On Friday, January 20, 1989, George H.W. Bush was sworn in as the forty-first President of the United States at the West Front of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. He served several high-ranking government roles before becoming Vice President under Ronald Reagan. Since Martin Van Buren’s election in 1836, Bush was the first incumbent vice president of the United States.
Anti-incumbent resentment among voters, the economy, and unemployment were significant factors in Bush’s fall in 1992 when he received just 38% of the popular vote, the lowest percentage of any incumbent since William H. Taft lost in 1912. The reputation of the Bush administration as a “wimp” was well-known.
The inauguration of George W. Bush was the costliest in American history. In his inaugural address, he called for a “kinder, gentler nation” and used the image of a “thousand points of light” from his campaign. Despite his promise to introduce “new faces” into the administration, Bush’s cabinet selections were insiders. Bush established a record for the number of women appointed to high-ranking positions in the federal government. The nomination of Elizabeth H. Dole as Secretary of Labor was the most notable of these.
During George H.W. Bush’s first two years in office, the globe was changing. He was known for taking bold action in foreign matters but was cautious at home. Bush signed a nuclear weapons reduction pact with Russia and dispatched American soldiers to Panama to remove General Manuel Noriega’s corrupt dictatorship. On August 2, 1990, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein put his leadership to the ultimate test. Bush gained international support by stationing American soldiers in the Persian Gulf to safeguard Saudi Arabia. He imposed a trade ban on Iraq. Soldiers from the friendly nations joined the American troops. Bush authorized an effective bombing campaign on Iraq called Dessert Storm on January 16, 1991, followed by a rapid ground assault on February 24. Four days later, Iraq surrendered. Following the incident, Bush’s popularity skyrocketed.
Despite the popularity of this military victory, Bush was unable to deal with civil unrest, and internal issues arose as a result. His iconic campaign vow, “Read my lips: no new taxes,” became a big problem. In 1990, he fought Congress for a long time over his fiscal 1991 budget, which slashed domestic programs while maintaining military money. Congress heavily criticized the budget, and Bush was forced to admit that any compromise with Congress would increase tax revenue. He signed a package to reduce the deficit, which curbed expenditure growth while simultaneously raising taxes.
Bush’s troubles were exacerbated when he vetoed a bill raising the minimum wage to $4.55 an hour. On April 1, 1990, a two-tiered pay rise, the first since 1981, went into effect. George H.W. Bush vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 because he claimed it would lead to quotas in employment. He signed bills for clean air and the most significant expansion of the Head Start pre-school program in history, reinforcing his promises to be the “environmental president” and “education president.” With the U.S. deficit growing, Bush recommended a reduction in defense spending.
He also declared that to boost the economy; he would reduce income tax withholding and cut several popular social programs, including housing for the elderly and disabled and funding for health care. In July 1990, the country’s output fell below recessionary levels. All of this stoked public resentment. Bush’s popularity rating had plummeted to half of what it had been in early 1991 by January 1992. His reign was marred by prolonged economic stagnation for the rest of it.
In the Republican primaries of 1992, Bush faced a tough fight from conservative Patrick Buchanan, but he could defeat him and win the Republican nomination. The Bush/Quayle ticket was sluggish in getting ready for the autumn campaign, and opponents Bill Clinton and Al Gore attacked them on the economy, health care, and the environment. After weeks of ineffective campaigning, Bush finally turned to vehement assaults.
Bush and Quayle’s popularity continued to dwindle, and they were accused of being out of touch with reality over their responses to the Los Angeles riots in late April and early May. Furthermore, Quayle’s claim that the inner cities were to blame for the disintegration of family values did little to aid their campaign. William Jefferson Clinton beat George W. Bush by 43 percent to 38 percent in the 1992 presidential election.
In his final weeks in power, Bush remained engaged in foreign affairs, sending soldiers to Somalia to feed the hungry and restore order. He authorized airstrikes against Iraq and signed a weapons reduction deal with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
George Bush came to the White House with a solid commitment to traditional American values and a desire to use them to make the United States “a kinder and gentler society.”