Although not remembered as a great President, I happen to think President George H. W. Bush was very much a thoughtful person who has shown himself to lead with heart, rather than strict political ideology. Growing up, my family did state distaste for him, but that was merely one of instances in which we disagreed, which tends to happen even over what type of breakfast cereal to have in the morning.
Certainly, he is not known for keeping his campaign promises, but I have not met a perfect person yet, so this is not the most important issue. Presidents are not, simultaneously, clairvoyant, much like the people themselves who cast votes.
First, he is a Massachusetts native, having been born in Milton. He can be seen here on August 27th, 1997 at the unveiling of the plaque with Governor Paul Cellucci.
Second, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he decided to join the U. S. Navy, and following graduating from Phillips Academy in 1942, he enlisted to eventually become a naval aviator (as stated by the link):
After finishing flight training, he was assigned to Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) as photographic officer in September 1943. As part of Air Group 51, his squadron was based on USS San Jacinto in the spring of 1944. San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June. On 19 June, the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war. During the return of his aircraft from the mission, Ensign Bush’s aircraft made a forced water landing. The destroyer, USS Clarence K. Bronson, rescued the crew, but the plane was lost. On 25 July, Ensign Bush and another pilot received credit for sinking a small cargo ship.
After Bush was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on 1 August, San Jacinto commenced operations against the Japanese in the Bonin Islands. On 2 September 1944, Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chi Chi Jima. For this mission his crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White, USNR, who substituted for Bush’s regular gunner. During their attack, four TBM Avengers from VT-51 encountered intense antiaircraft fire. While starting the attack, Bush’s aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. He completed his attack and released the bombs over his target scoring several damaging hits. With his engine on fire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft. However, the other man’s chute did not open and he fell to his death. It was never determined which man bailed out with Bush. Both Delaney and White were killed in action. While Bush anxiously waited four hours in his inflated raft, several fighters circled protectively overhead until he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine, USS Finback. For this action, Bush received the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the month he remained on Finback, Bush participated in the rescue of other pilots.
Subsequently, Bush returned to San Jacinto in November 1944 and participated in operations in the Philippines. When San Jacinto returned to Guam, the squadron, which had suffered 50 percent casualties of its pilots, was replaced and sent to the United States. Throughout 1944, he had flown 58 combat missions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation awarded San Jacinto.
Because of his valuable combat experience, Bush was reassigned to Norfolk and put in a training wing for new torpedo pilots. Later, he was assigned as a naval aviator in a new torpedo squadron, VT-153. With the surrender of Japan, he was honorably discharged in September 1945 and then entered Yale University.
Third, as a Congressman from Texas’ 7th District, he did vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which lead to death threats and an angry constituency. According to the PBS American Experience transcript:
You got to wrestle with your conscience. You got to listen to people. It doesn’t come so easy to me that this is right and that’s wrong. It’s never that simple. The tough votes are the ones you agonize over and then you do what you think is right.
On April 8th, 1968, he addressed a crowd of about 400 at Houston’s Memorial High School, stating the following (continued from previous link):
“Your representative owes you not only his industry, but his judgment,” Bush told his audience, quoting 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, “and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices his judgment to your opinion. I voted from conviction,” he explained, “not out of intimidation or fear but because of a feeling deep in my heart that this was the right thing for me to do.” Earlier that year, Bush had visited U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam….”How would you feel about a black American veteran of Vietnam returning home, only to be denied the freedom that we, as white Americans, enjoyed? Somehow it seems fundamental that a man should not have a door slammed in his face because he is a Negro or speaks with a Latin American accent.”
Fourth, as President, he signed the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, which affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most pro-civil rights bills in decades.
Fifth, as President in 1989, he placed a temporary ban on the import of certain semiautomatic rifles, which cost him endorsement from the National Rifle Association in 1992.He publicly resigned his lifetime membership in a letter, stating the following:
I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as “jack-booted thugs.” To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as “wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms” wanting to “attack law abiding citizens” is a vicious slander on good people.
Al Whicher, who served on my [ United States Secret Service ] detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City. He was no Nazi. He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country — and serve it well he did.
In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty. I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.
John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known. He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges. The same is true for the F.B.I.’s able Director Louis Freeh. I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench. His integrity and honor are beyond question.
Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President. They both now serve in the current administration. They both have badges. Neither of them would ever give the government’s “go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens.” (Your words)
I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.’s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.
However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.
