George H.W. Bush: Lessons from a life

George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died Friday at age 94. Bush came from a life of privilege in the wealthy suburb of Greenwich, Conn., but spent the majority of his life in service to the country, from enlisting in the Navy after high school to leading the nation in wartime. Bush approached politics on a personal level and leaves behind friends and admirers from across the political spectrum in addition to a loving, devoted family. He was politically malleable, willing to compromise when necessary to advance his career, and he would help elevate forces he would come to criticize later in life. What follows are a few of the moments that helped define the man who was central to the last half-century of American politics.

George H.W. Bush through the years
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George H.W. Bush through the years
View of US Representative to the United Nations (and future US President) George HW Bush during a press conference, New York, New York, 1971. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
George H. W. Bush standing in front of a 'Yale Fence' in his baseball uniform at Yale University, circa 1945-48. (George Bush Presidential Library/MCT via Getty Images)
United States Ambassador to the United Nations (and future US President) George HW Bush golfs with his wife (and future First Lady), Barbara Bush (nee Pierce), Washington DC, October 1971. (Photo by Leonard McCombe/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Washington, DC. December 1989 President George H.W. Bush gestures to reporters in the Rose Garden. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
George H.W. Bush, Andover Philips Academy Year Book in 1964. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)
View of US Representative to the United Nations (and future US President) George HW Bush during a press conference, New York, New York, 1971. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
George Bush was captain of championship Yale baseball team, while completing college in 2-1/2 years after war service, Phi Beta Kappa, Economics, in 1948. (George Bush Presidential Library/MCT via Getty Images)
Unspecified - 1975: George HW Bush on ABC's 'Issues and Answers' program. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images)
BEIJING, HEBEI, CHINA - 1975/05/01: Left to Right: Ted Castaneda, US 5K runner, George H.W. Bush, Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China, speaks with Milt Richmond, journalist at the Track Stadium in Beijing, China in May 1975. The Chinese invited the US Track team to compete in 1975 in preparation for the 1976 Olympics held in Montreal. It was seen as a historic opening up of relations for communist China. (Photo by John J Boitano/Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images)
GRAND RAPIDS, MI - APRIL 16: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) (L-R) Lady Bird Johnson, President George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush, President Gerald R. Ford, Betty Ford, President Jimmy Carter, and Rosalyn Carter pose for a formal group portrait at the Gerald R. Ford Library re-dedication on April 16, 1997 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
During his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, American politician (and future US President) George HW Bush stands beside an open car door, Iowa, January 1980. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 1981: Vice President George H.W. Bush explaining the new post of 'Crisis Manager' to the press in March 1981 in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC -- FEBRUARY 23: President Ronald Reagan (R) walks with Vice President George H.W. Bush as the President arrive at the Vice President's residence on February 23, 1981 in Washington, DC. President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan were visiting the Vice President's residence for the first time. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Detroit, MI - 1980: (L-R) Barbara Bush, George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan at 1980 Republican National Convention from Joe Louis Arena, in Detroit, MI. (Photo by ABC via Getty Images)
American politician (and future US President) George HW Bush speaks at an event during his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, Iowa, January 1980. His wife, future First Lady Barbara Bush, stands beside him. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
Harnessed to Staff Sergeant Bryan Schell of United States Army Golden Knights, former US President George HW Bush (center, bottom) parachutes in celebration of his 80th birthday, outside Houston, Texas, June 13, 2004. The jump was performed near the Bush Presidential Library and was his fifth. (Photo by US Army via CNP/Getty Images)
During his campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination, American politician George HW Bush (left) speaks with journalist Stryker McGuire on a airplane during a flight, January 21, 1980. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
KENNEBUNKPORT, ME - JULY 19: George HW Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, greets supporters along Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport, Maine on July 19, 1980. Bush is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Janet Knott/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC -- CIRCA 1983: U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush and Mrs. Barbara Bush at the Vice President's residence circa 1983 in in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC -- CIRCA 1986: U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush circa 1986 in in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Vice President George H.W. Bush (R), during re-enactment of Senate Swear- In. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
American politician and US President Ronald Reagan (1911 - 2004) (right) and Vice President (and future President) George HW Bush relax together on Reagan's ranch, Santa Barbara, California, August 7, 1984. (Photo Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
Washington, DC. 6-25-1984 Vice-President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush attend a fish fry on the South Lawn of the White House. Credit: Mark Reinstein (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush 1990. (Photo by Pete Souza/ABC via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 3: George H.W. Bush throws out the first pitch before the Texas Rangers Opening Day game against the Chicago White Sox at The Ballpark in Arlington on April 3, 2000 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- JUNE 10: Laura Bush, Texas Governor George W Bush, George HW Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush at the Astrodome during part of the gala event celebrating the former president's 75th birthday in Houston, Texas on June 10, 1999. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
