Wednesday, December 1, 2010

George H.W. Bush to Receive Presidential Medal

            The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established by President Harry Truman in 1945, is the nation’s highest civilian award presented to citizens who have made a ‘meritorious contribution’ in government, cultural or other public endeavors.  Past Medal winners have included Georgia O’Keefe, Lucille Ball, Irving Berlin, James Michener, Bruce Catton, Walter Cronkite, Rachel Carson and Hank Aaron.    

            President Obama has chosen fifteen individuals for their ‘extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture and made our country and world a better place” to be honored in January, 2011.  Among the fifteen are Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Bill Russell, cellist YoYo Ma, poet Maya Angelou, champion of the disabled Jean Kennedy Smith, civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis and - the  41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

            A scan of Mr. Bush’s history during his term as Vice President (1980 – 1988) and as President (1989 – 1992) raises the irresistible question of what evidence convinced Obama to select the former President as one of the esteemed Medal winners.     

            Bush’s climb to the Presidency might seem remarkable for anyone not born to a prestigious, wealthy family.  After graduating from Yale as a member of Skull and Bones like his father, Prescott who served in the US Senate (1952 – 1963), Bush moved to west Texas upon graduation in pursuit of oil development and his first million.   Hot on the trail of a political career, Bush became Chair of the Harris County Republican Committee in 1962, in anticipation of what became an unsuccessful 1964 Senate run against incumbent Senator Ralph Yarborough.  As County Chair and adroit at creating his own opportunities, Bush instigated a legal challenge which created a new House Congressional district in Houston to which Bush was elected in 1966.  That election was followed by another unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1970. 

            Without any diplomatic experience, President Nixon appointed Bush as United Nations Ambassador in 1971 as a generous consolation prize for not selecting him as Vice President for which Bush and his father had heavily lobbied.  In 1973, Bush served as Chair of the Republican National Committee in the wake of the Watergate scandal until President Ford appointed him Ambassador to China.  Coming home in 1976, Ford named Bush to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency - another consolation for not making the cut as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 1977.   Deep within party hierarchy, Bush was regarded as a shameless self-promoter even before racking up 250,000 miles in 42 states in pursuit of the 1980 presidential nomination.  During those years, it was an open secret and well documented that Bush rarely traveled or changed jobs without the accompaniment of his personal secretary of fourteen years.  With the brass ring in sight, Bush was elected as Veep with Ronald Reagan and served with a lack of distinction for the next eight years becoming an object of Doonesbury cartoons and Dana Carvey impressions on Saturday Night Live.  

            But opportunistic ambition, in itself, should be no reason to deny anyone a Presidential
Freedom Medal unless, of course, that ambition screws with a person’s honor and virtue.  It was the Iran Contra affair that raised questions of Bush’s willingness to undermine U.S. constitutional authority.  Even as he insisted he was ‘out of the loop,’ various court documents, congressional reports, trial records and others’ statements have since proved otherwise.  High level members of the Reagan Administration with access to the Oval Office were found to have swapped weapons for American hostages being held by Iran during an official US arms embargo to that country. Revenues from the sale of those arms were then funneled to right-wing Contras in Nicaragua in violation of US law.  In 1986, Reagan appointed his own commission, headed by Sen. John Tower, to investigate any possible involvement by his Administration.  The Tower Commission ultimately exonerated Bush.

            During the 1980 election, Bush set a new standard for sleazy, negative “I’ll do anything to win” Presidential campaigns with shameless attacks on Dukakis’ integrity and character and  American voters responded with the lowest Presidential election turnout since 1924. 

            It was not an auspicious beginning for Bush when, one day after the 1989 election, the Silverado Savings and Loan Bank in Colorado defaulted.  Less than three weeks later, Bush introduced S&L bailout legislation.  Silverado’s share of the $293 billion bailout was $1.3 billion as Bush’s third son, Neil, a Silverado Director, paid a $50,000 fine to escape criminal charges.  Bush’s bad luck continued as the Senate rejected his nomination of John Tower (of the Tower Commission) as Secretary of Defense paving the way for Dick Cheney’s ascension.   It was on Bush’s watch when the nation’s largest oil spill of 700,000 gallons occurred at Exxon Valdez in Alaska and by 1990, Bush launched the first Iraq War.        

            With Dan Quayle as vice president, Bush became no more illustrious as some of his noteworthy Presidential vetoes indicate:           

Family and Medical Leave Act (6-29-1990 and 9-22-1992)
Civil Rights Act of 1990 (10-20-1990
Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act  (10-11-1991)
Congressional Campaign Spending Limit and Election Reform Act (5-9-2991)
Amtrak Reauthorization and Improvement Act (5-25-1990)
National Voting Registration Act (7-2-1992)
Family Planning Amendments Act (9-25-1992)
New River Wild and Scenic Study Act (10-27-1992)
Establishment of Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida (10-27-1992)
Military Health Care Initiative Act (10-31-1992) and
Appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court (1991)

            By the time Bush left office in 1992, the Federal deficit had risen to $4 trillion.  During the 1992 election, Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton receiving 38% of the popular vote, the lowest of any Republican candidate since William Taft in 1908.   Given a problematic legacy, it might be no surprise that 81% of American historians polled believe Bush to be a 'failed' Presidency.  


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