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George H.W. Bush Receives ‘Profile In Courage’ Award For Breaking ‘Read My Lips’ Pledge

George HW Bush Convention 1988

Former President George H.W Bush received the annual Profile In Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for his 1991 decision to go back on his famous “Read My Lips” promise made at the Republican National Convention in 1988 to not raise taxes during his Presidency:

(Reuters) – Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush showed courage in breaking his “read my lips: no new taxes” campaign pledge to broker a 1990 budget compromise that may have cost him re-election two years later, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation said on Sunday.

The organization honored the 41st U.S. president with its 2014 Profile in Courage Award, praising the Republican leader’s “decision to put country above party and political prospects” in the deal with congressional Democrats.

“America’s gain was President Bush’s loss,” Jack Schlossberg, grandson of former president John F. Kennedy and a member of the award committee, said during a ceremony at the library in Boston.when

Bush did not attend the event. Granddaughter Lauren Bush Lauren, niece of former president George W. Bush, accepted the award on her grandfather’s behalf.

“Candidly speaking, my grandfather did not want to raise taxes in 1990,” she said. “But in our constitutional system of governance, Congress also gets a say – and more than that, he felt he owed the American people action and results.”

To a large degree, Bush’s tax promise was motivated by the perception that had developed leading up to the 1988 Presidential race that he was, somehow, a “wimp” and that he wouldn’t be able to stand up to Congressional Democrats in the manner that Ronald Reagan did during his Presidency. In that sense, the promise was made more to the conservatives in the Republican Party who had doubts about Bush that dated back to his first run for the Presidency in 1980 than it was to the American people. Additionally, it was, quite obviously, a political tool that the Bush `88 campaign used in the General Election. In all honesty, given the state of the economy and the popularity of the Reagan Administration at the time, Mike Dukakis never really had a serious chance to win the White House in 1988. But, Lee Atwater being the kind of campaign manger that he was, nothing was left to chance, and the “no new taxes” pledge was most definitely part of the effort to tag Dukakis as part of the left wing of the Democratic Party in the tradition of Walter Mondale who, of course, had been soundly defeated just four years earlier.

The actual circumstances of Bush breaking the pledge are very clear. In the midst of a budget showdown in 1990, the President entered into tense negotiations with the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate in an effort to reach a deal and avert a government shutdown. In the end, Bush agreed to a deal that included what amounted to relatively modest tax increases in retrospect, and indeed increases that were smaller than those that Ronald Reagan had agreed to back in 1982. But, of course, Bush was not Reagan, and Reagan had not made a promise that he would never raise taxes. The reaction to the deal on the right to the deal was predictable, and it led to the Pat Buchanan primary challenge in 1992, the tepid support that Bush received from the right that year, and the general push of the Republican Party to the right that manifested itself most clearly in the rise of Newt Gingrich and the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Indeed, to this day the senior Bush’s actions regarding taxes remain among the litany of charges that conservatives level against the Bush family, although that list somehow always seems to exclude George W. Bush’s “War On Terror” policies.

In many respects, this award is yet another part of the reassessment of George H.W. Bush’s Presidency that has occurred over the past decade or so. In many respects, Bush is now a far better regarded public figure than he was when he left office in January 1993. In no small part, of course, this is due to the passage of time, the fact that Bush hasn’t been President for 21 years, and a general feeling of nostalgia that Americans seem to develop for retired politicians, or at least some of them. Bush’s friendship and partnership with Bill Clinton, the man who defeated him in 1992, has obviously gone a long way toward reshaping public opinion about the first President Bush. Also, his retirement into the role of father and grandfather who has largely stayed out of the public fray of politics has helped in that regard, something that differentiates himself from, say, Jimmy Carter.

Perhaps most of all, though, one of things that has led to a reassessment of the Bush 41 Presidency, especially on my part, was the manner in which it hearkens back to an era when Washington actually seemed to work. In the end, rather than being the “no new taxes” ideologue who spoke at the Republican Convention in New Orleans, George H.W. Bush ended up being a statesmen who made the best deal that he could to get a budget crisis resolved. It was messy and contentious, and there were harsh words exchanged, but in the end the deal was done. That’s how government is supposed to work, but it’s not how government has been working in this country for the past half decade or so. The difference is that Bush 41 didn’t have to deal with the talk radio and online chattering classes, and he didn’t have to deal with a Republican Party that didn’t seem to understand what governing means.

I was not a fan of Bush’s when he was President. Heck, I didn’t even vote for him in 1988 (I didn’t vote for Dukakis either). And the tax increase kind of annoyed me at the time even though, as a first year law student there was no chance at all I would be affected by it unless I won the lottery. In retrospect, I’ve got to say that while Bush wasn’t a perfect President by any means, I think I was wrong in my initial asssement of him at the time. And, he deserves this award.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gavrilo says:

    Perhaps most of all, though, one of things that has led to a reassessment of the Bush 41 Presidency, especially on my part, was the manner in which it hearkens back to an era when Washington actually seemed to work. In the end, rather than being the “no new taxes” ideologue who spoke at the Republican Convention in New Orleans, George H.W. Bush ended up being a statesmen who made the best deal that he could to get a budget crisis resolved. It was messy and contentious, and there were harsh words exchanged, but in the end the deal was done. That’s how government is supposed to work, but it’s not how government has been working in this country for the past half decade or so.

