Facts About the Life and Times of George HW Bush You May Not Have Known
The former president took up skydiving in his seventies and spawned a couple of decent conspiracy theories.
As so often seems the case, in the end, George HW Bush lasted only months longer than his wife. Nearly 30 years after he threw up over the Japanese Prime Minister in the only US Presidential summit scripted by Adam Sandler, George Bush The Less Hated has gone to be with Barbara, and Saddam.
A president who seemed interstitial in his time, standing between Reagan's Cold War warriors and the Boomer generation takeover Clinton heralded, his legacy is fuzzy and often seems to consist of stuff he didn't do. He presided over a time of relative peace and unity; how much of that peace and unity was down to him is a question worth re-opening.
In the coming days, the exact grade of that legacy will be pored over in obits that have been written and on the rack since the late 1990s. This isn't that. This is his miscellany. An attempt to steer around all the obvious cliches and find the real man buried somewhere under the Andrew Dice Clay punchlines.
HE HAD A SIXTH CHILD CALLED CLINTON
If you had to spend a year of your life bussing from Buttplug, Idaho to Arseend, North Dakota, burning through hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds, sucking up to bankers, pretending to earnestly listen to "real Americans" telling you about their "problems", you might be a touch sour about the guy who beat you.
Yet despite being consigned to MentalFloss articles about One Term Presidents, Bush Senior bore Bill Clinton no grudge. In fact, the pair became close friends.
"You cannot get mad at the guy," Bush wrote in a letter to his kids. "I admit to wondering why he can't stay on time, but when I see him interacting with folks my wonder turns to understanding, with a dollop of angst thrown in... Clinton is a fascinating character. He has opinions on everything, no matter what. He seems to have a great grasp of history's events and people."
The pair ended up going on a host of fundraising trips together, most notably post-Katrina. "They have become really great friends," Dubya apparatchik Andy Card once noted. "In fact, almost like family, and that's like a jealousy for the rest of the Bush kids. They think they got this other brother named Bill Clinton. It is a wonderful warm relationship and that is reflected in his letters."
HE HAD A REAL SIXTH CHILD TOO, WHO DIED OF LEUKEMIA
Three-year-old Robin Bush died of blood cancer in 1953. Dubya was seven at the time. HW wasn't quite 30. Bush rarely spoke of it. The incident seems to have been an inky black dot of pure privacy within this most public of American families. In her last days, Barbara spoke of how she wasn’t afraid of dying, because: "I know I will meet Robin again."
In 2000, Robin’s remains were moved from Connecticut to the family compound in Texas. "It seems funny after almost 50 years since her death how dear Robin is to our hearts," HW later wrote to the family pastor. "My tears flowed when you said those lovely prayers. But they were not the same tears of devastation, loss and pain that I felt when Robin died. Instead, they were tears of gratitude that we had her at all, and maybe even tears of joy she was still with us."
HE HAD FIVE SURVIVING CHILDREN, ALL OF WHOM HAVE 'DONE THINGS'
Jeb – Florida governor and hanging-chad eliminator. Low energy. Bilingual son George P. Bush is supposed to be the next dynastic superstar.
Dorothy – a girl. Became the first person publicly baptised in a Christian ceremony in the People's Republic of China since the Communist Party took over. Yes. True.
George – shoe target and misunderestimator.
Marvin – A common target of 9/11 truthers. Possibly because he was briefly on the board of a company that had once supplied security to the WTC.
THERE WAS NO SINGLE THREAD IN THE MAKING OF THE BUSH MILLIONS
HW's grandfather was the president of a steel mill in Columbus, Ohio. His father was a banker, then a senator, a Wall Street man in the roaring 1920s who possibly gave a few Nazi industrialists a bit of a booster in his day. Certainly, he didn't allow common anti-Nazi prejudice to disadvantage their loan applications.
In his twenties, HW moved south from New England, to Texas, and set himself up in the oil exploration business. Initially, the family lived in a one-bed duplex, opposite a mother and daughter prostitute combo.... insert some kind of strange magical American Dream transition here... and by 40 he was a largely self-made millionaire. Dubya, in turn, made his own millions through being a playboy and unsuccessfully running a baseball team.
