What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

As UN Ambassador, head of CIA and 41, Bush built a political patriarchy

From his time as a United Nations ambassador to reaching the highest office in the land, former President George H.W. Bush's career in public service covers decades of American history and carved the way for his son’s presidency. For more, historian and PBS NewsHour contributor Michael Beschloss, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C.

Read the Full Transcript

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The presidency of George H.W. Bush and his career in public service covers decades of American history. Joining us now to put his presidency into perspective is presidential historian Michael Beschloss who's written nine books on the presidents he's also a contributor to PBS NewsHour joins me now from Washington, D.C. Michael a one-term president is something the modern generation of Americans haven't seen in the last 20 years. What's his legacy going to be in the time that he spent in office?

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    Well you know sometimes people think that a one term presidency means that you haven't been a great president. And yes he was not reelected but he was not reelected to some extent because he did things that were really important such as: presided over the end of the Cold War. George Bush made a relationship with a Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev it made Gorbachev comfortable enough to open the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe go out of the Soviet orbit let Germany unify with NATO. And as a result when Bush ran for president in 1992 for re-election he couldn't make the argument that you Americans really need my foreign policy skills because they felt were in the wake of a Cold War. It's better to get someone whose obsession is with the domestic which described Bill Clinton who won.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    He said later that he regrets that famous line, "Read my lips no new taxes," because so much of the emphasis was on the quote instead of on the status of the economy and the idea that there was a president willing to make a compromise because that was what was good. Seems almost antiquated now.

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    It does and especially a comp compromise that was very harmful to him politically because the Democrats got the compromise out of him and then they said Bush is someone who breaks his promises and what's more in 1992 Bill Clinton made an argument the country is in recession and spinning out of control. In retrospect we now know that at the time of the 92 election George Bush was presiding over an economy that was getting better but what he didn't have was communication skills. He wasn't able to make that plain to Americans.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know we've also talked a bit about this after the passing of McCain but he seems a different generation of the Republican Party that had room for such I would say a moderate voice in his right?

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    He was a modern new moderate New England Republican. Those things are all an oxymoron now how many Republicans do we have in national office office from New England these days. Virtually none. And the other thing is that this was someone who was known for reaching across the aisle known for not talking him over over John ways about himself not not getting into brawls with people all those things seemed very antique in 2018. Perhaps you and I will see a day Hari when those things are in fashion once again.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Do you think that the Willie Horton ad against Michael Dukakis ushered in a new era? Because while that is still a bad ad when you look at it now it seems tame compared to what kind of ads are on the air every two years.

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    It seems tame now. But that was something that hinted at racial animosity. It was certainly by no means George Bush's best moment in later years. He was not proud of it. The best he could say was I make a differentiation between campaigning and governing. In retrospect he never should have allowed the ad that actually the Willie Horton ad was an independent ad. But there was an official ad that hinted at some of the same things. They should not have done that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You know we talk about the fact that it's there's only been two families that have had a father and his son President. But it's hard to understate the enormous impact that one family has had on American politics going from George H.W.'s father all the way down to his sons and possibly grandson grandkids.

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    That's exactly right. For over 30 years at least you had bushes at the center of presidential politics and Harry maybe not only that period of time because I once talked to a French ambassador whose father had that same job and in the 1950s. Prescott Bush George Bush's father introduced George to this ambassador set in the 1950s. This is my son George he's going to be president someday.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right Michael Beschloss joining us from WashingtonD.C. Thanks so much.

  • MICAHEL BESCHLOSS:

    Thanks you so much, Hari.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest