Bush at the White House, Tuesday, June 4, 2002. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)|
INDEPTH: GEORGE W. BUSH|
43rd President of the United States
CBC News Online | Updated Nov. 19, 2004
"Our greatest export is freedom and we have a moral obligation to champion it throughout the world"
When George Walker Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States few could have predicted the coming crisis that would soon grip the country and test his mettle as leader.
George W. Bush, from his autobiography A Charge to Keep.
At the time of his election, Bush had just cleared the hurdle that was the Florida vote-counting dispute, not to mention revelations of a 25-year-old drunk-driving charge. He was criticized for his less-than-stellar knowledge of world leaders.
Born: July 6, 1946
Birthplace: New Haven, Conn.
Family: Parents George Herbert Walker Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush. Brothers Neil, Jeb, Marvin, and sisters Dorothy and Robin (who died of Leukemia at age three)
Wife: Laura (married 1977)
Children: Barbara and Jenna
· Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.
· BA (history) from Yale University
· MBA from Harvard University
Childhood hero: Willie Mays
1968 to 1973 - Texas Air National Guard
1976 - Makes first foray into the oil industry with Bush Oil
1978 - Runs unsuccessfully for Congress
1989 - Forms group of investors to buy Texas Rangers baseball team. He served as one of two managing general partners until 1994
1990 - Sells most of his oil stock and options
1994 - Elected governor of Texas
1998 - Re-elected governor of Texas
Jan. 2001 - Sworn in as 43rd president of the United States
Oct. 2001 - Creates the Dept. of Homeland Security in response to 9/11
March 2003 - U.S. begins invasion of Iraq
Nov. 2004 - Wins a second terms as president
His early foreign policy was reminiscent of isolationist policies of the Roosevelt administration of the 1930s, and he pulled the United States out of the Kyoto agreements, the ABM treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty. But on the warm, sunny morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the world around came crashing in. The attacks on the U.S. that day killed nearly 3,000 people and transformed the president into the self-appointed leader of the war on terror.
Bush led the country into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter with limited support from the rest of the world. He faced criticism in the U.S. for the reliability of the evidence his administration used to go into Iraq and for cutting taxes in a time of war. The presidential race between Bush and Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry brought up all these issues and more, but Bush ultimately prevailed, and American voters give him a second term.
George W. Bush was an adult when his father was president, so he didn't grow up in the White House.
Gail Sheehy wrote an article about George W. Bush for Vanity Fair magazine in October 2000. She interviewed dozens of his childhood friends, Bible study buddies, old girlfriends and cronies from his oil and baseball past.
"He's much more like Barbara Bush than he is like George Bush Sr.," she said in an interview with CBC's The National. "He grew up much closer to her, because his father was away, running for office, being president. He was also close to his mother when his little sister (Robin) died. His mother was the one who took him under her protection when he had trouble in school and was drilling him with flash cards on Saturday morning as late as the eighth grade when he was 12 or 13 years old."
Bush attended Phillips Academy, a grand old boarding school in Andover, Mass., known for producing some of America's greats. There he played on the basketball team and was a member of the cheerleading squad. He was a popular student, known more for his charisma than his grades. He says his strengths were history, math and Spanish; English was a weak spot. He graduated in 1964, joining an alumni list that already included his father (1942), inventor Samuel Morse, actors Humphrey Bogart (1920) and Jack Lemmon (1943), and Bush's current civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer (1959).
At Yale, one of his nicknames was "Lip," owing to his outspokenness. He was head cheerleader, played varsity baseball, basketball and rugby. He was a decent student and an enthusiastic member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and, like his father, a member of the secretive Skull and Bones society.
By the time Bush graduated in 1968, America was embroiled in the Vietnam War and he, along with many people his age, was facing the potential of being drafted. And while he wasn't exactly against the war, he didn't seem eager to serve, either. So, with help from his father, Bush weathered the war from the relative safety of the Texas Air National Guard.
George W. Bush sits in an F102 fighter jet while serving in the Texas Air National Guard in this undated file photo. Bush, a member of the Yale class of 1968, debated his military options over the Christmas break of his final year of college, and chose the National Guard. (AP Photo/Austin American Statesman)
Sheehy says that at that point in his life he seemed to have few goals other than partying, an uncomfortable contrast to the earnest and workaholic George Sr. "He quite unapologetically says that he partied until he was 40," she says. "He was somewhat confused, aimless. We know that somewhere in his mid- to late-20s he had a confrontation with his father well, that's pretty normal, but this one was kind of an adolescent confrontation," Sheehy says. He challenged his dad to a fistfight. "Mano a mano with Daddy, at 26, when you're drunk. And I think it indicated some sense of inadequacy that he knew no other way to vent, than to challenge his father."
By 1973 Bush was given an early release from National Guard duty to begin working on an MBA at Harvard. There, he buckled down and, by many accounts, was a dedicated student. But the drinking didn't stop.
In 1976, a year after his graduation from Harvard, Bush was arrested near his parents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for driving while under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded guilty, paid a $150 fine and had his driving privileges suspended for a short time.
"I'm not proud of that," he told CNN during his presidential campaign in 2000. "I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson."
But that would only come a decade later, in 1986, not long after a visit with evangelist Billy Graham. In his autobiography A Charge to Keep, Bush reflects on the day he decided to give up alcohol. He says he made the decision a day after a friend's birthday party in Colorado. "People later asked whether something special happened, some incident, some argument or accident that turned the tide," he wrote, "but no, I just drank too much and woke up with a hangover."
Oil rigs and ballparks
After earning his MBA, George W., like his father, went into the oil business in Texas. George senior had got rich in the oil industry. The son's oil company failed, and was bailed out by relatives and powerful friends of the Bush family. Then, the best job he could imagine came along. He became part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.
"I remember thinking 'This is as good as it gets,'" he wrote in his autobiography. "Life cannot get better than this." He attended almost every game and many assumed that he was the owner, even though he'd bought only a two per cent share using borrowed money. He spent time in the dugout, rubbing shoulders with players and fans. Here, he would hone his populist instincts that would come to serve him so well politically.
Bush cheers for the Texas Rangers Friday, Sept. 27, 1996, at The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. Bush was the managing general partner for the Rangers before his 1994 gubernatorial win. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
In the meantime, more than a handful of Republicans and powerful Texas oilmen urged him to run for governor. It was the first step in the path towards the presidency, even though politics didn't seem high on his list of priorities. But he agreed to run, and in 1994 he stepped down as managing general partner of the Rangers.
In the gubernatorial race that year he beat incumbent Ann Richards and became governor of Texas, a post he held for six years. Politics agreed with him and in 1998 he sold his share of the Texas Rangers, netting a reported $15 million.
When Bush became governor, Texas was known as the death state because of its record of executing prisoners. The most notorious case under Bush's watch was Carla Faye Tucker, a vicious murderer who'd undergone a jailhouse Christian repentance. Her story moved religious leaders around the world who pleaded for a delay. Governor Bush would not relent and she died on schedule. Bush defends his Texas record. "I don't believe we've ever executed an innocent person in Texas," he has said.
Gail Sheehy interviewed many people who'd concluded that George W., famous for mangling language, is dyslexic. "The first thing I think you have to know is that George Bush has a very short attention span, five to 10 minutes, 15 maximum," Sheehy says. "And this comes from his own chief of staff, and his closet friends and associates."
That charge was the reason he wouldn't talk to her for her article. "So, his reaction to this question being raised," says Sheehy, "was to say on the campaign plane when other reporters asked him, 'the woman who said I was dyslexic, I didn't interview her.' Which was quite an amusing switch of what he really meant to say. But he did admit that he has never been tested."