    So, when the President and the Congress have a budget crisis and a government shutdown looms, it’s the President who is supposed to compromise and be a “statesman.” Got it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Mr. Bush senior was a decent president. I’d rank him just behind Mr. Obama. In both cases they had to come in and attempt to repair the mess made by their predecessors.

    Of course the mess left to Mr. Obama was infinitely worse – President Reagan was a mediocre president but President George W. Bush was a disaster on pretty much every level.

    But yeah, not a bad president. He was no Nixon or George W. I’ll take competent and un-inspiring any day. Competence is the least-respected but most important of virtues.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  3. Moosebreath says:

    “To a large degree, Bush’s tax promise was motivated by the perception that had developed leading up to the 1988 Presidential race that he was, somehow, a “wimp” and that he wouldn’t be able to stand up to Congressional Democrats in the manner that Ronald Reagan did during his Presidency.”

    In addition, many conservatives remembered his referring to supply-side economics as “voodoo economics” in the 1980 primaries, and did not trust him not to compromise on this issue. this honor seems long overdue.

    @Gavrilo:

    “So, when the President and the Congress have a budget crisis and a government shutdown looms, it’s the President who is supposed to compromise and be a “statesman.” Got it.”

    No, you don’t. Both sides are supposed to compromise (and they did in 1990). The Republicans last year took the position of “Give us everything we want, or the economy gets it”, and that’s not compromise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    The budget crisis was not the only problem: at the time, the budget deficits were being financed with bonds, and that increased interest rates, that were a drag on the economy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. edmondo says:

    If they’re giving awards for breaking campaign promises, Obama is a shoo-in for the 2017 Profile in Courage Award. From “Change” in 2008 to “Same Shit, Different President” in 2014.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @edmondo:

    If they’re giving awards for breaking campaign promises, Obama is a shoo-in for the 2017 Profile in Courage Award.

    He already was, simply for not resigning in the face of the impossible mess he inherited as President — and that was significantly worse at his first inauguration than it was on the day he announced his candidacy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @edmondo:

    Same sh!t? Really? So we’re still in the middle of two losing wars, the banks are failing and we’re shedding 700,000 jobs a month?

    Or are we out of one war, on our way out of the other, with a stable financial sector, and adding hundreds of thousands of jobs?

    You people just cannot face reality, can you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  8. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: yeah, nearly 6 yrs later and obama still can’t figure out what to do- and nothing is his fault, wah wah wah…… maybe he could take a cue from GHB?! nah, too arrogant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @bill:

    Here’s an idea: next time you people get power, see if you can’t fwck things up just a little less and we’ll be able to clean up after you faster. Maybe you could choose either a domestic meltdown or a foreign policy disaster, not both.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  10. reid says:

    @michael reynolds: Never mind the same party doing everything in its power to prevent any kind of recovery. How about this, bill: you arrange it so Obama has carte blanche for the next few years and we’ll see how things are then. Deal?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  11. dazedandconfused says:

    @Gavrilo:

    I don’t think that is what Doug was trying to say.

    Why doesn’t “Washington” work? Perhaps because we haven’t been respecting experience, in fact we are being taught to abhor it.

    Just finished a book dealing with the 1970 Pakistan/India war, and guess who was mentioned? Our Ambassador to the UN, George HW Bush. From there to a lot of stuff, including head of the CIA and 8 years as VP. Talk about an “insider”! He would be rejected on the spot today. Nope, today we elect a President with no experience and no connections who promises to do one thing, and then two years later elect a Congress that flat-out swears to stop everything he says he wants to do. In another two years? We elect that same President and that same Congress again.

    We have gotten the government we deserve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: sure thing, looks like it’s a year or so away. hopefully the victors won’t whine about the past as much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. rudderpedals says:

    @dazedandconfused: The Blood Telegram, right? Terrific read.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. gVOR08 says:

    @bill: Your presumptive “victors”, your Republican Party, whined that everything bad was somehow Bill Clinton’s fault through the first six years of the W administration. And Clinton left them with no wars and a budget surplus. Don’t claim GOPs won’t whine to anyone with a memory.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  15. stonetools says:

    GHWB’s great sin was that he was the last proponent of rational Republican economic policy. Since then , the Republicans have insisted on the policies “Tax cuts for billionaires cure everything” and “No regulation of business leads magically to trouble free economic prosperity.” Both propositions have proven to be 100 per cent wrong, yet they are now Republican gospel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    The principles who ordered torture and lied the country into two wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of people better hope GHWB lives another 20 years. Only the elder former President stands in the way of the seating of grand juries that will end with the imprisonment of his son.

    There really isn’t any other avenue for Amerika, Inc. There will be consequences, one way or t’other.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  17. Lenoxus says:

    @James in Silverdale, WA: It would be a strange world if Bush Sr had that kind of power. I’m afraid the boring truth is that regarding any way to punish W, Americans gave a collective shrug. The ones who might have taken things that way had long succumbed to outrage fatigue, and the remainder voted for the Change candidate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0