President George W. Bush: Our Forty-Third Presidentby Beatrice Gormley
President George W. Bush once said, "I never dreamed about becoming president. When I was growing up, I wanted to be Willie Mays."
George W. was born in 1946 and attended Yale University. As a young man he trained as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard before beginning a career in business. He then turned to Texas politics and served as the state's
President George W. Bush once said, "I never dreamed about becoming president. When I was growing up, I wanted to be Willie Mays."
George W. was born in 1946 and attended Yale University. As a young man he trained as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard before beginning a career in business. He then turned to Texas politics and served as the state's governor from 1994 to 2000.
In 2001 George W. Bush won one of the closest and most disputed presidential elections in United States history. During his first term Bush launched a war against terrorism after the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001.
This biography of the forty-third president of the United States includes information about his early life, his first term as president, and coverage of his 2004 reelection campaign and subsequent election for a second term.
This biography is essential reading for every young student of American history.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1ST ALLADD
- Product dimensions:
- 5.25(w) x 0.51(h) x 7.66(d)
- Age Range:
- 10 - 14 Years
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 14: A Hair's-Breadth Victory
By Monday, November 6, the day before the election, the race was closer than ever. Governor Bush and his team remained upbeat, but George knew no one could say what would happen tomorrow %151; Reality Day 2000. He needed to make a last big effort in the "battleground" states where the election could be decided.
George had spent Sunday campaigning in Florida, which was in danger of going for Al Gore in spite of George's brother Jeb Bush being its governor. On Monday, George began a final sixteen-hour push with a rally in Tennessee. Even though Tennessee was Al Gore's home state, George had a good chance of winning there. Afterward, he flew to Wisconsin and Iowa %151; two important swing states %151; and finished the hard day's campaigning in Arkansas, President Clinton's home state. He returned to the governor's mansion in Austin, Texas late that night.
Early on November 7, election day, George went to the polls to cast his vote. That evening he and his family %151; including his mother and father and brother Jeb %151; were eating dinner at an Austin restaurant when they heard some bad news. The television networks had announced that the state of Florida had gone to Vice President Gore. The Bush family quickly left for the privacy of the governor's mansion and watched the election returns in the upstairs living room.
Jeb Bush was sure the networks were mistaken about Florida. In fact, a few hours later, the networks changed their minds and announced that Florida was too close to call. As it turned out, this news was extremely important because of the mechanics behind how America elects its presidents.
The president of the United States is not elected by the popular vote, which is the total of all votes cast throughout the country. Instead, our president is actually elected by the state-by-state electoral vote. The Constitution provides that each state has a certain number of electoral votes, which equals that state's number of U.S. Representatives (different for each state) plus the number of senators (always two). Alaska, a state with a small population, has only 3 electoral votes, but heavily populated Florida has 25. The winner of the most votes cast in each state wins that state's electoral votes.
Nationwide, the total number of electoral votes in the election of 2000 was 538. The candidate who won a majority %151; 270 electoral votes or more %151; would win the presidency. By the end of Reality Day 2000, with Florida still undecided, Governor Bush had won 246 electoral votes, and Vice President Gore had won 255. Interestingly, George had won both Al Gore's home state of Tennessee and Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas. Like Florida, New Mexico (5 electoral votes) and Oregon (7 electoral votes) were also too close to call, but at this point they didn't matter. Whoever won Florida's 25 electoral votes would win the election.
Finally, around one o'clock Wednesday morning, November 8, the networks made a new announcement: George had won Florida. George W. Bush now had enough electoral votes to become the next president of the United States. Vice President Gore called George to concede the election.
Less than two hours later, as George was about to leave the governor's mansion to give his victory speech, Al Gore called again. He wanted to take back his concession. Florida officials had just announced that Governor Bush led the vice president by only 1,200 votes. With an election so close, a statewide recount was necessary. Instead of celebrating with a victory party, George had to wait while Florida began to recount its votes.
On Tuesday evening, November 14 %151; a full week after election day %151; the official recount tally was announced. George had indeed won the state of Florida. His lead was now a mere 300 votes, but he still had won.
This was not the end of the election, though. Absentee ballots still needed to be counted, and the Democrats demanded another recount of the vote in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, this time by hand. The voting in these counties had been done on punch-card ballots, and the machines that counted the ballots sometimes made mistakes. If the voter had not completely punched out the "chad" %151; the little square of paper indicating a vote %151; the machine might fail to count that vote. In a hand count, the human election workers could see if the chad was hanging (partly punched out) and know what that vote was meant to be.
Because counting by hand would take much longer than by machine, Vice President Gore claimed that more time was needed beyond November 14. But Florida secretary of state Kathleen Harris refused to change the date. The Gore team appealed her decision to the Florida Supreme Court, and the court ruled to extend the deadline to November 26 and to include the hand recounts. Not wanting the recounts to drag on any longer, the Bush team then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Florida Supreme Court's ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court case over the deadline would not be heard until December 1. So on the evening of November 26, Florida secretary of state Harris, who was the person authorized in the state of Florida to declare the winner of Florida's presidential election, certified the votes. She did not include the results of the incomplete hand count in Palm Beach County, and election officials in Miami-Dade County had given up their hand count. Since George W. Bush was the winner %151; now by 537 votes %151; she announced that Florida's 25 electoral votes would therefore go to him.
This certification was important because it gave Governor Bush's victory some official status. It would be harder for the Gore team to get the courts to overturn the certification than it had been to prevent certification. Also, in the mind of the public, certification moved Governor Bush closer to the presidency.
