41st President of the United States (1989-1993)
Full Name: George Herbert Walker Bush
Born: June 12, 1924, 173 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Texas
Term: January 20, 1989-January 20, 1993
Age at Inauguration: 64 years, 223 days
Congresses: 101st and 102nd
Vice President: James Danforth “Dan” Quayle
Age at Death:
Buried: (President and Mrs. Bush will be buried at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas)
2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 13 of 43 [↑2]
I don’t know if it is any consolation to him, but over 20 years after losing his bid for a second term in the White House there is only one other one-term President that I have ranked higher than George H.W. Bush, and I’ve also boosted Bush 41 two spots higher than I had him ranked in 2012. What drove Bush out of office in 1992 was a perfect storm — fatigue after 12 years of Republicans in the White House, the charismatic opposition of perhaps the best pure politician of the second half of the 20th Century (Bill Clinton), a third-party challenge from the wealthy, eccentric, and interesting Ross Perot which damaged Bush far more than Clinton, and an economic recession which wasn’t entirely Bush’s fault. Bush 41’s Presidency seems to be remembered more fondly as the years pass, especially once there was a Bush 43 to compare him to. Bush was a moderate and a realist, someone who never threw bombs to earn political capital, never spent the political capital that he had earned just because he had it, and was an able manager. When it came to foreign relations, we’ve had few Presidents who understood the intricacies of diplomacy and could build a real, solid coalition. When the Cold War ended with Bush at the helm, he was smart enough to realize that the United States would gain nothing but enmity if we took a victory lap and rubbed the nose of the Soviets in their downfall. In Panama and then Iraq, Bush restored American confidence in the U.S. military which remained shaken in the wake of Vietnam. The Persian Gulf War was a clear display of American power, but also American diplomacy at its best — building a massive coalition of diverse Allies, setting a goal, and not allowing an inch of mission creep. And all of those successful aspects of the Gulf War happened because George Bush was in charge. In 1992, Bush’s campaign staff was frustrated by their candidate’s inability to claim credit for his victories — not because there weren’t any, but because George Herbert Walker Bush didn’t brag about himself. He even had to be coaxed into discussing his heroic exploits flying dangerous combat missions in World War II or detailing his lengthy career serving his country in many different and important roles. It wasn’t that Bush didn’t want to be reelected as President, it’s just trumpeting his own achievements and self-praise wasn’t in DNA. After his loss to Clinton, 41 was devastated, but fortunately Bush has lived long enough to receive the appreciation for his leadership that he certainly deserves. He also had the rare honor of seeing his son elected to two terms as President, may still get a chance to see a second son in the Oval Office, and has forged a unique and wonderful friendship/surrogate father-son relationship with the very man who defeated him in 1992, Bill Clinton. Today, at 90 years old, George H.W. Bush is still going strong, rocking badass socks, doing his thing on Twitter, continuing to skydive (!), and holds the undisputed championship as the most beloved ex-President alive today.
1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine: Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine: Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine: Not Ranked
1990: Siena Institute: 18 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine: 24 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 20 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll: 16 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership: 21 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians: 18 of 42
2010: Siena Institute: 22 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre: 22 of 40
It’s not completely about Bush 41 (and it’s 1200 pages long), but What It Takes: The Way To the White House (BOOK | KINDLE), Richard Ben Cramer’s exhaustive, incredible book about the 1988 Presidential campaign, is a must-read. It’s the best book ever written about a Presidential campaign and that’s really saying something.
Of course, if you don’t want to commit to What It Takes (and it is definitely a commitment), it was abridged last year into a wonderful little book focusing solely on George Herbert Walker Bush. It’s a great insight into what made Bush into the public servant he has been for the last 70 years. That abridged version of Cramer’s book is called Being Poppy: A Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush (BOOK | KINDLE).
Unfortunately, President Bush never had much interest in writing an autobiography after he left office. However, he did release a lengthy collection of his letters and writings called All the Best, George Bush: My Life In Letters and Other Writings (BOOK | KINDLE). The letters, in a way, are far more autobiographical than a traditional autobiography would have been. Many of them are quite candid and personal, and Bush adds insight to letters throughout the book.
Oh, and The Commanders by Bob Woodward (BOOK | KINDLE) is an interesting look at Bush as Commander-in-Chief, first with the invasion of Panama, and then with the Persian Gulf War. Again, it’s not a complete autobiography, but a great book about Bush as President.
With his 90th birthday, George Herbert Walker Bush has become the fifth President in American History to reach the age of 90 years old (Jimmy Carter will turn 90 later this year). Bush has been the oldest living President since the death of Gerald Ford in December 2006, is currently in fifth place on the list of longest-living American Presidents of all-time, and he will rise to third place on that list by his next birthday.
1. Ford: 93 years, 165 days
2. Reagan: 93 years, 120 days
3. J. Adams: 90 years, 247 days
4. Hoover: 90 years, 71 days
5. G.H.W. Bush: 90 years, 0 days (Turned 90 years old today)
6. Carter: 89 years+ (Turns 90 years old on October 1st)
7. Truman: 88 years, 232 days
8. Madison: 85 years, 104 days
9. Jefferson: 83 years, 82 days
10. Davis (CSA): 81 years, 186 days
Bush is also currently the fifth longest-living Vice President in American history:
Longest-Living Vice Presidents
1. Garner: 98 years, 351 days
2. Morton: 96 years
3. Ford: 93 years, 165 days
4. J. Adams: 90 years, 247 days
5. G.H.W. Bush: 90 years, 0 days
6. Truman: 88 years, 232 days
7. Mondale: 86 years+ (Turns 87 on January 5, 2015)
8. Dawes: 85 years, 239 days
9. Jefferson: 83 years, 82 days
10. Hamlin: 81 years, 311 days
Former President Bush’s long life has also included a lengthy and well-deserved retirement. Bush is in the top ten of the rankings of the longest lives lived by Presidents after leaving office, as well as the longest post-Vice Presidencies.
Length of Post-Presidency
1. Carter: 33 years+ (Still living/Left office Jan. 20, 1981)
2. Hoover: 31 years, 231 days (1933-1964)
3. Ford: 29 years, 340 days (1977-2006)
4. J. Adams: 25 years, 122 days (1801-1826)
5. Davis (CSA): 24 years, 210 days (1865-1889)
6. Van Buren: 21 years, 142 days (1841-1862)
7. G.H.W. Bush: 21 years+ (Still living/Left office Jan. 20, 1993)
8. Fillmore: 21 years, 4 days (1853-1874)
9. Truman: 19 years, 340 days (1953-1972)
10. Nixon: 19 years, 256 days (1974-1994)
Length of Post-Vice Presidency
1. Mondale: 33 years+ (Still living/Left VP office Jan. 20, 1981)
2. Nixon: 33 years, 92 days (1961-1994)
3. Ford: 32 years, 139 days (1974-2006)
4. Burr: 31 years, 71 days (1805-1836)
5. J. Adams: 29 years, 122 days (1797-1826)
6. Truman: 27 years, 258 days (1945-1972)
7. Morton: 27 years, 73 days (1893-1920)
8. Garner: 26 years, 291 days (1941-1967)
9. Hamlin: 26 years, 122 days (1865-1891)
10. G.H.W. Bush: 25 years+ (Left VP office Jan. 20, 1989)
There are several other age-related longevity records that Bush 41 has either set, broken, or is approaching. No President/Vice President team has lived longer than the Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush (93 and 90 years old respectively) team. The combination of Jimmy Carter (turning 90 in October) and Walter Mondale (a few months away from his 87th birthday) is the closest to Reagan/Bush, and both Carter and Mondale are still living. Interestingly, those two combinations were also the opposing tickets in the 1980 election. Although Bob Dole, who is nearly a year older than Bush (born on July 22, 1923), is the oldest living Presidential or Vice Presidential nominee from either party, Bush is the oldest living successful Presidential and Vice Presidential nominee. Dole was the Republican Presidential nominee in 1996 (losing to Bill Clinton) and the unsuccessful Vice Presidential nominee in 1976 as Gerald Ford’s running mate; Bush was elected VP alongside Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and was successful against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 Presidential election.
Even the marriage of George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush is a record-breaker. Only two First Couples in American History have been married for longer than 60 years, and they are BOTH still going strong — George and Barbara Bush will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on January 6, 2015 and the 68th anniversary of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s wedding is next month.
Longest Presidential Marriages
1. G.H.W. Bush: 69 years+ (70th anniversary on Jan. 6, 2015)
2. Carter: 67 years+ (68th anniversary on July 7th)
3. Ford: 58 years, 72 days
4. J. Adams: 54 years, 3 days
5. Truman: 53 years, 281 days
6. Nixon: 53 years, 1 day
7. Eisenhower: 52 years, 270 days
8. Reagan (2nd marriage): 52 years, 93 days
9. J.Q. Adams: 50 years, 212 days
10. A. Johnson: 48 years, 75 days
With the Bushes and Carters still happily married and living seemingly healthy lives, both former First Couples have a chance of becoming the longest-living President/First Lady combination as well as adding to their record of longest marriage.
Longest-Living First Couples (Age at Death or Current Age)
1. Gerald Ford (93 years, 165 days)/Betty Ford (93 years, 91 days)
2. Ronald Reagan (93 years, 120 days)/Nancy Reagan (Still living/Turns 93 years old on July 6th)
3. Harry S. Truman (88 years, 232 days)/Bess Truman (97 years, 247 day — longest-living President or First Lady in history)
4. George H.W. Bush (90 years, 0 days)/Barbara Bush (89 years, 4 days) [Both still living]
5. Jimmy Carter (Turns 90 years old on October 1st)/Rosalynn Carter (Turns 87 years old on August 18th) [Both still living]
When George H.W. Bush emerged from Ronald Reagan’s shadow in 1988 to seek the Presidency in his own right after nearly eight years as Reagan’s Vice President, many of his opponents and the media’s political pundits saw him as an out-of-touch, stuffy, patrician, WASP who, in the famous words of Texas Governor Ann Richards, “was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Probably the most frustrating incident of the 1988 campaign was when Newsweek ran a cover story called “Fighting the Wimp Factor” which questioned whether Bush was tough enough to be President.
