reagan's shadow, and he needed to win over the true right and evangelicals, and to do that, he seemed to be trimming a little bit on abortion, he seemed to possibly be going against his own conscience in order to win votes.
Narrator: Bush lost to Sen. Bob Dole in the Iowa caucus in February 1988. His own polls said he was perceived as a follower, not a leader; a man who would not be tough enough for the Oval Office. He was trailing Dole in the critical primary in New Hampshire. A loss could mean the end of his presidential hopes. Yet he remained hesitant to say anything bad about his opponents.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I'm not taking shots at the other candidates. I'm not trying to get myself up a notch on the ladder by shoving somebody else down on the ladder, whether it's a candidate or the president of the United States or anybody else. I just don't believe that's the way one oughta campaign, I've never don't that. And so I feel comfortable saying what I am for.
Craig Fuller, chief of staff: Well, he'd been the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He didn't speak ill of other Republicans. He believed that he had to talk about his record, his experience, his ability to be president, and let people make their mind up. He was less inclined to talk about his challengers at all, really.
Narrator: "You got to go negative," Bush's new campaign manager Lee Atwater told him. "You just got to." Atwater was a new breed of political consultant. Known as the happy hatchet man, he set out to completely change Bush's gentlemanly campaign style.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: Atwater, was able to articulate a side of George Bush that needed to be articulated if he was to win. And that was the harsh side of Bush. Bush doesn't naturally gravitate to bare-knuckle politics. He needs to be taken there. Atwater did that.
Narrator: Atwater's team had put together a campaign spot attacking Senator Dole. Bush rejected it.
Robert Mosbacher, campaign aide: I told then Vice-President that just sometimes you have to kind of leave the high road. And he sort of oomphed and you know said, "All right, let me look at it again." He said, "All right. I don't like it, but okay. But it better all be true."
Announcer, Bush campaign ad: Bob Dole straddled until the polls told him it was popular. That's why he's becoming known as "Senator Straddle." George Bush: presidential leadership.
Narrator: The new strategy worked. Bush won in New Hampshire...
George H. W. Bush (archival): And now, on to the South where we're gonna rise again.
Narrator: ...and went on to secure the Republican nomination.
Narrator: In May he trailed Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, by 10 points. The blue collar Democrats who had flocked to Ronald Reagan were supporting Governor Dukakis. The Bush campaign team needed to woo them back. It was encouraged by a blue-collar focus group that showed Dukakis had a weak spot. He was perceived as a liberal.
Mary Matalin, campaign aide: Lee Atwater knew that that sort of east coast, elite, liberal ideology and persona was going to be problematic for Dukakis. So showing that is part of how campaigns work. This is what campaigns do.
Narrator: Bashing Dukakis would become the focus of Bush's campaign.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Governor Dukakis, his foreign policy views born in Harvard Yard's boutique would cut the muscle of our defense and I will never do that.
Nicholas Brady, campaign aide: I don't think by nature he likes to go negative. He-- that's not the way he was, not the way he was brought up.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The governor calls himself, and this is a quote from Michael Dukakis, a card-carrying member of the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union. I haven't joined the ACLU nor do I have any plans to join the ACLU.
Nicholas Brady, campaign aide: He may not have liked it, but it isn't as if you were trying to make him take a drink of castor oil or something like that. He knew exactly what had to be done in the long run.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Prescott Bush's son is not comfortable with the culture of handlers and spin doctors and pollsters and focus groups, and determining what your convictions are by asking a group of strangers in a supermarket in Secaucus, New Jersey. On the other hand, he'll do it if that's what it takes to win the presidency.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Thank you, I accept your nomination for President. I'll try to be fair to the other side. I'll try to hold my charisma in check. Where is it written that we must act as if we do not care? As if we are not moved. Well I am moved. I want a kinder, gentler nation.
Narrator: That phrase, Bush thought, would appeal to moderates turned off by Reagan's harsh edges. Another line, from a Clint Eastwood movie, would counter the wimp factor and project an image of strength.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say to them, "Read my lips, no new taxes."
Nicholas Brady, campaign aide: It appealed to his sense of good fun. And he did it with gusto, and of course it knocked the ball out of the park.
Richard Darman, campaign aide: I thought it was ill advised, and I argued against keeping it in. The "no new taxes" part was going to be very difficult to live with.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: It was the single best speech of Bush's career. It was Bush at his most animated. It was Bush at his most telegenic. The camera does not love George Bush instinctively. He never did any better than-than this speech, even as president.
Narrator: Bush had cut Dukakis's lead in half. After Labor Day the attack on Dukakis intensified.
Announcer, Bush campaign ad: Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received ten weekend passes from prison. Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: The official Republican campaign did not resort to those scare ads. But there was another committee, that used the menacing black face of Willie Horton but it would be very hard for you and me to really disassociate those two.
James Baker: Now, there was an independent group that ran an ad with Willie Horton's picture, which we finally got them to stop running.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: Baker writes a letter asking them to cease and desist from the use of the racial attacks, scare attacks about Horton. The damage has already been done.
Narrator: The offending ad played for 25 days before it was yanked. Then campaign manager Baker launched the authorized one.
Announcer, Bush campaign ad: His revolving door prison policy gave weekend furloughs to first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape. Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he's done for Massachusetts. America cannot afford that risk.
James A. Baker, III, friend: That was not going negative. Governor Dukakis supported a prison furlough bill as governor of Massachusetts. And all we did was point out that he had done that.
Michael Dukakis (archival): Yes it was a terrible human tragedy. And I accepted responsibility for it. And changed the program.
Evan Thomas: One of the ironies of George Bush's life is that a fundamentally decent man presided over a moment when politics got meaner and rougher. '88 was the year of the handler, of bringing in political consultants who played very hard and very tough. Now, they'd always been around in politics. They weren't invented in 1988. But 1988 was kind of a rough, trivial campaign. Lee Atwater and these henchmen for Bush looking for the so-called wedge issues, not really staying on the high road and talking about the great issues of the day, but rather sniping at their opponent to find some weakness in him. And Bush put up with that.
Sam Donaldson (archival): Did you see in the paper that Willie Horton said if he could vote he would vote for you?
Michael Dukakis (archival): He can't vote Sam.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: I think it was one of the dirtiest campaigns in American history. The whole concept of smearing the term liberalism. The whole concept of making that into a dirty word -- the L word. He made his compromise, just like his made his compromise with Reagan, saying yes, he'd be against all abortions. George is pragmatic. You have to win in order to put your principles into effect. Without winning, you can't achieve anything. These are the accommodations that George had to make for politics.
Narrator: In November 1988 George Herbert Walker Bush soundly defeated Michael Dukakis to become the first sitting vice president since Martin Van Buren in 1836 to be elected president. Ronald Reagan, who had doubts about Bush eight years earlier, came to feel he was the most qualified president-elect in American history. They became good friends. When Bush went to the Oval office for the first time as President, a note from Reagan read: God bless you and Barbara. I'll miss our Thursday lunches. You'll have moments when you want to use this stationery. Bush placed the note in his desk. On the desk he placed a picture of Robin. They would remain there for his entire term in office. The first photo was with his mother. His competitive spirit had come from her. And his sense of modesty. She had taught him never to call attention to himself. Yet for eight years he had seen Reagan inspire Americans with a sense of drama and celebratory spectacle. Reagan's conservative revolution had swept him to the national stage. George H. W. Bush was Ronald Reagan's heir.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: He spent the entire eight years as vice president traveling the length and breadth of this country, saying "trust me, I am a conservative, and if I am ever elected president of the United States I will govern as a conservative." We didn't expect him to be another Ronald Reagan, but we did expect that he would keep his clear promises and he would govern as a right-of-center president.
Narrator: Bush was Ronald Reagan's heir. He was Prescott Bush's son.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: There you have the conundrum of the Bush Presidency. He was looking over one shoulder and seeing where the Republican Party was going. And over the other shoulder, he saw his own lineage, his own tradition. He saw his father, Prescott Bush. He saw Dwight Eisenhower. And he saw Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, who in retrospect are seen as moderate conservatives.
Narrator: Now, with a chance to be his own man, George Bush began to distance himself from Reagan.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: First thing that he does is -- through his transition team, which was run in part by his son, George W., was went in and booted all of the Reagan appointees, and told them, with a great deal of harshness, that they were to be out of town before sundown. It was an ideological housecleaning, and Reagan appointees are shown the door, in a harsh transition that makes it look like a Democrat is coming in.