You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre’s unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list. Sincerely, [ signed ] George Bush
Sixth, also as President, he signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which “granted relief to up to 1.5 million illegal immigrants.” It provided 700,000 visas annually in fiscal years 1992 through 1994 and 675,000 annually thereafter, a considerably higher number than the 530,000 immigrant admissions under current law. The division of immigrant visas into three areas: family-based, employment-based, and diversity, which reflects the different interests behind U.S. immigration policy. It’s lead sponsor was none other than Senator Ted Kennedy.
Seventh, as President, he signed the Clean Air Act of 1990, which were a series of amendments that addressed acid rain, ozone depletion, toxic air pollution, established a national permits program for stationary sources, and increased enforcement authority, established new auto gasoline reformulation requirements, set Reid vapor pressure (RVP) standards to control evaporative emissions from gasoline, and mandated new gasoline formulations sold from May to September in many states.
The 1970 amendments greatly expanded the federal mandate, requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both stationary (industrial) pollution sources and mobile sources. It also significantly expanded federal enforcement. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency was established on December 2, 1970 for the purpose of consolidating pertinent federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities into one agency that ensures environmental protection.
On signing the legislation, Bush stated the following:
In July of 1989, I sent to the Congress a proposal to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970. My proposal was designed to improve our ability to control urban smog and reduce automobile and air toxic emissions, and to provide the enforcement authority necessary to make the law work. It also proposed new initiatives to cut acid rain in half and to promote cleaner automotive fuels.
As a result of that proposal, the 13-year legislative logjam has now been broken. S. 1630 contains all of the essential features of my original proposal and will lead to the achievement of the goals I originally set out. The bill I am signing today will permanently reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 million tons below 1980 levels. It will cut NOx emissions by two million tons from projected year 2000 levels and reduce air toxic emissions by over 75 percent.
The bill will allow the Nation finally to meet air quality standards in every city; and, in total, almost 30 million tons per year of dangerous chemicals and noxious pollutants will be prevented from fouling the air.
The result of this new Clean Air Act will be that cancer risk, respiratory disease, heart ailments, and reproductive disorders will be reduced; damage to lakes, streams, parks, crops, and forests will greatly be lessened; and visibility will be notably improved. As an added benefit, energy security will on balance be enhanced as utilities and automobiles switch to cleaner burning alternative fuels.
The innovative use of market incentives in the bill represents the turning of a new page in our approach to environmental problems in this country. The acid rain allowance trading program will be the first large-scale regulatory use of market incentives and is already being seen as a model for regulatory reform efforts here and abroad. The acid rain program is based on some simple concepts — that we should set tough standards, allow freedom of choice in how to meet them, and let the power of markets help us allocate the costs most efficiently.
By employing a system that generates the most environmental protection for every dollar spent, the trading system lays the groundwork for a new era of smarter government regulation; one that is more compatible with economic growth than using only the command and control approaches of the past. Other provisions to increase flexibility include increased opportunities for emissions trading and performance standards for fuel refiners to encourage alternative fuel reformulations. In all, these path-breaking features allow us to implement the legislation in a way that achieves my environmental goals at an acceptable cost. The result will be the dawning of a new era in regulatory policy, one that relies on the market to reconcile the environment and the economy.
To address the serious concerns raised by the cost of this legislation, I am directing Bill Reilly, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to implement this bill in the most cost-effective manner possible. This means ensuring that plants can continue to use emission trading and netting to the maximum extent allowed by law; that the Administration’s proposed policy on WEPCO is implemented to the extent allowed by law as quickly as possible; and that the permit program is phased in over time in an orderly, nondisruptive manner. This Administration will also pursue the use of more realistic assumptions when estimating risk. These implementation strategies will help keep unnecessary costs and job losses down, while ensuring the achievement of the environmental goals of this bill in the most efficient manner possible.
Eighth, as President, he devoted attention to volunteer service as a way to solve some of America’s social problems. In his report to the nation on The Points of Light Movement, 1993, he said:
Points of Light are the soul of America. They are ordinary people who reach beyond themselves to touch the lives of those in need, bringing hope and opportunity, care and friendship. By giving so generously of themselves, these remarkable individuals show us not only what is best in our heritage but what all of us are called to become.
Ninth, and finally, as a statesman, had ‘mellowed‘ on same-sex marriage, being a witness to the wedding of Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, two general store owners in Kennebunkport, ME. He wrote, according to a copy of the book titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush:
Personally, I still believe in traditional marriage.But people should be able to do what they want to do, without discrimination. People have a right to be happy. I guess you could say I have mellowed.