Shortly afterward, George made a public announcement at the Texas State Capitol in Austin. His quiet words were far from the victory speech he had planned almost three weeks earlier. "Secretary Cheney and I are honored and humbled to have won the state of Florida, which gives us the needed electoral votes to win the election. We will therefore undertake the responsibility of preparing to serve as America's next president and vice president."
But still Vice President Gore did not concede. Only a few hundred votes separated him from the presidency. He believed he might well win if the hand counts were completed in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties and those results included in the total. Gore's lawyers appealed to a Florida circuit court (which is the court just below the Florida Supreme Court) to order the hand counts completed. They also fought hard before the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand the Florida Supreme Court's ruling to extend the deadline.
On December 4, four weeks after the election, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida circuit court both announced their decisions. The Supreme Court simply sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, asking it to clarify why it had extended the deadline and to reconsider that course of action. But the Florida circuit court refused outright to order the hand count requested by the Gore team.
Governor Bush and his team thought this was only right. They had believed all along that hand counts couldn't be completely fair. Vote-counting machines might make mistakes, but at least those mistakes were impartial. Also, in hand counts there were no clear rules for deciding what the voter had meant. If the chad in a punch-card ballot wasn't punched out but there was a "dimple" in it, did that mean that the voter had tried to punch it out? Or did it just mean that the voter had rested the stylus on the chad and then decided against that vote?
In a news conference, Governor Bush was careful not to sound triumphant. "I'm grateful that the court made the decision that it made," he said. When asked if he didn't think it was high time for Vice President Gore to concede, George answered, "That's a very difficult decision for anybody to make. I do believe I have won this election. I believe that I won it on the first count and on the second count and on the third count. But the vice president's going to have to make the decisions that he thinks are necessary. And I know that the interests of the country will be important in his decision making, just like it would be in mine."
Vice President Gore's decision was to appeal the Florida circuit court's ruling to the Florida Supreme Court. On December 8, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the hand counts of the votes must continue. Immediately the Bush team's lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Florida Supreme Court, and to stop the hand counts at least until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on this case.
The back-and-forth of the legal cases was like a dizzying game of Ping-Pong, with the presidency depending on each stroke. But George W. Bush stayed calm. He believed that it was only a matter of time before his victory finally became official. He had already started working on his transition from president-elect to president. He sent his transition team, headed by Dick Cheney, to Washington, D.C., and he continued to choose the members of his cabinet.
All this time it seemed as if the whole country were holding its breath, waiting to know who the next president would be. Nothing like this had happened since 1876, when it appeared that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes had won the White House from Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by only one electoral vote. The Democrats contested the election, and the deadlock went on for months. The election was finally settled by Congress %151; with great difficulty %151; only three days before Hayes's inauguration in 1877.
Luckily, the election of 2000 didn't stretch out into January 2001. As the Bush lawyers had asked, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the hand counting halted while it considered the Florida Supreme Court's last decision. While this wasn't the final decision, the Bush team took it as a very good sign. And then on December 12, exactly five weeks after election day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the hand counting must stop permanently.
The majority of the Supreme Court justices agreed that the Florida Supreme Court, in ordering the hand counts, had not made sure that they would be done according to a fair, uniform standard in every county. It also decided that it was impossible to come up with a fair and quick way of counting the contested votes. Time was important, because all arguments about the outcome of the vote were supposed to be settled by December 12 %151; the same day as the Supreme Court's decision. In other words, there was no time left for any more recounts.
With the Supreme Court's decision, Vice President Gore's last hope to win the presidency was dashed. The following evening, he gave a televised speech conceding the election, this time for good. Al Gore would no longer contest the fact that Florida's 25 electoral votes belonged to George W. Bush.
George had won the presidency, but his victory was one of the narrowest in American history. And the drawn-out struggle after the election had underlined the divisions in the country. The U.S. Congress %151; both the Senate and the House of Representatives %151; was now almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. But George was confident he could handle this difficult presidency, because he had a record of working well with Democrats in Texas. Ever since he was a boy, he'd had a talent for getting along with other people %151; for persuading and leading. Throughout the recount in Florida, George had stressed the importance of bringing the nation together once the election finally ended.
An hour after Al Gore finished his speech, Governor Bush spoke from the Texas State Capitol. Enthusiastic applause greeted him as he was introduced by Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Pete Laney, a Democrat. George looked very happy but calm as he spoke: "I have a lot to be thankful for tonight. I'm thankful for America and thankful that we were able to resolve our electoral differences in a peaceful way."
In his speech on the night he finally became president-elect, George emphasized his intention to "move beyond the bitterness and partisanship of the recent past." He explained, "Tonight I chose to speak from the chamber of the Texas House of Representatives because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation. Here in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent."
This was the spirit of cooperation that George wanted to bring to Washington, D.C. "Our nation must rise above a house divided. Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important than any political disagreements....Our votes may differ, but not our hopes." He pointed out the "remarkable consensus about the important issues before us: excellent schools, retirement and health security, tax relief, a strong military, a more civil society."
In the conclusion of his speech, George W. Bush told the audience in the hall and all the Americans watching him on TV, "The presidency is more than an honor. It is more than an office. It is a charge to keep, and I will give it my all." On January 20, 2001, that charge would begin %151; George W. Bush would be inaugurated as the forty-third president of the United States.
Text copyright © 2000 by Beatrice Gormley
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