Narrator: Wasting little time, Bush tackled some of the problems he inherited. On the domestic front, he decided to clean up a messy banking problem that Reagan and Congress had all but ignored. In 1986, when the real estate market collapsed, hundreds of savings and loan banks had gone bust. The cost of bailing out depositors was pushing $50 billion and was projected to triple. Bush knew it would be expensive and politically thankless.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: You do it, not to advance your interests. You do it because it's in the interest of millions of people who will never vote for you and will certainly never give you any credit for doing it. That's responsibility. That's accountability. That's the old establishment way of discharging the privileges of leadership.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: He's separating himself from Reagan. One of the things that haunted Bush all the way through was his being compared to Reagan. And immediately, from his acceptance speech, "a gentler and kinder country," he's separating himself from Reagan. And this was some of the major residue of the Reagan administration.
Narrator: In Nicaragua, he agreed to withdraw support from the counter-revolutionary Contras if the Marxist Sandinista government agreed to free elections.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: President Bush began to act quite differently from Candidate Bush. One of his first initiatives was to push for elections in Nicaragua, and to take Nicaragua off the front burner of U.S. foreign policy. He didn't want to continue the divisive American debate.
Narrator: Bush also confronted the question of how to deal with a rapidly changing Soviet Union. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had pledged at the United Nations to renounce the use of force and withdraw one-half million troops from Eastern Europe. Many Russian experts felt the Cold War was over -- even the "Wise Man" who 45 years earlier had devised the policy of containing the Soviet Union.
Colin Powell: President Bush came into office realizing a lot had been done under President Reagan, but there was still a Soviet Union. It hadn't gone away. It still had all of its missiles. It still had its troops, and so it wasn't entirely clear what was going to happen. Mr. Gorbachev was a very charismatic figure, but it wasn't clear whether or not he had the whole Soviet governmental structure with him, governmental structure with him. And so there was the degree of caution and a degree of, let's study this.
Narrator: Four months into his term, Bush responded to Gorbachev.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Ultimately, our objective is to welcome the Soviet Union back into the world order. Containment worked and now is the time to move beyond containment to a new policy for the 1990s -- one that recognizes the full scope of change taking place around the world and in the Soviet Union itself.
Narrator: The response, many felt, was too timid. A New York Times editorial said if an alien spacecraft landed and looked for earth's leader, it would be taken to Mikhail Gorbachev.
Pavel Palazchenko, Foreign Ministry, Soviet Union: Gorbachev was encouraging reforms, definitely. And he believed and said that if we wanted change in our country, if we wanted to abandon the old system in our country, how could we prohibit or inhibit change in our neighbors?
Narrator: Bush did not meet the Soviet leader for almost a year. He did respond to the changes Gorbachev had encouraged in Eastern Europe. In Poland the anti-government Solidarity movement routed the Communists in free elections, the first break in the Iron Curtain in more than 40 years. The challenge for Bush when he arrived in Warsaw in July 1989 was not to provoke a backlash by Poland's communist leader Gen. Jarezelski or Kremlin hardliners.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your hospitable and gracious words of welcome. We extend the heartfelt best wishes of the American people, and here in the heart of Europe, the American people have a fervent wish -- that Europe be whole and free.
Narrator: Bush spent time with Poland's reform leader Lech Walesa. He spent more time with Jaruzelski.
John Sununu, Chief of Staff: The President, I think, really understood that a lot of the folks that were there doing the Russians' bidding were still Poles first, and cared about their country. And he tried to create a structure in which the strong hand, supported by the Soviet Union, became a part of the solution rather than opposition to the solution.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: He was determined that no one was going to feel that they had been defeated. He was very aware, I think, of the Versailles syndrome that Germany had felt defeated after World War I, humiliated after World War I, and that had brought to power Adolf Hitler.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: He saw what was going on in Eastern Europe as a very delicate process that involved holding the hands of both the reformers and the old style communists.
John Sununu, Chief of Staff: It was an art form that George Bush was very good at. He understood the- that most people generally have good intentions. You just have to find a way to get them to work together in order to bring them forward.
Narrator: Bush encouraged the reforms Gorbachev had allowed. His active role came after the reform movement spread to East Germany. In August East Germans sought asylum at the West German missions in Prague and in East Berlin. Then Hungary opened its borders to Austria, and East German tourists fled into Austria. As protests for reform grew in East Germany, the British and the French grew more worried about a reunified Germany. In the first half of the 20th century they suffered from German aggression in two world wars. In the second half, with Germany divided, Europe had been at peace. The possibility of a reunited Germany almost 50 years after Hitler did not worry George Bush.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, do you think a reunified Germany would be a stabilizing force in Europe or a destabilizing force?
George H. W. Bush (archival): I think there is in some quarters a feeling a reunified Germany would be detrimental to the peace of Europe, of Western Europe in some way, and I don't accept that at all, simply don't.
Narrator: They "can't turn back the clock", Bush told the New York Times. "The change is too inexorable." One writer called this a "verbal volley heard around the world."
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: His pronouncements before the wall came down were probably among the most unstaffed comments by any president of the United States. I can tell you that was wonderful, to have the President come out and say, "Germany ought to unify, and unify as quickly as it can, on terms that are acceptable to Germans." Because we didn't have any debates inside the administration about whether Germany ought to unify. The President had already said it was going to unify. Our job then was just to make it happen. He was out in front of all of us.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: Germany loomed large in the history of postwar Europe, and arguably of the whole U.S.-Soviet competition. The Soviets felt that their share of Germany was a prize that they had won for beating Hitler. They also saw their slice of Germany as their front line, as a defense against future attacks. Bush saw that with care, he could get the Soviets to give up what had been their great prize. This is where Bush actually got ahead of most of the foreign policy analysts and most of the leaders in the free world.
Narrator: The Soviets had built the wall dividing Berlin in 1961 to keep the East Germans from fleeing. In early November 1989 Gorbachev prodded East Germany's leader to open its borders to "avoid an explosion." Within days, the Berlin Wall, the very symbol of the Cold War, was breeched.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Well, I don't think any single event is the end to what you might call the Iron Curtain, but clearly this is a long way from the harsh days, the harshest Iron Curtain days -- a long way from that.
Reporter (archival): In what you just said, that this is a great victory. You don't seem elated.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I am elated. I'm not a very emotional kind of guy.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: He famously said that his mother told him as a boy not to indulge in braggadocio. And if there was ever a time when any other American president would have been tempted to indulge in braggadocio, it was 1898-1990, the end of the Cold War, the great victory of the West over the Marxist experiment, over the "evil empire."
Narrator: The wall had inspired some of the most memorable post-war presidential rhetoric.
John F. Kennedy: And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, Ich bin ein Berliner.
Ronald Reagan: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Any other president would have gotten in a plane and flown to Berlin, and beat his breast, and engaged in "I told you so" triumphalism. And Bush not only didn't need to do that, he had the strength of character to resist everyone around him who told him that that's what he should do as President of the United States and leader of the free world.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: I was one of those who thought he should go to Berlin, he should be at the wall; for Kennedy, for Reagan, for all of those who had wanted the wall to come down, he should go there. From his point of view, this was a German moment. He wanted to have the end of the division of Germany be a German moment. It was a moment for Germany to come to terms with its division. And it was a moment for Germany to celebrate that that division had ended.
Narrator: Bush's self restraint was more than modesty and courtesy. He had geo-politics in mind. He remembered when Hungarians revolted against their Soviet backed regime in 1956 and the CIA had led Hungarians to believe the U.S. would rush to their support. He did not want East Germans to expect the U.S. Army to rescue them if the Soviets ordered a crackdown. More important, Bush wanted to work with Gorbachev to end the Cold War. He worried that grandstanding in Berlin could provoke a coup in Moscow.
Pavel Palazchenko, Foreign Ministry, Soviet Union: He actually said to Gorbachev on the phone that "I will not be dancing on the wall." That is, I think, something that Gorbachev appreciated, because he didn't want additional problems for himself within the country, from the hardliners, from the conservatives within the party, if anything happened that could have been conceived as humiliating to Gorbachev.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of that cool-headedness and delicate approach at a time of international change, revolutionary change in international politics.
Narrator: At home Bush's restraint was met with criticism and ridicule.
Senator George Mitchell (archival): I urge President Bush to express the sense of elation that all Americans feel as the East German people and erase barriers that have imprisoned them for decades.
