Like Father, like son. The relationship between President George W. Bush and his father, former President George H.W. Bush is an odd one. The two men seem close, always together on family fishing trips off the Maine Coast or hitting the links at an exclusive golf course. But politically, the two men couldn’t be more different.
George H.W Bush’s career was one of public service. He served as Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the CIA, and Vice President prior to his term as President. A moderate Conservative, he attacked the economic policies of his 1980 primary opponent, calling them “Voodoo economics.” Bush slammed the supply side, tax cutting policies of his opponent as reckless and irresponsible.
As President, Bush was a master at foreign policy. His coalition in Operation Desert Storm included Britain, France, Canada, several NATO countries, some Arab allies, and countries from Eastern Europe. Bush’s military action was approved by the United Nations and the war was won quickly and decisively. On the home front, Bush was much less successful. He was seemingly oblivious to the difficult economic times Americans were facing as the Reagan budget deficit soared. To help curb these deficits, Bush raised taxes and ignited the uproar of right wing conservatives everywhere. Unemployment was high and consumer confidence was low, creating a disastrous political climate. In 1992, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton came out of obscurity and defeated Bush and H. Ross Perot in the general election.
Now on to the son, George W. Bush’s career in business and politics was vastly different from his father’s. The Connecticut born, Yale and Harvard educated son of a millionaire moved to west Texas and decided on a run for the House of Representatives in the late 1970s. Bush was soundly defeated and did not enter the political arena for a decade and a half. Bush bounced around in the oil industry in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he led a group of investors which bought Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers . In 1994, Bush defeated Ann Richard, a popular Texas Democrat, for governor. As Governor, Bush was a shrewd politician and won reelection by a landslide in 1998. By early 1999, he was seen by many as the front runner to the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.
As President, Bush abandoned the policies of fiscal prudence and responsibly that his father supported. A trillion dollar surplus, inherited from the Clinton Administration was squandered on a tax cut benefiting wealthy Americans. Bush’s foreign policies were also a departure from his father’s. The administration did not sign the Kyoto Accords, pulled out of the World Court and the ABM treaty. It was clear from the beginning that George W. Bush was not the coalition builder of his father’s caliber.In the months leading up to the Iraq War, Bush’s “you’re with us or you’re against us” mantra alienated longtime western European allies. Without a UN resolution and with a pathetic coalition, the US with the Brits in tow, invaded and deposed Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Now, you may be asking: why the history lesson? George W. Bush has rejected the political legacy of his father at every opportunity. Tax cuts, internationalism, deficit reduction – W. Bush has taken greatly different paths. W. Bush effectively squashed the moderate Republican legacy of his father.
This schism was evident during the 2004 Republican National Convention, where George H.W. Bush, one of two living Republican presidents, was not even asked to speak. (The Democrats even allowed Jimmy Carter speak.) But the Republican Party was determined to separate father and son. The party wished to distance itself from the moderate elder Bush.
In 2001, George W. Bush decided to abandon his promise of “Compassionate Conservatism” and institute right wing policies akin to those of Ronald Reagan. The moderate Republicanism of George H.W. Bush was rejected in favor of a reckless and radical brand of government. Bush Sr. can be seen as the last moderate, the last influential voice of reason in the Republican Party. Sadly, his voice has been silenced – likely forever. It’s been replaced with a divisive, hard line brand of conservative Republicanism that has alienated progressives and sent this country back into reckless deficits and dangerous unilateralism.
As family the two men may be close, but as politicians their ideologies and legacies couldn’t be further apart.