Former Presidents George HW Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford at a memorial service for King Hussein held at the American Embassy, Amman, Jordan, February 8, 1999. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 7: Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush speak at the University of New Orleans campus December 7, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, along with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, announced how the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund would be dispersed. Grants worth $30 million would go to Gulf region higher education institutions devastated by Hurricane Katrina, $20 million in grants would go to a ministerial partnership with local and regional faith-based organizations and $40 million would be divided among the three states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for their recovery and relief funds. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 15: (CHINA OUT) Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush speaks with post-surgery patients of Smile Train during a ceremony to launch the charity's new project on November 15, 2005 in Beijing, China. Free cleft lip surgery and related treatment provided by Smile Train, a non-profit organization, has helped many poor children in China. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 02: Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, left, and his wife Barbara, acknowledge the audience on day two of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008. The RNC will run until Sept. 4. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
ST. PAUL, MN - SEPTEMBER 02: Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush attends day two of the Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Xcel Energy Center on September 2, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The GOP will nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the Republican choice for U.S. President on the last day of the convention. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Buddy Peterson, left, Louisville, shook hands with former President George H.W. Bush near the 10th green at the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Cub on Friday, September 19, 2008, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by David Perry/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT via Getty Images)
Former President Bill Clinton (L), former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara Bush stand for the National Anthem at the Points of Light Institute Tribute to Former President George H.W. Bush at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on March 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
HOUSTON - APRIL 08: Brad Mills, manager of the Houston Astros greets former US President George H.W. Bush at Minute Maid Park on April 8, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 13: Former President George H.W. Bush watches a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 13, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
KENNEBUNKPORT, ME - JUNE 12: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop.) Former first lady Barbara Bush greets her husband and former U.S. President George H.W. Bush with a kiss after his successful skydive down to St. Anne's Episcopal Church on June 12, 2014 in Kennebunkport, Maine. The President is celebrating his 90th birthday today. (Photo by Eric Shea/Getty Images)
COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 21: (L-R) Former United States Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton address the audience during the 'Deep from the Heart: The One America Appeal Concert' at Reed Arena on the campus of Texas A&M University on October 21, 2017 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Ford Motor Company)
U.S. first lady Barbara Bush is pictured with President George H.W. Bush durina a presidential vacation in Kennebunkport, Maine, U.S., in this undated photo. U.S.. Former U.S. first lady Barbara Bush, the wife of the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, and mother of the 43rd, George W. Bush died on April 17, 2018. She was 92. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush waves from the field before game five of the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros in Houston, Texas, U.S. on October 29, 2017. REUTERS/David J. Phillip/Pool via USA TODAY Sports MANDATORY CREDIT
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush participates in the coin toss ahead of the start of Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons as former first lady Barbara Bush looks on in Houston , Texas, U.S., February 5, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mar 29, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; United States former president George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush greet Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo , head coach Jason Garrett and tight end Jason Witten before the finals of the south regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament between the Duke Blue Devils and Gonzaga Bulldogs at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are greeted by former President George H.W. Bush upon their arrival on Air Force One in Houston, Texas April 9, 2014. Obama is in Houston to attend two Democratic Party fund raisers. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
U.S. President Barack Obama and former President George H. W. Bush (R) applaud during an event to honor the winner of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award at the White House in Washington July 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
Former U.S. presidents George W. Bush (C) and his father George H.W. Bush laugh alongside former first ladies Laura Bush (R) and Barbara Bush (L) during the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, April 25, 2013. Obama is in Texas to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former president George W. Bush in what could serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle against terrorism, from the Sept. 11 attacks to the Boston Marathon bombings. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 29: Former United States Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush prepare to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before in game five of the 2017 World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 29, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 15: Former President George H. W. Bush sits in a wheelchair during an event in the East Room at the White House, July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Bush joined President Obama in hosting the event to honor the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award winner. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush salutes as he departs the East Front of the U.S. Capitol Building after Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States in Washington January 20, 2009. Barack Obama took power as the first black U.S. president on Tuesday and quickly turned the page on the Bush years, urging Americans to rally to end the worst economic crisis in 70 years and repair the U.S. image abroad. REUTERS/Tannen Maury/Pool (UNITED STATES)
Former U.S. President George. H.W. Bush (C) smiles at his wife Barbara (L), as their son and former President George W. Bush (R) laughs, during the "All Together Now - A Celebration of Service" at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ENTERTAINMENT IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush (R) watches as his son, former President George W. Bush, throws a ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of Game 4 of Major League Baseball's World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, in Arlington, Texas, October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush attends the funeral service for his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, with his son the 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, U.S., April 21, 2018. REUTERS/Richard Carson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Meeting Barbara