Senator Richard Gephardt, House Majority Leader (archival): Even as the walls of he modern Jericho come tumbling down, we have a president who at least for now is inadequate to the moment.
Bush impersonator (Dana Carvey): The wall coming down. Me? Enthusiastic but prudent. Out in front of the situation -- not too far. Playing it just right.
Narrator: East and West Germans voted to unify, and Bush wanted the unified Germany in the Western camp, in NATO.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: Gorbachev was clearly not predisposed to have a unified Germany be in NATO. How could that be good, from Russian- the Soviet point of view? The divided Germany had, after all, been the epicenter of that ideological conflict, and the Soviet Union had most of its Warsaw Pact forces and clearly its most elite forces in East Germany. So how was this going to work?
Narrator: Bush and Gorbachev tackled this issue at a summit in Washington in early June 1990.
Mikhail Gorbachev (translated): I said, "We want Germany to be neutral." That was our initial position that we proposed. This was the subject of very passionate debate. President Bush said, "Why are you afraid of Germany?" I said, "Well, my impression is that you are afraid of Germany, because you are afraid to set Germany free from NATO. We are not afraid of Germany out of NATO. Why should we be afraid?
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: President Bush said, and of course the Helsinki accords which we had all signed in 1975 allow that any state in Europe can choose its alliances. So once there's a unified Germany, it can choose its alliances. And Gorbachev said, "That's right."
Mikhail Gorbachev (translated): Yes. I said, "Well, if you insist, then it is not up to us to decide which alliance Germany would join, so let the Germans decide whether they would want to be a part of the Warsaw Treaty or a part of NATO or to be a neutral country."
Brent Snowcraft: And his associates at the table started talking among themselves, Russians, and they called a halt to the meeting, and they went off in the corner and had a debate. It was really, really something. And they tried to get Gorbachev to back away from that statement, that the German -- it was up to the Germans.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: And we actually called the Russians that night and said, "Now, when President Bush says this in his press conference statement, is President Gorbachev going to say yes, or is he going to contradict him?" And we waited long hours. I remember going home and waiting well into the night. And finally the call came. Yes, in fact, President Gorbachev was going to be fine. He wouldn't contradict it. And then we all held our breath through the press conference.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I believe as do Chancellor Kohl and the members of the alliance believe Germany should be a full member of NATO. President Gorbachev frankly does not hold that view. But we are in full agreement that the matter of alliance membership is in accordance with the Helsinki Final Act a matter for the Germans to decide.
Pavel Palazchenko, Foreign Ministry, Soviet Union: Bush said to Gorbachev, "I do understand why you have doubts about Germany. I do understand. I do know the history between the Soviet Union and Germany. But I believe that Germany has paid its dues, that Germany has paid its debts, and that it is now a responsible nation that will behave responsibly on the international scene." And I think that that argument did have some force with Gorbachev.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: That was one of the seminal moments in unifying Germany. And President George H.W. Bush was the only person that I think could have pulled it off, just because of his personal qualities and the way that he thought about diplomacy.
Narrator: Bush considered a united Germany in NATO one of the crowning achievements of his presidency. One historian called it "one of the greatest moments in the history of American statecraft" after Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase and the diplomacy of the so-called Wise Men who, at the start of the Cold War, planned the policy of containing the Soviet Union.
Eighteen months into his term, George Bush faced the first international crisis of the post-Cold War world. Iraq's president Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait in a dispute over oil fields. Bush would have to decide how to deal with a man he saw in terms of Hitler. How he would meet that challenge would test all his skills as President. His actions would propel him to the heights of popularity. That would make his rejection by the American people less than two years later all the more bewildering and painful.
Part II: Echoes of the Wise Men
Narrator: "I read ten or fifteen letters all of them saying "Take care of my kid," George Bush wrote in his diary Christmas Eve 1990. "Some saying, "It's not worth dying for gasoline. Then I sit here knowing that if there is no movement on Saddam's part, we have to go to war."
Jeb Bush, son: The weight of the world was on my dad's shoulders, and the decision had already been made or was in its final stages. And so here we were having Christmas, family Christmas, at a time that the people would come in to brief the President of the United States about this upcoming action. And it was just a very unusual time.
Narrator: Dear George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro: I guess what I want you to know as a father is this: When the question is asked "How many lives are you willing to sacrifice, it tears at my heart...I look at today's crisis as "good" vs. "evil." Saddam cannot profit from his aggression and from his brutalizing the people of Kuwait. So dear kids, batten down the hatches. I'm the luckiest Dad in the whole wide world.
Evan Thomas, co-author, The Wise Men: I think George Bush was the last gasp of the "wise men". He's right out of that tradition, literally and figuratively: Andover and Yale, this deep sense of duty to serve, serving in peace and war, making some money but then going in for a long period of public service.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: I wouldn't call him the last of the wise men. I think he is the heir to that tradition. The wise men never had to run for office. That's the difference. They didn't have the scars of running for office. He is this curious combination of qualities: someone who has a discomfort with the grubbier side of politics, and yet forced to wallow in that for much of his career, in order to have a shot at doing what the wise men would do.
Narrator: On August 1, 1990, Bush's national security advisor informed him that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had invaded neighboring Kuwait in a dispute over oil. Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor: Well it's interesting, I told him about it at night, and we scheduled an NSC meeting for early in the morning before he left for Aspen. It wasn't a decision meeting. But the-the sort of mood in the meeting was: Well, it's a fait accompli. It's taken place. We can't do much about it. It's halfway around the world. And sort of: How do we adjust to it?
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, do you contemplate intervention as one of your options?
George H. W. Bush (archival): Yes, Helen. We are not discussing intervention. I would not discuss any military options. Even if we'd agreed upon them. But one of the things I want to do at this meeting is hear from our Secretary of Defense, our chairman and others. But I'm not contemplating such actions.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: And so when we got on the plane I said, "Mr. President, I was very disturbed at that meeting." And he said, "What do you mean?" And I said, "The next meeting we have when we get back, would you let me speak out first and say what the importance of this was?" And he said, "Why don't I do it?" And I said, "No, because if you do it at the outset, you'll stifle debate. And you want to- you want to have the debate." But right at the beginning, he made it quite clear, while he didn't say so that early, that this was an unacceptable action.
Narrator: At a conference in Colorado, Bush met an old ally.
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister: George Bush just said to me, "Margaret, what is your view?" And so indeed, I told him that aggressors must be stopped, not only stopped but they must be thrown out. An aggressor cannot gain from his aggression. He must be thrown out. But really by that time, I thought in my mind that we must throw him out so decisively that he could never do that again.
George H. W. Bush (archival): We find his behavior intolerable in this instance, and so do the rest of the United Nations countries that met last night. And reaction from around the world is unanimous in being condemnatory.
Narrator: Secretary of State James Baker was in Moscow with a new ally. For the first time since 1945, the U.S. and the Soviet Union lined up on the same side of an international crisis.
James A. Baker, III, Secretary of State: We met at the airport in Moscow and that to me is when the Cold War really ended, when you had the American Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union standing shoulder to shoulder in condemning the action of a Soviet client state, and even agreeing, I think at that time, to put an arms embargo on Iraq.
Narrator: Bush had asked the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on Iraq. At a weekend meeting at Camp David, he decided to offer to send U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia to protect its oil fields. When he returned to Washington, he had made another decision.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: I watched Dad get out of the helicopter, and there was this smoldering intensity to him. He knew that he needed to kick Saddam out of Kuwait, and I don't think he knew at that point exactly how he was going to do it. But there was this sort of focused, intense demeanor that was very different.
George H. W. Bush (archival): This will not stand. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait. I've got to go. I have to go to work.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: Bush led with his gut, with his instincts...He was an emotive, an emotional, an intuitive, instinctive leader, much more emotional than people thought.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: I was surprised that he spoke out that quickly. His mind had been made up that one way or another, the Iraqis had to leave Kuwait.
Colin Powell, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff: Now, that statement, "This will not stand," doesn't translate into how we're going to make it not stand. Is it going to be sanctions? Is it going to be UN coalition action? Is it going to be unilateral U.S. action? And what exactly is it we're going to do?
Narrator: Bush dispatched Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia to convince the Saudis to accept American forces. Despite warnings the U.S. forces would sully the Muslim holy land, the king accepted the U.S. offer. Osama bin Ladin, the 33-year old Islamic fundamentalist who issued the warning, was placed under confinement. The force to protect Saudi Arabia was called Desert Shield.
George H. W. Bush (archival): At my direction elements of the 82nd Airborne division as well as key units of the United States Air force are arriving today to take up defensive positions in Saudi Arabia. To assume Iraq will not attack again would be unwise and unrealistic. If history teaches us anything it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms. Appeasement does not work. As was the case in the 1930s, we see in Saddam Hussein an aggressive dictator threatening his neighbors.
Narrator: Bush's international contacts from his days at the United Nations, the CIA and eight years as vice president were vast. He put his Rolodex to work and talked to 29 heads of state in the first week.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: He has enormous people skills. He likes to reach out and to talk to people and understand where they're coming from, what they think, what their problems are. And he used to pick up the phone and call foreign leaders, sometimes on specific issues, but frequently not with anything in mind. Just "How are you? How are you getting along?" and so on.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: I had studied political science. This wasn't what Presidents of the United States did. What a waste of time, Presidents of the United States! I realized that what he was doing was building relationships. He was very attentive to building relationships before you had to ask someone to do something hard.
Narrator: In the midst of the crisis, Bush retreated to his family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. He had vacationed there every summer of his life except once during World War II. He did not let the Gulf crisis keep him from the place he referred to as his "anchor to windward."
Jeb Bush, son: There is a timelessness to the place, about how you treat others, how you love your family. How you recharge your spirits. There is something that is timeless. And it is downright spectacularly beautiful as well.
Narrator: His mobile phone, Rolodex, and staff traveled with him. Even while fishing for bluefish, Iraq was rarely out of his mind.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: We were out there for four hours. So we really talked about the world, and what was happening to the world; and we discussed how it could change, and in the sense of building this "new world order" where small countries could feel safe from aggression by other countries, and where the UN Security Council could behave the way its framers thought: the countries with the power could use it to preserve a stable and peaceful world.
Narration: Some felt Bush should return to the White House. He was reminded of the Iran hostage crisis and how the attention of President Jimmy Carter, was, he recalled, "controlled by thugs. I was absolutely determined that the American people would be spared this a second time."
Barbara Bush, wife: He played at six so that it would not bother the other members of the club when nobody else was there. But he loves life. He loves the boat. He loves to play golf. He used to love tennis beyond belief. I mean he played all those things, and he played them at full speed.
Billy Busch, friend: The President loves to drive his boat. Just absolutely loves to get in his boat and go. And he loves to fish, loves to be out on the water. Even if the fishing's not good, it's just great to be on the water. Maybe it's like a freedom. President's on his own, driving his own machine, no one else to say, "Do this." It's his.
Jeb Bush, son: The part that my dad likes the most is the coming back part, where he's going 50-60 miles an hour in this cove. Pulls back on the velocity and makes this turn that is spectacular, and scares the living heck out of everybody that's never done it before.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Very strong fish. Stronger than he looks like just from looking at it.
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary: We used to play tennis when it was 95 degrees, and we'd finish two sets and I'd say, "Mr. President, I can't go on anymore. I just can't do it." "Oh yes, Marlin, come on. One more -- one more set." And I remember he says, "Don't worry, you stand at the net and I'll just play everything behind you." And I thought, "Oh my God, don't let anybody see this." And so I suddenly the President's feet are going back and forth, back and forth behind me, and I'm not even moving! And finally I just said, "I cannot do it, Mr. President." He said, "Yes, you can, Marlin. You stay right there." He was just the most competitive man.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Iraq will not be permitted to annex Kuwait. And that's not a threat, it's not a boast, it's just the way it's going to be.
Narrator: Kuwaitis detailed the horrors of Saddam Hussein's occupation to a Congressional panel.
Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti ambassador: They have resorted to acts of mass execution, they have resorted to mass acts of rape, and they have resorted to mass acts of looting and pillaging of my country.
George H. W. Bush (archival): And that's what we're dealing with. We're dealing with Hitler revisited. A totalitarianism and a brutality that is naked and unprecedented in modern times. And that must not stand.
Narrator: Bush had little faith economic sanctions would convince Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. In early November, he doubled the size of the forces committed to Desert Shield.
George H. W. Bush (archival): After consultation with King Fahd, and our other allies, I have today directed the Secretary of Defense to increase the size of the U.S. forces committed to Desert Shield to ensure that the coalition has an adequate offensive military option should that be necessary to achieve our common goals.
Narrator: He would now have enough military might to force Saddam to withdraw.
Members of Congress were shocked that Bush had acted on his own and began hearings on the possibility of a war in Iraq. Even the architect of the Vietnam War favored economic sanctions instead.
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, 1961-68 (archival) The point is it's going to be bloody. There are going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of casualties. Who can doubt that a year of blockade will be cheaper than a week of war?
Senator Sam Nunn (archival): Of course there are no guarantees on economic sanctions. There are also no guarantees on war!
Narrator: If attacked, Saddam Hussein threatened to use Western hostages as shields, including children. If attacked, Saddam threatened to attack Israel. Israelis prepared for chemical warfare. The Iraqi leader had not hesitated to use chemical warfare in its eight-year war against Iran -- or against his own people, Kurds in northern Iraq. Yet even Iran now backed Iraq and threatened holy war against the U.S. if Iraq were attacked.
News announcer (archival): Tonight in a televised speech written by Saddam Hussein and read by his spokesman, the Iraqi President again called for the Muslim world to unite in the holy war against America. "We are the ones who scared America," chant the soldiers, "and if death comes our way we will not be scared."
Narrator: Some feared a war in the Persian Gulf could escalate into World War III. Especially if Israel responded to an attack.
George H. W. Bush (archival): An Iraq permitted to swallow Kuwait would have the economic and military power as well as the arrogance to intimidate and coerce its neighbors. Neighbors who control the lion's share of the world's remaining oil reserves. We cannot permit a resource so vital to be dominated by one so ruthless and we won't.
Narrator: The uncertainty of war and a spike in oil prices had already taken a toll on a fragile economy.
James A. Baker, III: I went to him and I said, "Mr. President, "You know that this has all the ingredients that have brought down a couple of former presidents. It's got $50 oil, body bags," and he said, "I know that, Jimmy, but we're going to do what's right. This is clearly in the national interest, and whatever happens, so be it." He was determined to do what was right, notwithstanding the political consequences.
Narrator: In his domestic policy, Bush had also done what he thought was right regardless of the political costs, or, his critics charged, the cost to tax payers. Bush had signed legislation to help Americans with disabilities and initiated plans to clean up America's polluted air.
Senator George Mitchell, Senate Majority Leader: During President Reagan's term, we did try to revise and improve on the Clean Air Act, but President Reagan was adamantly opposed to it and we couldn't get any traction. When President Bush took office, he said he wanted clean air legislation. That completely changed the dynamic. The debate changed from "will there be a Clean Air Bill?" to "what will be in the Clean Air Bill?"
Narrator: These programs would be costly. Bush was already committed to solve the savings and loan banking crisis he had inherited from Reagan at a cost of $125 billion. All these commitments exacerbated a growing budget deficit.
Richard Darman, budget director: At that time, revenues were around 19% of gross domestic product and spending was around 23% so there was a gap of 4 or 5%. And it was projected to stay that way for a long time and then start rising as the baby boom generation would retire. And everybody agreed that that would be unsustainable. The argument was, what to do about it.
Narrator: Bush considered breaking his campaign pledge not to raise taxes. This "could mean a one term Presidency," he confided to his diary, "but it's that important for the country."
Richard Darman: He knew there was enormous political risk, and he was prepared to pay the price for what he thought was the right thing to do in the circumstances.
Senator George Mitchell: Dick Darman, a very smart fellow, came to see me several times, and he suggested that we have a high level negotiation, from which he said a tax increase would emerge. I said, "Well, how's it going to emerge?" And he said, "Well, it'll just emerge." And I remember he made a fluttering motion with his hands. Well, we were very suspicious because at about the same time, the President's Chief of Staff, Governor Sununu, said, "Well, if there's any negotiations, in the negotiations the Democrats will propose tax increases and the president will say no." So it was kind of a mixed message.
John Sununu, Chief of Staff: I am not as much of a gentleman as the president is, when it comes to hardball politics. I would have made sure that the country knew that the taxes were Mitchell taxes and Foley taxes, not Bush taxes.
Narrator: At a meeting on June 26, 1990, of top Senate and House leaders from both parties, the Democrats agreed to spending cuts and Republicans agreed to raise taxes.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Read my lips "no new taxes".
Narrator: George Bush began to pay the price of his dramatic campaign promise.
Reporter (archival): Aren't some voters going to feel you broke your promise, Sir?
George H. W. Bush (archival): When the budget negotiators meet tomorrow, they'll begin discussing what this means for he average family -- whether it's higher taxes on gasoline, liquor, inheritance, or on the wealthy. And whether Social Security increases and farm subsidies are cut.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: I think he betrayed the Reagan revolution in many ways, by new government programs, greatly increased government spending. But the most visible break with Reagan was the "no new taxes," and it'll be one of his legacies that he will have to carry always, that he-he lied and betrayed, because he didn't raise taxes kicking and screaming. He seemed to be very comfortable doing it.
Nicholas Brady, Treasury Secretary: If you thought the problem had to be addressed, and you go back and look at how the economy was at that point in time, and you look at the problems that were out there (savings and loan, Third World debt, and a burgeoning deficit), you say, well, I guess we got to deal with it, the cards as they're dealt.
Narrator: After three months of bargaining, the budget negotiators had a deal. The bipartisan team was ready to announce it. Everyone, including the Republican whip Newt Gingrich, a movement conservative, seemed to be on board.
John Sununu, Chief of Staff: I had contacted Gingrich to make sure he was comfortable. He said he wasn't thrilled with it but he would support it. We had touched base with everybody that was part of the team, and gotten their agreement that even though they weren't thrilled with it, they would support it.
Narrator: As he had for the Persian Gulf crisis, Bush forged a coalition, this one a bipartisan team of quarreling politicians.
George H. W. (archival): The bipartisan leaders and I have reached agreement on the Federal Budget. Over five years, it would reduce the projected deficit by $500 billion; that is half a trillion dollars.
Narrator: One key player on the team never made it to the Rose Garden. Newt Gingrich had bolted.
Newt Gingrich (archival): I have to look at this as an independent member of Congress, as an independent member of the Republican leadership, and I have to say as an independent person, is this something I can go home in good conscience and say, "This is the best we could do for the next five years, and I can defend it"? My personal belief is no.
Narration: Bush was holding his international coalition together. He failed to hold his own party together. When Democratic Senator Richard Russell failed to support Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War in 1963, LBJ faced him down.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Lyndon Johnson in that situation would have said, "Do what I want or I'll cut off your balls." It's hard to imagine George Bush threatening anyone. And it is in some ways a sad commentary on the office of the presidency itself, that that is deemed a weakness, a shortcoming.
Narrator: When Bush realized his budget agreement was going nowhere, he appealed to the American people.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I ask you to take this initiative: Tell your Congressmen and Senators you support this deficit reduction agreement.
Newt Gingrich (archival): In my district as of a few minutes ago, we had 775 phone calls today, 83 percent against the agreement. And a group of eight economists, seven of whom served in the Reagan administration, came out and said this particular agreement would not be good for the American economy.
Narrator: Newt Gingrich may well have advanced Reagan's cause. George Bush may well have saved Reagan's reputation.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: Had Bush not cleaned up the savings and loan mess, had he not cleaned up the budget problem by breaking his "no new taxes" pledge and raising taxes, Ronald Reagan would be associated with an economic collapse in the United States. Instead, because George Bush was willing to give Americans strong medicine, Bush gave Reagan a different legacy.
Narrator: Only two days after the president's appeal, the House voted the budget agreement down. Sixty percent of House Republicans followed Gingrich in what one reporter called a "collective nervous breakdown" in the GOP. Gingrich's revolt launched him on a path to become Speaker of the House. It also gave the majority Democrats their way on the budget bill. Bush was forced to sign a bill that raised not the gasoline tax he and Republicans had favored but an income tax on the rich.
Senator George Mitchell: What we were trying to do was to pass a budget that was good for the country, that didn't involve us taking the political rap for the difficult part of it. And in that sense, we were able to accomplish that.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: George Bush said what he had to say to win the 1988 election, and consequently paid an enormous price. So how do you weigh, in the scales of history, his performance? The fact that in a rather craven way, he did what his political advisors said was necessary to win; or, once he had won, he in effect put his presidency at risk by doing what his conscience and his calculations told him was necessary. There's the Faustian bargain of George Bush's presidency.
Narrator: Congress cut a deal with Bush on the deficit but still balked on the use of force in Iraq. It would be easier to get Congressional support, Bush concluded, if the United Nations were on his side. On Nov. 29, Secretary Baker made his case for the use of "all necessary means" to evict Iraq from Kuwait if it did not withdraw by January 15, 1991.
James A. Baker, III (archival): The result of the voting is as follows. Twelve votes in favor. Two votes against. One abstention. The draft resolution has been adopted as Resolution 678-1990.
James A. Baker, III: That UN vote was very important. But if you ask me whether we would have done it without the vote, we probably would have, because we felt we had the constitutional authority and power to do so. But it was really important to try and get the rest of the world behind us.
Narrator: After the UN backed the use of force, Secretary Baker made his case to a reluctant Congress.
Senator Paul Sarbanes (archival): It seems to me that you have placed us on a course to war. Now this buildup now of the force almost takes you irresistibly down the path of going to war.
James A. Baker, III (archival): Politically, Mr. Chairman, we must stand for American leadership, not because we seek it but simply because no one else can do the job. And we did not stand united for 40 years to bring the Cold War to a peaceful end in order to make the world safe for the likes of Saddam Hussein.
Narrator: Congress was still resisting when Secretary Baker met with Iraq's foreign minister in a final attempt at diplomacy.
James A. Baker, III (archival): Ladies and gentlemen, in over six hours, I heard nothing that suggested to me any Iraqi flexibility whatsoever on complying with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Narrator: Only then, on January 12, 1991 did Congress narrowly approve the use of force to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
James A. Baker, III: And how did we finally win a vote in the House and the Senate when we were a Republican administration with a Democratic Congress? We won a vote because we went out and we got the rest of the world to support us. So we could go to a Senator and we could say, "Senator, you mean you're not going to support the President of the United States but the president of Ethiopia is going to support him?" And it was very, very effective.
Doro Bush Koch, daughter: It was a snowy weekend at Camp David. A lot of the kids were there and the idea was for Dad's friends to sort of take his mind off a little bit of what was going on, but of course his mind was on it every minute.
Willard "Spike" Heminway, friend: Barbara called up and said "the President needs some comic relief," if you want to put it that way. "Come on up to Camp David." He said, "Spike, let's take a walk around the perimeter. I've got to get out and get some air," and we started to walk around, and then he looked over at one of the military police over there who guard Camp David, and he had tears in his eyes, and he said, "Spike, those are the kids I've got to send to war, and I don't want to do it, but I have to do it."
Narrator: That weekend President Bush called Congressional leaders to thank those who voted for the war for their votes, to thank those who voted against it for their consideration.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Just two hours ago Allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait.
Narrator: At 9pm on January 16, 1991, President Bush announced the start of the Gulf War.
George H. W. Bush (archival): These attacks continue as I speak. Ground forces are not engaged. Five months ago Saddam Hussein started this cruel war against Kuwait. Tonight, the battle has been joined.
Narrator: For 38 days the U.S. Air Force led the battle, now called Desert Storm. Then the coalition launched a ground assault. Coalition forces quickly evicted the Iraqi army from Kuwait. They crushed 46 Iraqi divisions. Much of the elite Republican guard escaped back to Baghdad. Others were caught on what became known as the "Highway of Death." Bush chose to stop the slaughter. He ended the war after four days. The ground offensive became known as the 100-hour war.
Despite warnings of a blood bath, the death toll among Americans would number 303, with fewer than 500 wounded. Yet Saddam Hussein remained in power.
James A. Baker, III: Well, the war was stopped because all the President's political and military advisors told him that he had achieved the war aims that were laid out. We had achieved what the UN Security Council resolution asked us to do and authorized us to do, that is, kick Iraq out of Kuwait. And every one of the President's advisors advised him that it was time to end it.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: We did not know what would happen if we went on into Baghdad. It would have been simple to do. But we would have been occupiers in a hostile land. Our troops would have been sniped at and so on. And we had no exit plan. How do you get out once you've occupied the country?
