The 41st president's political persona was the stuff of greatness, argues this entry in the American Presidents series. Historian Naftali (Khrushchev's Cold War) credits Bush less with principles than with "tendencies" toward flexibility, realism and a moderate Republican version of decency. In his foreign policy, these qualities helped him nudge communism toward a soft collapse and build an international alliance to eject Saddam Hussein from Kuwait; domestically they led him to a budget compromise with Democrats, in which he acquiesced to unpopular tax hikes for the good of the nation. Bush's flexibility had a dark side, the author notes, that came out in his repeated tactical embrace of racial politics, from his opposition to civil rights legislation during his 1964 Senate run to the 1988 Willie Horton ads, and in his public support for Reaganomics despite deep private misgivings. Naftali forthrightly dissects Bush's misdeeds-especially his role in the Iran-Contra scandal-but he's less skeptical about the substance of Bush's policies, which he pointedly contrasts with Bush Jr.'s failures; he credits Bush's wars in Panama and Kuwait with helping America "overcome the burden of Vietnam," without wondering whether this paved the way for the son's misadventure in Iraq. Naftali's is a brisk, useful, but not always penetrating overview of a pivotal presidency. (Dec.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
George H. W. Bush (American Presidents Series)by Timothy Naftali
"Most Americans expect their presidents to be larger than life and eloquent. The forty-first president of the United States was neither. George H. W. Bush's fractured sentences, physical awkwardness, and apparent inability to identify himself with his era contrasted dramatically with the iconic presidents immediately before and after him. Yet in retrospect, his presidential years loom as decisive instead of transitional-a period of tough choices with a chief executive unafraid to exercise leadership at home and abroad. His presidency may not be remembered as great, but George H. W. Bush successfully answered the call for greatness when his country required it."
Naftali (director, Nixon Presidential Lib.; Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism) focuses specifically on Bush senior's time in the Oval Office, covering his earlier life and career in only about 60 pages. He argues that the 41st president deserves credit for successfully navigating U.S. foreign policy through the difficult times of the Soviet Union's collapse, the reunification of Germany, and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War. On the domestic front, however, Bush inherited problems that led to his being denied a second term, viz. the cost of repairing the savings and loan debacle, which contributed to the economic downturn of the early 1990s and the divisions that were forming in his Republican Party over issues like abortion. While informative, this book does not offer new insights or provide as satisfying an explanation for what motivated Bush as did Tom Wicker's George Herbert Walker Bush. Also, those needing a more traditional biography should consider Peter Schweizer and Rochelle Schweizer's The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty.Public libraries owning Wicker's book need not add this one to their collections unless a large budget or high demand calls for it.
Thomas J. Baldino
Meet the Author
Timothy Naftali is the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, having previously served as director of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia. He is the coauthor of Khrushchev's Cold War and One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958–1964, and the author of Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism. He lives in Los Angeles.
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