Bush v. Bush, of course refers to George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States and his son, George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States. The Bushes were only the second father/son team to ascend to the presidency in American history, the first being John and John Quincy Adams, 2nd and 6th presidents, respectively. What might really set the Bushes apart from the Adamses would be a 2nd son (Jeb) becoming president. That would be unprecedented.
Of the four men, only George W. served two terms. He also exhibited the least amount of intellectual curiousity of not only the four, but of any president, ever. Entering office, W. seemed blissfully unaware of life beyond our borders. To his credit, he grew into his job to the extent that he could or that he was allowed, and became a great supporter of AIDS education in Africa.
The Adamses have a lock on their historical import and relevance. Father was the first V.P. and second president. They traveled abroad together and both took part in sculpting our nation’s early foreign policy. John Q. negotiated treaties and international agreements far and wide, most notably the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, our final conflict with the U.K.
The Bushes were a typical American family of privilege, H.W. the powerful, ambitious patriarch, W. the slacker, defiant party boy. Credible biographers paint a picture of W. as the recalcitrant heir to a business and political dynasty, enmeshed in a life of booze, drugs and promiscuity and insulated from consequence. That doesn’t make him a bad guy. That makes him a rock star. Even Laura has a few skeletons in her closet.
George H.W. was a genuine hero, a Naval aviator in the Pacific during some of WWII’s major battles. He built a successful oil business from the ground up and achieved serious political clout as a Senator, ambassador, vice president, CIA director and then president. As a power broker, H.W. had a unique sphere of influence through a complex and wide-ranging network. He managed to buck the hawkish neocons and temper foreign policy toward common sense. The first Gulf War was fought cautiously and with a clear exit strategy, albeit one many complained was premature.
While George H.W. appeared arrogant and condescending to many (myself included) when he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes”, he was also pragmatic and raised taxes to balance the budget. That was also before Grover Nordquist.
W’s military career is riddled with asterisks, as is his business career. Taxpayers spent $1MM on his flight training, but he was grounded for missing qualifications and physical exams. Few people ever saw him fly. He quit the Texas Air National Guard, a coveted position for one who wanted to avoid serving in Vietnam in mid-contract, but was never penalized for it.
Investors accused W of walking away from sketchy business deals with his pockets full while they lost millions. His oil drills may have veered sideways into someone else’s oil reserves and he was accused of insider trading in Harken Energy. $191M in public subsidies pushed his $640K investment in the Texas Rangers up to $15.4M.
The Texas governship legitimzed W. as a viable politician, but major GOP contributors in oil and defense needed a friend in Washington. They knew it was possible with the old man’s clout. They also knew he could be controlled. They pushed him into not one, but two wars with funding for neither. They pushed him into not one, but two tax cuts, pretty much the opposite of what would most benefit a country at war.
We’ll never know if George W. Bush took out Saddam Hussein because his father failed to. It seems unlikely, but we can certainly speculate that the presidency was W’s greatest nose-thumb to his dad. What we do know is that whatever motivated George W. Bush, the United States of America paid a dear price.
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