Colin Powell: Another consideration that we took into account, as a military matter, is we did not want to totally destroy the Iraqi army. And you can guess why: Iran. We did not want Iraq laying prostrate before Iran. And so it was always our intention to leave Saddam Hussein with enough of an army that it would not be a threat to his neighbors anymore, but it would not leave him totally vulnerable to Iranian misadventure, keeping in mind that that Iraq-Iran War had only ended three years earlier.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: We were trying to set a pattern for behavior in the post-Cold War world. We were operating under a UN mandate. If we said, "Okay, we've fulfilled the mandate but now we want to go on and do some more," that's a bad precedent to set for people relying on the United States to do what the UN mandates and not further.
George H. W. Bush (archival): For the sake of our principles, for the sake of the Kuwaiti people. We stood our ground. Because the world would not look the other way. Ambassador al-Sabah, tonight Kuwait is free.
Narrator: This was the high point of the Bush presidency. His approval ratings were at 89%, at the time, the highest in the history of presidential polling.
Morgan Freeman (archival): Mr. President, you set down ideals and standards that because they were carried on...
Narrator: A few days later Bush attended a tribute to President Lincoln at the Ford Theater where he was shot.
Morgan Freeman (archival): If they could stand where I stand where I stand now, their message would be overwhelmingly simple, Thank you Mr. President. And thank you, Mr. President.
Narrator: Americans celebrated a war that put an end to the national self-doubt that had lingered since the Vietnam War. But George Bush was not elated. Intelligence reports predicted the Iraqi military would overthrow Saddam. That had not happened.
George H. W. Bush (archival): To be very honest with you, I haven't yet felt this wonderfully euphoric feeling that many of the American people feel. And I'm beginning to. I feel much better about it today than I did yesterday. But I think it's that I want to see an end. You mentioned World War II; there was a definitive end to that conflict. And now we have Saddam Hussein still there, the man that wreaked this havoc upon his neighbors. We have our prisoners still held. We have people unaccounted for.
Narrator: The days of "phone calls to foreign leaders, trying to keep things moving forward, managing a massive project," were over, Bush wrote in his diary. "I don't know whether it's the anticlimax or that I'm too tired to enjoy anything, but I just seem to be losing my perspective.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: Would have been great to have a formal surrender and all of that, and it just sort of ended. And it really didn't end, because Saddam right away, as soon as he'd put down the uprisings in the country and he started using his helicopters, and then he was a thorn from then on. So it never really was over. And that gave President Bush a sense of being unfulfilled.
Narrator: Within days after the cease-fire, Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard brutally suppressed an uprising by Iraqi Shia in the South. Then they suppressed an uprising by the Kurds in the north. During the war, Bush had encouraged such uprisings as a way to topple Saddam.
George H. W. Bush (archival): There's another way for the bloodshed to stop. And that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside, and then comply with the United Nations Resolutions and rejoin the family of peace loving nations.
Narrator: Some felt U.S. support was implicit in Bush's statement. Bush did not.
George H. W. Bush (archival): But do I think that the United States should bear guilt because of suggesting that the Iraqi people take matters into their own hands, with the implication being given by some that the United States would be there to support them militarily? That was not true, we never implied that.
Narrator: In coming months, many questioned Bush's decision not to go to Baghdad to take out Saddam Hussein.
News reporters (archival): America has growing doubts about our victory over Iraq. Was it all worth it? Should U.S. troops march on Baghdad and finish the job we should have finished six weeks ago? If we were prepared to use force to drive Saddam from power, it would be over probably in four days, no more than four weeks.
James A. Baker, III: Some people said, "Why didn't you guys take care of Saddam when you had the chance? Why didn't you go to Baghdad?" Well, guess what. I got that question a lot when I used to go out and speak. Nobody asks me that question anymore.
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: We heard no rumbles of discontent at all. They emerged shortly after, and then for a number of years we heard, "Why didn't you finish the job?" We don't hear that anymore.
Colin Powell: In recent months, nobody's been asking me about why we didn't go to Baghdad. Pretty good idea now why Baghdad should always looked at with some reservations.
Narrator: After the Gulf War, Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia determined to get revenge against the United States for defiling Saudi soil. After the Gulf War, Bush had amassed all the political capital a president could have. No one knew he would not be able to use it.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: By the spring of 1991, the Bush presidency was something of an exhausted volcano. George Herbert Walker Bush had fulfilled his historical role. He was left with the infinitely unappealing option of defining a domestic sequel to the end of the Gulf War that would unite this fractious conservative coalition. And then he was playing to his weaknesses.
Narrator: The rest of Bush's presidency would be a steady decline. In May 1991, Bush's health became a concern. He developed a shortness of breath while jogging at Camp David. He had heart arrhythmia and an overactive thyroid -- diagnosed as Graves' disease. Members of his team began to wonder if he would have the strength to endure another presidential campaign. His dealings with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev came under attack. When Bush met with the Soviet leader to sign an important arms control agreement, he was criticized for "clinging to Gorbachev" when he should have been courting Boris Yeltsin, President of the Russian Parliament, who was more committed to democracy and free markets. "My view," Bush said, "is you dance with who's on the dance floor." Especially if your dance partner controls more than 12,000 nuclear warheads -- aimed at you. The treaty Bush signed with Gorbachev would eliminate almost 5,000 of them.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Well, I am very pleased to announce that I will nominate Judge Clarence Thomas...
Narrator: In the summer of 1991 Bush tried to appeal to his political right, which he had largely neglected, by appointing conservative justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
George H. W. Bush (archival): And the fact that he is black and a minority has nothing to do with this in the sense that he is the best qualified at this time.
Narrator: This backfired amid charges of sexual harassment by a former employee, Anita Hill.
Anita Hill (archival): He talked about acts he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals.
Narrator: A sluggish economy nagged at Bush. America was losing jobs overseas.
Protesters (archival): America's wonderful, ain't it Mr. Bush? Maybe you'll be unemployed. Lay off Bush! Lay off Bush!
Richard Darman: People were very worried about getting displaced from their job as 40- to 55-year-old workers, and being unable to find new jobs. People were worried about long-term care for their parents. People were worried about their own health insurance. There were a lot of things that contributed to a sense of economic insecurity.
George H. W. Bush (archival): People are hurting. And they're hurting here in New York, and they're hurting across this country, and families trying to make ends meet, proud Americans trying to keep their dignity when they lost their jobs. And I don't know any American who sees this happening who is so callous that he cannot feel or she cannot feel a tug in her heart, who doesn't want to reach out actually and hold out a hand and try to help these people.
Narrator: Bush believed there was little he could do. Jobs were going overseas and would not return. The onset of globalization helped push the unemployment rate to 7.4%. Bush was not willing to extend unemployment benefits for fear of increasing the budget deficit. When he tried to encourage consumer spending to spur the economy, the press saw him as unsympathetic to those who might not have spare cash to spend.
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary: The problem was that when you would ask him to do something symbolic, like going down to this little town near Camp David and showing concern for the economy, he saw it as not being true, as not real. And what was real to him was, he needed to buy some gifts for his grandkids. And so in his mind, that was a far more realistic thing to do. And it's just one of those things where it ended up working against him.
Narrator: When Bush flew to Japan with American automakers in an effort to create more jobs, he soldiered on despite a case of the flu. At a formal state dinner, he got sick on the prime minister. "These last two months have been the worst of my presidency," he told a friend. "And the last year has been the worst of my political career." Things would not get any better. The next month he was skewered by the New York Times for seeming out of touch at a grocers' convention. He marveled at new technology that could read the bar code of shredded label. The New York Times said he didn't know how an ordinary check-out counter worked.
John Robert Green, presidential historian: The story stuck because it fed in with what was being argued by his opponents, both on the far right and the Democrats, that Bush had lost touch with the American people.
Narrator: In October of 1991, the cascade of ill-fortune literally hit home. A Nor'easter, the perfect storm, threatened Bush's house at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport.
Willard "Spike" Heminway, friend: He had all his memorabilia in there, and to see it in rubble, and with rocks and water and seaweed, it was terrible for everybody.
Barbara Bush, wife: It was devastating. But life goes on. And you know, a lot of people's homes were hurt. But all the way up and down the east coast. And we had another home, the White House, temporarily, and so we could survive. A lot of people had a lot more trouble than we did.
Reporter (archive): Mr. President, did you give any thought to perhaps after two storms in 13 years of moving to higher ground or are you determined to come back here?
George H. W. Bush (archival): (Shakes head no) We'll be here. We'll be here. It means something to us. It means something to us. It's our family's strength.
Narrator: Bush could take some comfort on Christmas day 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. President Mikhail Gorbachev's last phone call was to him.
Mikhail Gorbachev: I said that I will be stepping down, that I will be resigning, and Bush at that time thanked me for the very fruitful work that we did together in international affairs, in building the bilateral relationship. He said that he felt that I had made a great decisive contribution to positive change in the world.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: That last phone call from Gorbachev to President Bush is, to me, still one of the most remarkable things in history, that the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the President of the great Soviet Union, in its dying moments, would choose to call the President of the United States. It says that, I think, Gorbachev needed affirmation that what he was doing was right, to let the Soviet Union die a peaceful death.
Mikhail Gorbachev: We had a very good and serious and friendly conversation, and at that time President Bush gave me serious moral support.
Condoleezza Rice, Soviet expert, National Security Council: I talked to President Bush about that on a couple of occasions. And what's very funny is that he didn't see it as particularly extraordinary. And that says something about his modesty and about his humility.
George H. W. Bush (archival): I'd like to express, on behalf of the American people, my gratitude to Mikhail Gorbachev for years of sustained commitment to world peace, and for his intellect, vision, and courage.
Narrator: If ever anyone needed a big win, it was George Bush. Yet that Christmas, he did not talk of winners. Instead Bush televised his thank you note to Gorbachev.
George H. W. Bush (archival): This struggle changed the lives of all Americans. It forced all nations to live under the specter of nuclear destruction. That confrontation is now over.
Narrator: A month later Bush did talk of winners. It was a presidential election year.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this. By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.
Narrator: Still, Bush called no attention to his role in helping shepherd the Soviet Union out of existence without a shot being fired.
George H. W. Bush (archival): And I have an announcement to make. I want to continue serving as your president four more years.
Narrator: The fact that he waited until February to announce his candidacy led some to believe he was not interested in a second term. Bush would campaign without Lee Atwater, the bare-knuckled political guru who had masterminded success four years earlier. Atwater had died of brain cancer.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: The death of Lee Atwater was the most important event in the Bush campaign of 1992. It took out of the mix the one person who could have made George Bush fight and made George Bush see the logic of negative campaigning.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: I don't think you can exaggerate the significance of what was lost to the Bush presidency when Lee Atwater died. It's as if one lobe of the president's brain was removed: the political part. And for someone who was already, in many ways, uncomfortable with the demands of the political presidency, it was a crushing blow.
Narrator: Chief of Staff John Sununu, who had delivered New Hampshire for Bush in 88, was forced to resign at the end of 1991. He had used presidential planes for personal business including trips to his dentist.
Supporters (archival): We want Bush! We want Bush!
Narrator: The Republican party continued to fracture. In New Hampshire, Bush was challenged by Pat Buchanan, a conservative talk show pundit and former aide to presidents Nixon and Reagan. Buchanan hammered Bush for raising taxes.
Pat Buchanan (archival): It was not some liberal democrat who declared "read my lips, no new taxes" and then broke his word to cut a seedy back room deal with the big spenders on Capitol Hill.
Narrator: Bush could not campaign on the things in which he took pride -- the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. To movement conservatives they simply expanded government at the taxpayer's expense.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: So in addition to Bush's innate modesty, there's also a political imperative. Bush doesn't want to call that much attention to these accomplishments because in his political universe, they are the right thing to do, they are the responsible thing to do, they are the establishment thing to do, they are the thing that Prescott Bush would do if he was in the White House, but in the new political era in which George Bush finds himself, they're actually liabilities.
Richard Viguerie, conservative activist: They were major liabilities. There's few things that send the conservatives up the wall and off the wall more than to be told by establishment Republicans, "We can do anything we want. We can advocate most any policy or program, because we are still a little bit better than the Democrats, so you have no place else to go." And this angers us. And so because we felt we had no stake in his presidency, it was easy to oppose his nomination.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: The Republican Party changes during Bush's administration. It swings, lurches to the right. It's a seismic shift. And the reason for it is because conservative Republicans were able to position George Bush as having let them down, as having broken the Reagan faith. And a lot of that's true. George Bush was a moderate Republican. He was not a Reagan Republican.
Arnold Schwarzenegger (archival): I want you to vote, and at the same time send a message to Congress, and send a message to Pat Buchanan -- hasta la vista, baby!
Pat Buchanan (archival): The Buchanan brigades met King George's army...
Narrator: In February of 1992, Bush won the New Hampshire primary, but Buchanan captured 37% of the vote.
Two days later, Ross Perot, a Texas tycoon and an old friend of Bush's, challenged him as a third party candidate.
Ross Perot (archival): Number one I'll promise you this between now and the convention we'll get both parties' heads straight.
Narrator: Bush had problems. So did Democrat Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas.
Reporter (archival): Governor did you burn your draft card?
Bill Clinton (archival): No.
Gennifer Flowers (archival): Yes I was Bill Clinton's lover for 12 years...
Narrator: Bush could not believe anyone could survive these accusations and win his party's nomination.
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary: I think the President felt at the time that his record would preclude him winning. In this country, we had never really had a candidate who was a philanderer and who'd had the marital problems he had, and still win an election. We certainly never had a president who'd been accused of draft dodging and still be elected president. And that seemed like pretty heavy baggage. And so I don't think anybody believed Clinton could win.
George H. W. Bush (archival): There is a clear pattern to Governor Clinton's past. A pattern of deception. Character does matter. A pattern of deception is not right for the Oval Office.
Narrator: Clinton may have had baggage, but he was capable of hitting Bush where it hurt.
Bill Clinton (archival): You know what George Bush said yesterday to David and Rita Springs? He said, "if you want to get the economy going, go by a car or buy a house. It's a good time to buy a car, it's a good time to buy a house." It's a good time to buy a car or a house because if you're on welfare and food stamps, you can't pay the light bill and be a thousand points of light, much less buy a house or a car.
Narrator: By the spring of 1992 the recession was technically over. Bush's deficit reduction package was working, but people didn't feel it.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Gross national product, GNP is moving. Industrial production is up. Payroll employment is up. So things are turning around, and yet, at this juncture, the American people haven't felt it. When they do, I expect to see some change.
Narrator: In the second quarter of '92, the economy grew slower than Bush had hoped.
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary: Well the President was getting reports from his economic advisors. And he looked at the first quarter figures and the second quarter figures, and it wasn't getting any better. And he just slumped in his chair, ashen-faced, and he just said, "What are we going to do about this? That's the worst news I've ever heard."
Narrator: Bush accepted his party's nomination with an appeal to the accomplishments in which he took most pride.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The Soviet Union can only be found in history books. The captive nations of Eastern Europe and the Baltics are captive no more. And a slab of the Berlin Wall sits right outside this Astrodome. This convention is the first at which an American president can say, "The Cold War is over, and freedom finished first!"
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Presidents traditionally, when they run for re-election, particularly in the modern era, make it a referendum on what they've done. And in 1992, that wasn't enough. Because what he had done, significant as it might be and historically unprecedented as it might come to be seen, was irrelevant to what the American people increasingly wanted him to do, wanted him to concentrate on, which was pocketbook issues, which was domestic security to match the foreign security to which he had dedicated his presidency. By universal consensus Americans were demanding a different kind of leadership, a different kind of agenda, a different kind of government. And it wasn't in George Bush to give.
Narrator: "We still had no message, no campaign plan, no idea how to deal with Perot, no plan for the convention," a Bush aide would write. "We never did develop an answer to the basic question: Why should George Bush be reelected president?"
Mary Matalin, campaign aide: Politics is always about -- history is replete with evidence of this -- it's always about "what have you done for me lately." And the shelf life of anything, including the Persian Gulf conflict was short.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: He never connected with the American people. They never quite understood what he had done on their behalf. He didn't know how to sell it, and to a certain extent, he didn't want to sell it, because it he didn't think it was right to sell. Or when he tried to sell it, he did it wrong. George Bush was not his own best friend when he tried to explain George Bush.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: There was something about George Bush that always said, "If they'd just pay attention, if they would listen to me, if they'd see what I've done. If they don't pay attention to the glitz and the glamour of my opponents, if they weigh my results, they'll know I have a vision. And I don't have to tell it to them. I don't have to stoop to that level." The problem is that you do have to stoop to that level. You do have to articulate a vision, particularly when your opposition is holding you accountable for not articulating a vision.