Perhaps the most important moment in Bush’s life happened when the 17-year-old attended his local country club’s Christmas dance. There he saw a girl in a red-and-green holiday dress who he learned was named Barbara Pierce, the daughter of a publishing executive who lived in nearby Rye, N.Y. Bush was introduced and the two danced, and they danced again the following night at another Christmas celebration in Rye. The two exchanged letters — Barbara was attending boarding school in Charleston, S.C. — and grew closer. Bush invited her to his senior prom at Andover, and she visited him in North Carolina during his naval training.

A year and a half later the two were engaged, Bush proposing to her during a visit to his family’s vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine. They married on Jan. 6, 1945, in Rye, while Bush was waiting for his next military assignment. The two would remain married for 73 years, until Barbara’s death in April 2018, a partnership that ascended to the peak of American politics.

Shot down and rescued in the Pacific

Bush was a senior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., hoping to enroll at Yale the next year, when on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Instead of entering college, he joined the Navy as a seaman second class. Six months later, the 18-year-old was on his way to preflight training in North Carolina. On earning his wings, Bush, believed to be the youngest Naval airman in the service, was assigned to fly the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.

Bush was assigned to the carrier San Jacinto in September 1944 when he took part in a raid on a Japanese installation on the island of Chichijima. On the approach, his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire but, in a cockpit filled with smoke, Bush managed to complete the bombing run. He flew off to sea and ordered his gunners to abandon the craft before bailing out himself. He was rescued by a U.S. submarine after spending a few hours in a life raft. His two crewmates were never recovered, and Bush would spend the rest of his life wondering if there was anything more he could have done to save them. (Official inquiries into the crash would confirm that there was not.) Bush returned to combat and would eventually fly 58 missions and log 1,228 hours, earning a list of commendations, including gold wings and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

His enlistment marked the start of a long career of service to the country, following in the path of his father, a U.S. senator, and setting an example for two of his sons, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush. Bush would go on to serve as a member of the House of Representatives, United Nations ambassador, CIA director, vice president and president.

Lessons from the death of his daughter

George and Barbara Bush had six children together, four boys and two girls, but only five would survive to adulthood. Three years after George W. was born, in 1946, he was joined by a younger sister, Pauline Robinson, whom the family called Robin. At age 3, Robin was diagnosed with leukemia, for which there were limited treatment options at the time. She was treated at one of the nation’s premier cancer hospitals, Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, where Bush’s uncle was president. Barbara had one rule: No tears in front of her girl. This proved difficult for Bush, who would continually have to step out of the room when visiting his daughter.

Robin died just before her fourth birthday. Both Bushes have talked about the darkness of those times and how much they had to rely on each other to get through it. “For one who allowed no tears before her death, I fell apart,” recalled Barbara to biographer Jon Meacham. “And time after time during the next six months, George would put me together again.” During their lifetimes, the Bushes raised nearly $90 million for oncology research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and in 2013, Bush shaved his head in support of a member of his Secret Service detail whose 2-year-old son was battling leukemia.

 Senate run sets a pattern of expediency

Bush’s first run for federal office came in 1964, when the Houston businessman won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race. In order for the Connecticut Yankee to establish his Texas bona fides, Bush aligned his positions with that of GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. This required him to oppose elements of the Civil Rights Act on the basis of “states’ rights.” (Bush said he was “shocked” that his opponent, Democratic Sen. Ralph Yarborough, had voted in favor of the act, noting that it would require racial integration on the part of private businesses.) Bush lost the race, but in 1966, he won a seat in Congress from a Houston-area district, where he would later cast a vote for the Fair Housing Act. Bush was no racist, but he was a politician who at key moments in his career was willing to put expediency over principle.

George Bush

When he was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, he opted not to purge members of the ultraconservative John Birch Society from its ranks, not wanting to antagonize sympathizers. Serving as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate investigation, he publicly supported President Richard Nixon until the actual eve of Nixon’s resignation, making him one of the last to jump ship. As CIA director, Bush authorized a “Team B” analysis of Soviet military capabilities generated by conservative ideologues. The findings provided fodder for hard-liners who opposed arms treaties and who wanted to increase defense spending, but the Team B analysis was eventually proved wrong.

Bush’s most significant capitulation came after the 1980 presidential primary campaign. Running against Ronald Reagan, the favorite of the conservative wing of the party, Bush staked out positions closer to the center. He decried Reagan’s tax-cutting agenda as “voodoo economics” and opposed a constitutional amendment banning abortion, a popular position among the right wing of the party, including Reagan. After he lost the nomination, Bush’s advisers decided the best path to the presidency was to be the second man on the ticket. In his pitch for the vice presidential nod, Bush signed off on Reagan’s entire platform, reversing many of his positions. He backed Reagan throughout his two terms, including during the Iran-Contra affair, where arms were sold illegally to Iran to secretly support right-wing rebel groups in Nicaragua.

Bush turned to conservative operatives Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes for his 1988 campaign, which was notable for what became known as the Willie Horton ad, attacking his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, with barely concealed racist imagery of a glowering black convict. After Bush won, Atwater became head of the Republican National Committee and launched take-no-prisoners attacks on Democrats, embarrassing Bush. On his deathbed, Atwater apologized to Dukakis for the “naked cruelty” of the Bush campaign. Ailes would become the head of Fox News, forging it into a conservative media powerhouse.

The Berlin Wall comes down

One of the underpinnings of Bush’s political philosophy was the importance of building personal relationships. This served him well in one of the signal events of Bush’s presidency, a joint news conference in December 1989 with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on a ship, the Maxim Gorkiy, off the coast of Malta. Bush was cautious with Gorbachev but was receptive to the idea that his counterpart was serious about reforming and opening up Russia, a viewpoint not shared by everyone on Bush’s staff. The meeting laid the groundwork for subsequent negotiations, leading to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START. When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, Bush came in for some criticism for his low-key response, but his refusal to gloat helped keep Gorbachev’s trust. The two met again at Camp David the following year, and Bush was supportive of Gorbachev during an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1991. Russia has slipped back into authoritarianism and confrontation with the West, but during his term Bush did his best to promote better relations, and escaped the worst outcomes.

Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush

His father paves a path for him

Bush was successful in his second attempt at getting to Washington, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966. He wrote House Minority Leader Gerald Ford seeking a position on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Bush couched his request carefully, adding, “What you decide will be fine with me and I promise to work like hell to be a good member of whatever committee I get.” Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, then a U.S. senator representing Connecticut, made a couple of calls to leaders on Capitol Hill. The younger Bush would end up with a coveted seat on the House Appropriations Committee, a prestigious spot for any legislator, let alone a freshman.

The incident displayed how Bush used his privileged background, keeping it in the background but taking advantage of it at critical moments. His education couldn’t have been more representative of the East Coast elite, a trifecta of Greenwich Country Day School, Andover and Yale. But he declined to join the family firm on Wall Street, relocating to West Texas to work with a family friend in the oil business. Yet when he struck out on his own with an independent drilling company, Bush turned to the family Rolodex to raise money. He was a wealthy man by the time he turned to full-time politics.

His background came into play again in 1970, after a second failed bid for the U.S. Senate. Bush was set to become an assistant to Nixon when he made an alternate pitch: He could be the president’s United Nations ambassador. Bush didn’t have a background in international policy — after his appointment, an old friend asked him, “George, what do you know about foreign affairs?” — but Nixon liked the idea of having the son of a Connecticut senator representing him in the media circles of New York and took Bush up on his suggestion.

Meeting James Baker

When the Bushes moved to Houston in 1959, they struck up a friendship with a young lawyer named James Baker. Baker came from a prominent Texas family and had gone to prep school in Philadelphia before attending Princeton. Bush and Baker made a formidable pair, including on the tennis court, where they won a pair of country club doubles championships. When Baker’s first wife was dying from cancer, Bush and his family, drawing on their experience with Robin, supported him emotionally. Bush, six years older than Baker, considered it a “big brother, little brother” relationship.