All of these labels were patently unfair when directed towards Bush, who would eventually defeat Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in November 1988 and become the 41st President. After all, Bush enlisted in the U.S. Navy on the very day that he turned 18 years old during World War II, was the youngest pilot in the entire Navy upon earning his wings, and flew 58 combat missions in the treacherous Pacific. Out of the fourteen pilots in Bush’s squadron, he was one of just four to come home at the end of war, and that was despite surviving three plane crashes during his service, one of which saw him barely evading capture after being shot down by the Japanese. Bush’s toughness should have never been questioned.
Yes, George H.W. Bush was a patrician and a WASP who was born in Massachusetts, the son of a U.S. Senator, and a student of prestigious schools such as Greenwich Country Day, Phillips Academy, and Yale University. Still, there was an earthy, fun-loving, mischievous side to the 41st President — one that didn’t vanish when he became the most powerful man in the world. We know that Bush went skydiving several times as a former President (another measure of his toughness) — he last jumped out of an airplane at the age of 85 in 2009 — but he also might be the only President in history to break out the bunny ears during a gathering of former Presidents and former First Ladies:
In Bob Greene’s Fraternity: A Journey In Search of Five Presidents (BOOK•KINDLE), Greene seeks out five former Presidents (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41) and gets a chance to spend time with all except the ailing Reagan. In Greene’s wonderful book, the most surprising revelation is that Bush — the wealthy son of a Senator who had a famous family name when entered politics and didn’t have to overcome the poverty and obstacles that Nixon, Ford, and Carter faced — was the most down-to-Earth, easy-going of the four Presidents interviewed. The two photos above give us a glimpse of that personality.
The bunny ears photo is obviously a clear example of Bush 41 not taking himself too seriously, the skydiving shows an adventurous spirit, but the photo at the beginning of the post is simply evidence that Presidents can have fun — even while they are in office and having every move watched by the public.
On August 19, 1989, George Herbert Walker Bush had been President for almost exactly eight months, and, along with his family, had traveled to his beloved home on Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine for a two-week-long vacation. In order to promote boating safety, Coast Guard members videotaped an inspection of President Bush’s 28-foot speedboat, Fidelity, and Bush recorded a short public service announcement about the importance of carrying life jackets while boating. Once the Coast Guard’s cameras turned off, the 65-year-old President received an old-fashioned family challenge.
Among those out on the water with Bush was his oldest child, 43-year-old George W. Bush, and George W.’s twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara. The future President — still several years from entering the political arena on his own — dared his father to take a dive into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. Egged on by his son, his granddaughters, and others who were out on the water with them, Bush 41 had no intention backing down. Stripping down to his trousers, Bush prepared to take the bet. Although he had just taped the message about life jackets, the President said he didn’t need one when a Coast Guard member suggested Bush wear one if he were going to the take the dive. After all, Bush was once rescued by a submarine after treading water in the Pacific Ocean for over three hours during World War II, and he was quite confident in his swimming skills.
Before taking the dare, Bush decided to make some money off of it. George W. didn’t think that the President would make the plunge, especially with other boats full of reporters swarming around Fidelity. Bush 41 put Jenna and Barbara in charge of collecting bets, and joked to reporters, “You can’t report it unless you put something in the pot.” After his granddaughters made their rounds and collected the bets, the President of the United States, bare-chested and barefoot, but wearing black trousers, followed through on George W.’s dare. Diving into the 60-degree Atlantic Ocean waters off the coast of Maine, the President swam for about two minutes before climbing back into Fidelity.
Like the bunny ears photo, it was one of those wonderful, unguarded, fun moments where a President allowed himself to be humanized. It’s rare that we see that side of our Presidents because now — only a bit more than 20 years later — everything is so choreographed and lacking in spontaneity that we often miss the human side of our Presidents and political leaders.
By the way, for winning the bet and taking the dare of the man who would later become the 43rd President, Bush 41’s twin granddaughters handed the 41st President a grand total of $11.
Richard Nixon, on George H.W. Bush, 1972.
In 1970, President Nixon convinced then-Congressman Bush to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate from Texas even though Bush had to risk his spot in the House to campaign for the Senate. Nixon promised Bush that he’d find a place for him in his Administration if he lost, which he did.
After Bush’s unsuccessful bid, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1971 to 1973. His last post in Nixon’s Administration was what he called “a political nightmare” — he served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1973-1974, during the worst part of the Watergate scandal. Bush defended Nixon for months and genuinely believed that Nixon was innocent because that’s what the President told him. When he found out the truth, Bush felt more betrayed than he ever had in his life. He wrote an official letter to the President urging him to resign shortly before Nixon stepped down and a private, much more private letter to his children expressing his deep disappointment and anger at the President.