Bill Clinton (archival): And you have to vote for somebody with a plan that's what you have elections for. People say, he got elected to do this. . .
Narrator: During a presidential debate in October, Bush seemed disengaged.
Citizen question (archival): Yes, how has the national debt personally affected each of your lives?
Herbert Parmet, biographer: His lack of enthusiasm conveyed to much of the American public a lack of appetite, a lack of desire.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: I was watching the debate with one of my classes, and Bush is sitting, looking completely disengaged. Did one of these. Just-- (motions looking at watch). He looked at his watch as if he was completely bored and trying to figure out when his next appointment was. I jumped up, started yelling at the screen, "The election's over, the election's over." Bush in that split second showed himself to be a candidate who didn't want to campaign. He thought that his accomplishments would speak for themselves.
George H. W. Bush (archival): You know, if you listened to the Clinton-Gore ticket, the only way they can win is to convince America that we're in a deep recession. This morning, the figures were announced for the third quarter of this growth, the gross domestic product. The third quarter was plus 2.7 percent. It grew twice as much...
Narrator: A week before the election, Bush finally had good news on the economy. Bush was right. This was the beginning of the economic boom of the 1990s -- of the Clinton years. The good news came too late to save Bush's presidency.
Richard Darman: Objective analysts have looked at the Clinton surpluses. The Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Budget Committee, some people at the Brookings Institution and others have said that they think that of the policy changes that accounted for the Clinton surplus, roughly 60% came in the 1990 budget agreement, thanks to President Bush.
Narrator: After the good news came the bad news. Just five days before the election, a special prosecutor issued his report of the Iran contra scandal six years before. Bush, it seemed, was more in the loop than he had claimed.
News anchor (archival): ...with an Iran-Contra haunts Bush banner, and from across the river, with a well-placed sign.
George H. W. Bush (archival): It's all a matter of public record. And now at the last minute, the Friday before the election, you have this charge re-aired by a desperate Clinton campaign.
Narrator: In the final days of the campaign, Clinton was able to turn the character issue against Bush.
Bill Clinton: Today's disclosure not only contradicts the President's claims, it diminishes the credibility of the Presidency.
Narrator: Bill Clinton defeated Bush with 43 percent of the vote. Ross Perot took 19 percent. Bush got 37. It was the most decisive rejection of a sitting president since 1912.
John Robert Greene, presidential historian: Bill Clinton did not beat George Bush in 1992. Pat Buchanan beat George Bush in 1992. He let the right get away. He let the right be hijacked by Pat Buchanan. He let the right be hijacked by Newt Gingrich. He did not consider them to be as important as they had grown to be during the Reagan years. It was that lack of prescience; it was that lack of understanding, the power of the political right in 1992, that cost George Bush the election.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: And he was bothered that his failure to be re-elected in 1992 would lead historians to denigrate- not only denigrate his presidency, but denigrate his commitment to the future of his country. He's not grandstanding here, he's not politicking here. This is what he was really concerned with.
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary: And so we were all in the tunnel, waiting to go into the convention hall, and we're all kind of stunned and beat up and tired, and the President was in the lead with Mrs. Bush, and he just turned to everybody, and everybody kind of fell silent. And he said, "Now, we're going to go out here and do this with dignity and style," and turned around and walked out.
George H. W. Bush (archival): Thank you. Well here's the way I see it, the way we see it, and the country should see it. That the people have spoken. And we respect the majesty of the democratic system. I just called Governor Clinton over in Little Rock and offered my congratulations. He did run a strong campaign. I wish him well in the White House.
Herbert Parmet, biographer: I'll tell you a term he used to me. Thought he was a sleazeball. He was contemptuous of Clinton.
Colin Powell: He said, 'It hurt. It hurts a lot.' As it must have. 'Never thought it would happen. It hurt a lot.' He didn't think that the American people would turn in that direction so quickly.
Barbara Bush, wife: It was very disappointing, to put it mildly, that he didn't win. I now think that we were saved the four most miserable years of our life. I think the press would have been all over him, worse than ever. And I think the Congress -- he never had a Congress, Senate or House. They would have just clobbered him. Maybe Newt saved us. Maybe. Miserable four years.
Nicholas Brady, Treasury Secretary: After the loss to Bill Clinton in '92, he said, "You know, I think I'm only an asterisk between Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton." I said to him, "give it time, Mr. President. Don't be so hard on yourself.
Timothy Naftali, biographer: People make the argument that Ronald Reagan created Bush. No. That's baloney. The notion of economic prosperity, of constant economic growth, of peace abroad, all of these ideas that are associated with Reagan's legacy, would have been impossible without George Bush.
Colin Powell: His most important contribution was bringing the Cold War to an end, after Reagan did all of the exciting, glitzy stuff. George Bush took us through those next few years, in a way that has produced a Europe that is whole free and at peace
Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor, 1989-93: This was one of history's major transformations, from one kind of a world to another. And rarely does that happen except accompanied by some kind of cataclysm. It didn't. Some of it was luck; a lot of it was the careful, thoughtful, methodical work of a president who saw what he needed to do and worked his way through it. Not histrionically, not the big guy standing up on the parapet, but just got it done.
Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian: Certainly no one can see George Bush as an interregnum between the drama of the Reagan years and the roller coaster ride of Bill Clinton. There is a significant, distinct historical impact that George Bush left upon, not so much the presidency, and certainly not above -- on the political culture of his time (in many ways, he was a victim of that culture). He left it on the world stage, which is, as I suspect, the way he would want it to be.
Narrator: After four decades of public life, George Bush feels his most important accomplishment in life is that his children still come home. The 41st president remains a fundamentally private man. When Ronald Reagan learned he had Alzheimer's disease, he wrote a letter for history. He addressed it to the American people. At summer's end in 2001, nine years after his defeat, George Bush wrote a letter. He addressed it to his children.
George H. W. Bush: "This is my last day in Kennebunkport after almost five months of great happiness. There is something about this place that gets into one's very soul. Don't you agree?" I had a little plaque made. It says CAVU. C-A-V-U was the kind of weather we Navy pilots wanted when we were to fly off our carrier in the Pacific -- "Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited." I will not pass by it without realizing how lucky I am, for the plaque describes my own life -- as it has been over the years, as it is right now.
Narrator: After leaving office, Bush saw his son George W. get elected Governor of Texas, and his son Jeb Governor of Florida.
Jeb Bush, son: I felt like he really had a heart for serving. And it's a good model. Giving back was a measurement or part of being still is being part of how you define success in life. I learned that from my dad.
Narrator: When George W. was elected president in 2000, it was the first time a father and son had occupied the White House since John and John Quincy Adams almost 200 years earlier.
George H. W. Bush: I used to seek broad horizons in life, and I found plenty. Now I don't care if I can't even see Ogunquit. Limited horizons are OK by me just so family is in view. I don't want to sit at the head table or be honored or get a medal or have stuff named for me. That's happened.
George H. W. Bush (archival): To say that I am pleased to be here is the classic understatement of the year. This is any naval aviator's dream come true.
George H. W. Bush: That's happened and I have been truly grateful for some of the honors, but no more need come my way. Your mother and I sit out here like a couple of really old poops, but we are at total peace. She does crossword puzzles, reads a ton of books, plays golf and occasionally gets mildly (to use an old Navy expression) pissed off at me.
Barbara Bush, wife: I didn't say what I'm quoted as saying, that dirty dog. He tells everybody that that's the largest free fall since the 1992 election. I really didn't say that.
He says it all the time. Of course I wouldn't say that. Maybe.
George H. W. Bush: I can handle it though. I fall back on bad hearing and changing the subject. Both work.
George H. W. Bush (archival): The true measure of a man is how you, how you handle victory and also...
Narrator: In 2006, as his son Jeb's term as Governor of Florida was winding down, Bush was invited to speak to a group of his supporters.
Jeb Bush, son: And so my dad saw this crowd of 300 people, and just I think, felt so much love for his boy that he just broke down, I mean, uncontrollably. I'm normally like second best crybaby, but I had to keep the place together [laughs]...What a guy. I love him dearly.
George H. W. Bush: Because of the five of you whose hugs I can still feel,
whose own lives have made me so proud, I can confidently tell my guardian angel that my life is CAVU; and it will be until the day I die.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?