HE INVENTED THE BUSHISM
Long before Dubya told the world that he thought the human being and fish could coexist peacefully, HW was already giving a helping hand to "witty" op-ed columnists with a never-ending mangle of malapropisms and backwards-grammatical car-crashes. At one point, the press started speculating that he suffered from a rare kind of verbal dyslexia. Bushism-for-Bushism, he arguably outdid his more celebrated son. Surely the example below pisses on "Our enemies never stop thinking of new ways to harm our country, and neither do we."
"I stand for anti-bigotry, anti-Semitism, and anti-racism."
Neither should we forget this perfect mangle, from a speech on the campaign trail in '92, the equal of any nine-verb sentence Trump has come out with:
"Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can't be. And we're blessed. So don't feel sorry for – don't cry for me, Argentina."
HE TOOK UP SKYDIVING IN HIS SEVENTIES DESPITE ALL THE MEMORIES OF BURNING FLESH
After defeat to Clinton, Bush The Elder ended up retiring to Texas, where he set about proving that the American public had been wrong to assume he was a fusty ancient cretin. "Old guys can still do stuff,” was what he said when asked why he was taking up parachuting.
Of course, the last time he'd jumped out of a plane was when it was tumbling into the Pacific amid a molten rain of Japanese shrapnel. Two of his co-pilots had already been killed. The one who did manage to exit the burning fuselage died when his parachute didn't open. That day, Bush was the only survivor of his unit to be pulled from the sea.
AS PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE, HE WAS THE GUY WHO HAD TO TELL NIXON TO RESIGN
Dicky didn't take it too well. Especially as Nixon had once chartered a government plane at the taxpayers' expense in the name of arranging a date between Dubya and Nixon's own daughter, Tricia.
AFTERWARDS, HE WAS THE DIRECTOR OF THE CIA FOR NOT QUITE A YEAR
Which has been a boon to conspiracy theorists ever-since: linking him both forwards to 9/11, via his son, and backwards, to the Kennedy assassination.
THE HINCKLEY-BUSH CONSPIRACY THEORY IS ONE OF THE MORE UNDERRATED SCREWBALL ASIDES IN RECENT US POLITICAL HISTORY
In 1981, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr – one of the foremost assassins in history motivated by a desire to impress Jodie Foster.
But even as Bush was being rushed to the White House to deputise, questions were already being asked about why the family of John Hinckley Jr had contributed to Bush's 1980 Republican nomination campaign. Hinckley's older brother, Scott, was supposed to go for dinner at the home of Neil Bush the very day after the Reagan assassination attempt.
Perversely, the incident helped heal relations between ex-rivals Bush and Reagan. The pair had faced off for the Republican nomination not two years earlier. But despite being urged to show he was "in command", Bush instead chose to show loyalty, refusing to land his chopper on the South Lawn of the White House.
"Only the President lands on the South Lawn," he told his aides.
HIS '88 CAMPAIGN AGAINST MICHAEL DUKAKIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST PETTY AND DULL IN RECENT US POLITICAL HISTORY
Even Richard Nixon came out of his hovel of disgrace to pronounce it "trivial, superficial and inane".
DESPITE CONTINUING AS PRESIDENT FOR TWO MORE YEARS, HE ACTUALLY COMMITTED POLITICAL SUICIDE IN 1990
"Read my lips, no new taxes."
That was his catchphrase in '88. Catchphrases were big back then. It was the era of "Hasta la vista" and "Where's The Beef?". You weren't anyone without a catchphrase. But later, as President, he was forced to do a deal with Democrats on Capitol Hill to cut spending and increase taxes. A more savvy personal marketer than Bush would have understood he was basically being forced to sign his political death warrant. Not him. Once again, HW chose pragmatism over PR.
The measures finally got a grip on a national debt that Reagan had shot into hyperspace, helping to set the stage for 90s prosperity, as much as any Clintonian "Third Way". But from a political point of view, they were arsenic. All Clinton's people had to do was endlessly replay that clip and wait for the electorate to eject him.
HE INVENTED DAN QUAYLE
HE WAS SHIT AT IDEAS
"The vision thingy." That was his other catchphrase. He would say he wasn't very good at "the vision thingy". 'What should the post-Cold War new world order be like?' he wondered. Well I dunno George. You're the President…
SADDAM TRIED TO RUB HIM OUT
In September of 2002, Bush Junior gave a speech citing several reasons why invading Iraq was a really swell idea. Terrorist links, Saddam's stockpile of invisible WMDs, the usual. But then he continued along a line history has forgotten: "After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad." He repeated the slur later that month at the UN Security Council.
Bush Jr was referring to a plot uncovered in 1993, when the already ex-President had gone to Kuwait City for a victory lap tour. A coffee shop owner from Basra and 13 others, nine of them Iraqis, were arrested and tried after they were found downtown with an indecent quantity of explosives. Clinton took the plot so seriously that he authorised missile strikes on Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. Rather than the oil or Illuminati theories, could George W's foreign adventures have been nothing more than a revenge fantasy against the man who tried to kill his dear ol' pa?
WHICH WAS IMPOLITE CONSIDERING HE'D HELPED HIM STAY IN POWER
His objectives in Kuwait achieved, Bush gave the orders for the Coalition to turn back. At the same time, Shiite Iraqis were using the chaos the war had instigated to begin an Intifada against Saddam. As were the much-persecuted Kurds in the north. But as ever, Bush was cautious. He still preferred the balance of power to anarchy. He didn't want to risk destabilising the region any further.
So rather than turn over the massive arms caches they'd conquered from the Iraqi army to the rebels, Bush ordered that they be destroyed. The tide turned. The Intifada was brutally suppressed. History's page turned to 2003. His son made the opposite errors. Many Middle Eastern observers have never forgiven HW for it.
HE WAS HAPPY TO SACRIFICE APPROVAL FOR OUTCOMES
"You don't look happy," one reporter told him, during the week when the USSR was conclusively dying. "I am happy," Bush insisted, flopped back in a chair in the Oval Office, his hands behind his head. Another moment of naivety from a president who seemed to think he had a choice not to engage with the PR hassle of his job.
As the Old Enemy crumbled overnight, people wanted to see a leader triumphant. Public pressure was for him to go out and running-man on the Berlin Wall with David Hasselhoff. But Bush simply couldn't. Firstly, because he was a starchy rich New Englander. Secondly, he still needed Gorbachev. He couldn’t be seen to take any delight in the Soviet collapse. Ex-CIA head, a foreign policy specialist, he knew he would need good relations with the regime more than ever. Triumphalism wouldn’t do.
The move hurt his approval ratings. But many still believe it saved the world a far more convulsive fracturing of the Soviet Union.
HE INVENTED A JAPANESE VERB
Not until Dick Cheney shot a man in the buttocks on a duck hunt would there be such an open goal for liberal stand-ups as Bush's legendary up-chucking over the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992. It has its own Wikipedia page, which runs to over 400 words. In Japan, to this day, Bushu-suru (to do the Bush thing) is still slang for vomiting.
BARBARA BUSH'S FAMOUS DISLIKE OF 'THE SIMPSONS' WAS THE TIP OF A MORE GENERAL NASTY STREAK
Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan were famously bitchy towards each other. But despite her sympathetic portrayal relative to the harsh light invariably shone on astrology-nut Nancy, many concluded that Barbara was actually the bigger bitch.
"People always said Nancy Reagan would kill you if you said bad stuff about her," said one staff aide. "But I always thought Mrs Bush was the one who would kill you…. No one sat around and gossiped about Mrs Bush. I don't think it was that people loved her; I think everyone was scared of her. It was just like when your mother said, 'I have eyes in the back of my head.'"
"I mean," another former aide added in 1992, "she's a good person, she talks about AIDS and stuff. But she's not this nice person." Sarcastic, caustic, judgmental, matriarchal: Mrs Bush was the iron inside her husband's velvet glove.
- George HW Bush