What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

For parts of his presidency, Bush had more support from Democrats

While former Republican President George H. W. Bush has been characterized for his ability to create bridges across party lines, some of those compromises cost him support from his own party. Barbara Perry, a historian and professor at the University of Virginia, who wrote a book about Bush's tenure, spoke to Hari Sreenivasan about some of the lasting effects he had on U.S. politics.

Read the Full Transcript

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Barbara Perry is director of Presidential Studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia and joins me now from Charlottesville. Ms. Perry you've conducted dozens of interviews about the man you've written a book on the subject. What did you learn about George H.W. Bush?

  • BARBARA PERRY:

    I learned that he is a great patriot. Certainly one of the best prepared presidents we've ever had came to the White House with the golden resume. But a man of character that went all the way back to his childhood and the way his parents taught him particularly his mother not to be boastful. He once came home from a childhood baseball game and said I scored a homerun and she said but how did the team do? So it was always putting himself at the head in terms of leadership but not in drawing attention to himself and any kind of braggadocio way and that person of character that person with the golden resume who rose to the highest office in the land was also a man of faith a man who put family first and the last of our greatest generation the last of the World War II veterans to serve in the White House and that generation is passing from the scene. We missed their leadership we missed them as as our parents and grandparents.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Did the president's views on his time in the Oval Office change over time the further he got from the presidency?

  • BARBARA PERRY:

    I think George Bush's views on his own presidency matured after he left office in the sense that he looked back with no regrets as he said very openly. But he said that on occasion perhaps he should have been more open in his feelings. That was the case about the Cold War even some of his own people said why don't you go to Berlin when the Berlin Wall fell and he said no I'm not going to dance on the ruins of the Berlin wall again back to those childhood lessons. I'm not going to draw attention to myself. Another example of that certainly comes from how he dealt with the recession which really was the endpoint of his presidency it brought down his presidency and made him a one term president. The famous debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot when a woman stood up and said, "How has the recession affected you?" And George H.W. Bush gave a rather analytical answer. And Bill Clinton walked out to the woman in the audience and said I know exactly how it affects people because I'm the governor of the small state. I know my people. And Bill Clinton felt her pain and people felt that George H.W. Bush didn't feel theirs.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ms. Perry many Americans at least in the last 20 years know of almost a post partisan man a man who befriended the adversary who defeated him for the White House. There was a famous letter that he left at the Oval Office desk in the last line is your success. Now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you. That's almost unimaginable in this day.

  • BARBARA PERRY:

    You're so right Hari. And it's something that we miss and that I feared George H.W. Bush has taken with him and that is as as he said oftentimes after his very bitter defeat it was a crushing defeat for him to be just a one term president to be defeated by a baby boomer of all things. Bill Clinton. But he said in later years you don't have to be enemies to be on opposite sides of an issue or even an opposing parties. You don't have to be mean spirited. You don't have to be enemies. He was willing to compromise during his presidency. In fact one of the greatest compromises that the 1990 budget deal that he did with the Democrats in Congress probably cost him the presidency along with the recession. So even in his efforts to compromise on the budget on the Clean Air Act amendments for example on the Americans With Disabilities Act people at the time didn't think that was a good thing. But certainly now we look back and we pine for it and we're nostalgic for it and we view I think rightly so. The George H.W. Bush presidency is a golden era.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Finally we spoke a little bit about this after the passing of Barbara Bush but from what you've learned. What was the relationship like? How important was she in all of this?

  • BARBARA PERRY:

    As with so many first ladies and I've studied many of them. Barbara Bush was a traditional wife and spouse and first lady and that she was the woman behind the great man. And I did have a chance to meet her briefly fall a year ago at the Bush library and I went up to her and spoke to her and I said thank you for your service to our country because I think first ladies serve the nation just as much as their husbands did typical Barbara Bush fashion with her steely gray eyes she looked right at me and bore a hole through me and said. She was that strong person behind George Bush. But they were a great team and again one wonders if we will see that from generations other than the greatest nation.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Barbara Perry is the director of Presidential Studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Thanks so much for joining us

  • BARBARA PERRY:

    Thank you, Hari.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest