The passing of President George H.W. Bush has occasioned many reassessments of both his person and his presidency. On the side of his person, H.W. had a long and (almost) universally-recognized list of admirable qualities. There was no one more fundamentally decent, more honorable, more devoted to family and country, more patriotic, more dedicated to true public service. And although he certainly had his share of ambition — it would be impossible to become President without that — he did not have the sort of blind and desperate personal ambition that has characterized, for example, Obama and Clinton, or for that matter Nixon and Trump. Overall, what more could you ask for in a President?
But if you want an assessment of the success of his presidency, my answer would be, it was not particularly successful. Why? The simple answer is that he was too nice. The slightly more complex answer is that he thought that he was dealing in good faith with reasonable people in a loyal opposition, and that the right approach to dealing with those people was to compromise. Or to put it another way, his Establishment Wasp sensibility left him highly vulnerable. The result was that time and again, on the most important issues, he got taken to the cleaners.
Let’s consider three of the most important examples.
(1) “Read my lips, no new taxes.” If you were alive at the time, there is no way that you will have forgotten this one. The words “Read my lips, no new taxes” were first uttered by Bush during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention upon his nomination in August 1988. If there was one fundamental promise that defined his campaign, this was it. The words leading up to the quote in his acceptance speech (said to have been written by Peggy Noonan) were even more definitive:
My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, "Read my lips: no new taxes."
But Bush never had a Republican majority in either house of Congress, and of course the Democrats were pushing from day 1 for tax increases. Less than a year and a half into his presidency, Bush was backtracking on the no new taxes pledge. According to a Wikipedia summary, by June 1990 economic growth had slowed, and deficits were increasing. In late June Bush issued a statement indicating that he was willing to consider “tax revenue increases” in return for a package that also included spending reductions. The result was the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990, signed in November of that year. Among other changes, the top marginal federal income tax rate went from 28% to 31% -- and as you know, it then continued on up from there in subsequent years. By 1992, in the context of his (unsuccessful) campaign for re-election, Bush clearly realized that he had blundered. From his response that year to a reporter:
I thought this one compromise – and it was a compromise – would result in no more tax increases. I thought it would result in total control of domestic discretionary spending. And now we see Congress talking about raising taxes again. So I’m disappointed, and given all of that, yes, a mistake.
I guess he trusted the wrong people.
(2) 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil. In June 1992 there was a gigantic “Earth Summit” held in Rio de Janeiro. The New York Times had this June 11, 1992 piece quoting Bush saying how he would draw firm lines in the sand with respect to prospective global environmental agreements:
The White House said today that Mr. Bush would speak "hard truths" in defense of the American environmental record on his two-day visit to Rio de Janiero for the United Nations conference. Senior officials predicted the President would offer a blunt defense of his stands on major issues that have drawn critical fire at the summit.
Bush proceeded to go on down to Rio personally (big mistake), and to get completely rolled by the then-nascent international climate establishment. It was the 1992 Brazil summit that gave us two of the most destructive UN agreements ever created, namely the so-called Framework Convention on Climate Change and Agenda 21.
The FCCC was agreed to by Bush, although in his partial defense it was actually ratified by the Senate. That is the document that has produced the roughly-annual “conferences of the parties” like the one currently taking place in Poland, attended by some 22,000 (!) UN and national bureaucrats and hangers-on. Basically these are forums for endless U.S.-bashing, let alone opportunities to try to buffalo the U.S. into signing on to additional destructive things like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris climate accord. In the case of Paris, it even seemed to be working, at least until Trump took office. And then there’s Agenda 21. This one is a document of some 350 pages, personally signed by Bush. It was not ratified by the Senate. Read some of it, and it will take your breath away. Although carefully avoiding any binding commitments, it is a roadmap for gradual turnover of all political power in the world to the UN bureaucracy, all in the name of “social justice” and “sustainability.” American property rights activists call it a program for the elimination of all private property (for example American Policy Center here). Although the document itself avoids using those exact words, I think that that characterization by APC and others is eminently fair. For example, here is what Agenda 21 has to say about private ownership of land in section 10.3:
Land resources are used for a variety of purposes which interact and may compete with one another; therefore, it is desirable to plan and manage all uses in an integrated manner. Integration should take place at two levels, considering, on the one hand, all environmental, social and economic factors (including, for example, impacts of the various economic and social sectors on the environment and natural resources) and, on the other, all environmental and resource components together (i.e., air, water, biota, land, geological and natural resources). Integrated consideration facilitates appropriate choices and trade-offs, thus maximizing sustainable productivity and use.
That certainly sounds to me like the whole concept of private ownership of property is to be subordinated to collective (governmental) determinations of appropriate usage of land. How could any American President, let alone a Republican, have signed such a thing? It’s all part of a mindset of being nice, being decent, not wanting to get in a fight; combined with a shocking ignorance of the basics of why capitalism works and socialism does not — and thus ultimately willingness to sell the poor of the world down the river and hand over power to ignorant internationalist functionaries who have no idea how destructive their ideas are.
And finally, . . .
(3) The Americans With Disabilities Act. What, you think that the Americans With Disabilities Act has been around since the dawn of time? Wrong. It was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
Now, how could any decent human being be against fair treatment for the disabled? Which is exactly the reason why a totally decent guy like H.W. would not and could not give any real push-back to this blatant invitation to rampant fraud. For an introduction to the subject, try my December 2012 post titled "Who Could Be Against Disability Pensions?" The post covers a slightly different subject -- namely disability pensions under New York State law, as opposed to rights of the "disabled" under the Americans With Disabilities Act -- but the basic concept is the same: as soon as there is some real money in being disabled, legions of fraudsters step forward to get in on the loot. And thus we find that some 75% of New York City firemen, and 97% of Long Island Railroad workers, somehow claim to be "disabled" when it comes time to claim their pensions:
The more you look at disability pensions the worse it gets. Here is an article from the New York Post in March 2012 reporting that some three-quarters of New York City firemen who retire get disability pensions. Does anyone think that could possibly be honest? The article focuses on the story of one Cliff Stabner, retired since 2003 on a New York City disability pension of $95,000 per year, who now works as an emergency worker at NASCAR races. Wait, we thought he was disabled!
Is it any different under the ADA? Once again, it is the New York Post that is on top of the story. From a September 2017 article:
Five New Yorkers in wheelchairs are behind nearly 400 lawsuits brought against small businesses for lacking handicap access. Such legal claims have been criticized as part of a “cottage industry” of “serial plaintiffs” who target mom-and-pop establishments for quick cash settlements. But others see the suits as helping enforce the American with Disabilities Act. . . . Zoltan Hirsch, 37, a double amputee from Brooklyn, is hell on wheels for those who fail to make their establishments wheelchair accessible. Since 2010, he has filed suit against 195 businesses ranging from a Soho eyeglass shop to Brooklyn bodegas to a Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. Four other New Yorkers have filed 200 suits over wheelchair access. . . .
It seems that the game plan in this most recent use of the ADA is to hit up hundreds of small mom and pop businesses for a few tens of thousands of dollars each, most of which goes to the lawyers. Meanwhile, does the ADA actually accomplish anything of value for the disabled? It's impossible to tell from any data I can find, but my strong instinct is that the Act only makes honest people want to stay as far as possible away from the disabled in order to avoid shakedown lawsuits.
Anyway, study the presidency of George H.W. Bush a little, and maybe you can get an idea of why a guy who doesn't much care about appearing to be nice or what other people think of him actually makes a better President than the decent and honorable Establishment WASP.