Bill Minutaglio is a Texas writer who wrote an unauthorized biography of George W. Bush in 1999. "I interviewed over 300 people for my book and George Bush is not a voracious reader," Minutaglio told CBC in late 2000. "I've travelled with him, I've been on the campaign airplane with him and I haven't seen him curl up with a big stack of books. That doesn't suggest, on the flip side, that he's not a smart guy. A lot of people look at that and say he can't possibly be a rocket scientist. I think he's incredibly clever, he knows his limitations, he's a good delegator. He knows in some sense, a little like Ronald Reagan did, when to set people off on different tasks. He's clearly a big picture guy."
It's an edge that endears Bush to many voters, says Sheehy. "George W. never makes anyone feel less intelligent than he," Sheehy says. "He's just a good old guy trying to do the right thing and talking just like your kid brother would talk to you and telling you straight on.
The myth has settled on him. Despite having been the president's son, he successfully campaigned as a Washington outsider. Raised in wealth and privilege, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, he has acquired the image of a plain-speaking Texan who bootstrapped his way up.
The war on terror
When the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush the populist went to work trying to reassure a country shaken by death and destruction. He visited the "pile" in New York where emergency personnel worked feverishly to rescue survivors, recover the dead and dismantle the rubble. During his visit he stood atop the hulk of a New York City fire engine, which was partially buried in the rubble, and addressed a group of construction workers. One of the workers yelled, "We can't hear you." To that, Bush responded, "I hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon!"
As rescue efforts continued in the rubble of the World Trade Center, Bush put his arms around firefighter Bob Beckwith while standing in front of the World Trade Center debris, Friday, September 14, 2001. Bush is standing on a burned fire truck. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
Speaking six days later in a joint session of Congress, Bush said, "our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated." So began the war on terror. It came first to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 when U.S. forces embarked on a manhunt for Osama bin Laden his al-Qaeda network.
At this point, America with Bush at the helm withdrew into itself and became fortress America. Borders tightened, the Department of Homeland Security was created and money was pumped into the military. The Sept. 11 attacks sparked overtures of solidarity and support from across the world, but as time wore on, it became apparent that Bush's acceptance of that support was conditional.
On Nov. 6, 2001, before the U.S. invasion was launched on Afghanistan, Bush issued an ultimatum. "Full warning (of the strike) has been given and time is running out. The United States has presented a clear choice to every nation: stand with the civilized world or stand with the terrorists."
The message was repeated in the days leading up to the strike on Iraq. America was hurting and Bush was drawing battle lines. Although the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan was roundly supported NATO, the UN and EU all offered to take part an invasion of Iraq would prove to be a tougher sell.
Not long into the Afghanistan campaign, Bush talked seriously about disarming Iraq's Saddam Hussein of his alleged cache of weapons of mass destruction. As UN weapons inspections failed to uncover the weapons, Bush grew more adamant about the need to invade. Skeptics saw it as a convenient reason for Bush to exact revenge for Saddam's verbal support of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Bush during a visit to the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2002. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
For his part, Bush had, in fact, had his eye on Iraq long before Sept. 11. In his first news conference at the White House in February of that year, he put the world on notice. "The primary goal," he said, "is to make it clear to Saddam that we expect him to be a peaceful neighbour in the region and we expect him not to develop weapons of mass destruction. And if we find him doing so, there will be a consequence."
By January 2003, UN inspections still had turned up nothing and Bush convinced of an Iraqi threat had lost patience with those who wanted to give the inspectors more time. "This business about ... more time. How much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming? As I said, this looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it."
So two months later the U.S., with the help of the U.K., led an attack on Iraq. Bush and his U.K. counterpart Tony Blair had circumvented the multilateral process and gone it alone without the support of the UN, NATO or any other multinational organization.
In the presidential election race, Bush faced criticism over the mounting death toll in Iraq and an electorate growing increasingly weary of war. By September 2004, the number of U.S. forces killed in the Iraq war had passed 1,000. Polls leading up to election day asking Americans to choose between Bush and Democrat John Kerry were too close to call. In the end, though, Bush took the key swing states of Florida and Ohio and won the election.
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