One very significant memory from Bush being president is the first golf war. When we were getting ready to invade Iraq, everyone in my circle of friends did not want us going to war to stop Saddam Hussein. We were worried it would become another Vietnam: Young people dying in an endless war which could not be won. People I knew who were Vietnam Vets were re-living the trauma of that unwinnable war as we were preparing to invade Iraq.
As we started invading Iraq, everyone I knew was glued to their TV, listening to Peter Arnett describing the air strikes against Iraq as it was happening.
I remember Bush, in a live presidential address, saying that Iraq would not become another Vietnam, since our soldiers would not “be asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back”. I did not believe him.
I wrote a song linking the invasion of Iraq to the Vietnam vets still suffering from what would later be called post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as Agent Orange exposure.
Bush was able to stem the opposition to the war by ending things quickly; within two months, Kuwait was no longer under Iraqi control and the war was over.
Bush famously raised taxes after promising, during his campaign, that he would not raise taxes, with the famous line “Read my lips: No new taxes”. After raising taxes, Arsenio Hall made a joke about it, pointing the camera at the audience and telling people who just paid their “no new taxes” to wave.
The raising of taxes by Bush after explicitly promising not to do so made me feel that politicians always break their campaign promises after being elected.
While Bush himself was a moderate, willing to compromise for the greater good of the nation (e.g. raising taxes), what would become the Tea Party and the modern Republican party was already forming.
Pat Buchanan, a candidate who threatened to defeat Bush in the primaries, was given a national audience by Republicans at the 1992 convention. He ranted about “the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.”
I remember his speech, and the Republicans giving him a soapbox to make it, infuriated me. Someone who was listening to the speech with me, flat out called Buchanan a Nazi; Molly Ivins famously quipped that Buchanan’s speech “probably sounded better in the original German”.
His loss to Clinton was mainly because we had a struggling economy at the time. To me, I was glad to see Clinton won, because I did not want to see the kind of hateful rhetoric espoused by Buchanan (which, to me, Bush endorsed) become part of our national dialog. He did not lose because of the blatant homophobia (and, yes, thinly veiled racism) the GOP espoused at the time; he lost because people were losing their jobs and were frustrated with a president who they felt was not more sympathetic.
With the first Bush president passing away yesterday, an entire part of my life from long ago has been firmly placed in to the past.
The culture war issues which upset me so much in 1992 resulted in the Republicans losing California in the 2000s, after passing Proposition 187 and espousing anti-Hispanic prejudice; and finally in this year’s wave election, with Democrats gaining some 40 seats in the house, even though the economy is strong, because of voter frustration that the Republican party is now run by the same kind of prejudice and extremism that Buchanan espoused in 1992.
Bush was the last really moderate president; someone willing to compromise like he did when raising taxes is sadly a quaint outdated notion in today’s hyperpartisan environment.
There is a lot I did not agree with him on, but I honor his memory.
The picture (if visible) shows how I looked during the first Bush presidency.
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