Bush pushed Baker into politics, and Baker switched his party affiliation from Democrat to run Bush’s 1970 Senate campaign, serving later as undersecretary of commerce for President Ford and as his campaign manager in 1976. Running Bush’s campaign in the 1980 primaries, it was Baker who eventually urged his friend to withdraw, a move that likely garnered Bush enough favor with Reagan to earn the vice presidential spot.

It also helped Baker, who was brought on as Reagan’s chief of staff before transitioning to secretary of the treasury. Baker left that post to run his old friend’s 1988 campaign. Following his victory, Bush appointed his former doubles partner to secretary of state. The two didn’t always agree — Baker distanced himself from Dan Quayle, Bush’s pick for vice president — but he worked closely on international policy through Bush’s term in the White House. When George W. ran for president, Baker was his chief legal adviser during the Florida recount.

James Baker, left, with George Bush

A promise he couldn’t keep: ‘Read my lips’

In accepting the nomination for president at the 1988 Republican National Convention, Bush made a promise that potentially won the election but cost him a second term.

“My opponent won’t rule out raising taxes,” said Bush. “But I will. And 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.’”

Bush was able to honor the promise meant to appease skeptical conservatives for his first year in office, but faced with a budget deficit and Democratic majority in Congress, he had to admit in June 1990 that tax increases might be necessary. Bush felt that the pledge — the language of which had been debated by his campaign at the time of the speech before ultimately being left in — wasn’t as important as his belief that a budget deal was necessary to reduce the deficit and keep the government open. The tax increase enraged many in his party and likely resulted in a loss of credibility with voters during Bush’s reelection campaign. However, many experts also believe the deal helped prime the country for the economic expansion that unfolded under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

The deal was not the only legislative accomplishment Bush achieved working with the other side. He also supported and signed clean air measures and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, authored by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, which expanded rights for the disabled.

George Bush with Barbara Bush

 Invading Iraq but stopping short of Baghdad

In the largest American military campaign since the Vietnam War, a coalition of international forces led by the U.S. drove Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army from Kuwait. Bush and his team strove to gather support from leaders across the globe as they considered their options in responding to Hussein. Baker was meeting with the Soviet foreign minister at the time, and the two issued a joint statement condemning Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, a surprising step as Iraq had been an ally and arms client of the Soviet Union. Bush worked hard to win international support, including from both NATO allies and Arab nations in the region.

Bush had planned to go in alone without approval from Congress or the United Nations if necessary, considering Hussein the “epitome of evil,” but Congress voted for what became known as Operation Desert Storm and a U.N. resolution gave authorization for a coalition strike if Iraq did not withdraw by a January 1991 deadline. The ground campaign was successful, lasting only a few days but achieving the objective of driving Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restoring the country to its leaders. There was a belief by some that the forces should push on and take Baghdad, deposing Hussein, but Bush believed that fell outside of the stated objective and an occupation would split the coalition. American troops returned home with Hussein still in power.

Bush’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, would go on to become George W. Bush’s vice president and one of the architects of the Iraq War. (During Desert Storm, Cheney had inquired about how many tactical nukes it would take to eliminate the Iraq Republican Guard.) The elder Bush supported his son in the war, despite his earlier reservations about attempting to capture Baghdad. After George W. Bush left office, his father was critical of Cheney, saying that he had become “very hard-line and very different” from his time working under him.

George Bush and Barbara Bush

The relief trip with a former rival

After a brutal campaign in 1992, Bush’s political nightmare was realized when he became a one-term president. But on his final day in the office, he left a note for the new occupant, wishing him good fortune and informing Clinton he’d be rooting for him to succeed. Clinton called the note “gracious and encouraging,” and over the years the two former rivals developed a friendship. There was the 1999 trip to King Hussein’s funeral in Jordan, and then relief efforts for the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. On these trips, Bush grew to appreciate Clinton — how he insisted the 41st president take the plane’s stateroom and always waited to exit the jet together — even though he often shook his head at the 42nd president’s seeming ability to never stop talking.

After a joint award ceremony in 2006 in which Clinton said “I love George Bush,” his predecessor wrote to thank him for his kind words and also wished him good luck with Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, understanding that it would almost certainly involve disparaging his son’s presidency. “The politics between now and two years from now might put pressure on our friendship,” wrote Bush, “but it is my view that it will survive. In any event, I have genuinely enjoyed working with you. Don’t kill yourself by travel or endless rope lines.”

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