College Station Texas is probably best known as home to the huge Texas A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) University. It is also the home of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The Library houses the records and artifacts of the 41st President of the United States from 1989 – 1993.
Bush’s Early Upbringing
Your visit starts with a 20-minute film that profiles Bush’s life and political career. Then exhibits provide an overview of three generations of the Bush family. Bush’s grandparents and parents loved sports–especially golf and baseball. They instilled in him a commitment to family, work, and public service (his father Prescott was a banker and later U.S. Senator). George and his siblings enjoyed a privileged, loving, supportive upbringing.
Barbara Bush (née Barbara Pierce) had a similarly patrician upbringing. They immediately fell in love after meeting at a dance and became secretly engaged.
The War Years
Bush enlisted in the World War II Navy when he was 18. He became one of the youngest fighter-bomber pilots and photo reconnaissance officers in the Navy. His plane was hit and caught fire in a bombing run of a Japanese island communications facility. However, he completed his bombing mission before ordering his two-person crew to bail out before he did. He was rescued after three hours in a life raft that was floating toward the island he had just bombed. Yet he suffered great guilt over the loss of his two crew members.
Life With Barbara
When he returned home, he married Barbara and they had their first son, George. Bush enlisted in Yale and graduated in 2.5 years. Following his father, George H.W. captained the Yale baseball team and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in economics.
At this point, he was uncertain as to what to do with his life. He and Barbara struck out on their own in the 1947 Studebaker he received a graduation gift. Upon a parent’s friend’s recommendation, they went to Odessa Texas where he got a job selling pipe to oil drillers.
Bush and a friend decided to quit their secure jobs. He moved to Midland (in the center of the Permian Basin in fields) where they hit 24 producing wells. The family grew to include another son (Jeb) and baby girl (Robin) who tragically survived less than three years with leukemia,
Taking a flyer on a new, unproven technology, George started a new company, Zapata Off-Shore to become a pioneer in the new field of offshore drilling.
Already financially successful, he decided to do the one thing his father regretted not doing earlier in life—enter politics. He had been already active in charitable causes. For example, he co-chaired the Yale chapter of the Negro College Fund and raised money for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Moving into politics, he was on the Harris Country Republican Committee and was a token Republican candidate for an unwinnable Senate race. Although he lost, his strong showing convinced him and other Republicans that he had a real chance at beating an entrenched Democrat in a U.S. House of Representatives race.
Recognizing the amount of work and money running for office would entail, he resigned his presidency and sold his interest in the Zapata Off-Shore to focus full-time on campaigning. At age 42 he became the first Republican to ever win in his district and was suitably honored by being one of the few freshmen to be appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. While in the House he introduced a bill to mandate financial disclosures and promoted the creation of the House Ethics Committee. He also took some big political risks. For example, he supported the 1968 Civil Rights Bill which elicited fierce opposition from his constituent, but whom he won over with impassioned speeches.
Ambassador to the United Nations
He earned the respect of colleagues, party elders, and President Nixon who nominated him as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. While in the UN, he aggressively supported the organization’s humanitarian activities but was skeptical of its effectiveness in peacekeeping in an era in which emerging countries routinely supported the Soviet Union and frustrated the U.S. support of Taiwan and Israel.
Republican National Committee
Nixon and party leaders then asked Bush to chair the Republican National Committee (RNC) for the 1972 election. Bush considered the post to be political suicide but accepted the challenge in support of the party. While Nixon and the Republicans won in a landslide, Bush and the RNC had to defend Nixon (who he believed) through the Watergate inquiries until becoming convinced that Nixon was involved and threw his support to the appointment of Ford. He then had to successfully defend himself and the RNC of suspected collusion in Watergate—until it was determined that he had no knowledge of the activities of CREEP (Committee to Reelect the President) or the cover-up.
The Bushs Move to China
Ford then appointed Bush as Head of U.S. Liason Office in China (effectively Ambassador), an assignment that both he and Barbara relished. They integrated themselves into Chinese life. They rode bicycles rather than using their assigned car and Barbara led tours of Beijing and the Forbidden City. The assignment was also key in convincing Bush of the importance of America’s role in preserving global stability and the need for it to play an active, but not domineering role in foreign affairs.
His success in China led Ford to appoint him the Director of the CIA. At that point, the organization was dispirited and had lost credibility due to Watergate and its discredited activities in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. While the Democrats challenged his appointment for being partisan (for his role with the RNC and in supporting Nixon) and for his lack of intelligence experience, he was confirmed. He actively encouraged the CIA’s adoption of satellite and other technology in intelligence activities and significantly improved organizational morale during his term.
The Road to the Vice Presidency
When Ford dropped Rockefeller in his reelection bid, he strongly considered Bush before deciding on Bob Dole. When Carter named his own CIA Director, Bush returned to Houston where he accepted a board position at a bank, taught political science part time, expanded his activities in social causes, and laid foundations for his run for the presidency in 1980.
Bush was a distant underdog to Ronald Reagan, yet finished a strong second in the primaries. The party, however, asked him to drop out before the convention.
Reagan was impressed by Bush’s performance and asked him to run as Vice President, which Bush accepted. He worked closely with Regan over eight years, taking on important roles in areas including regulatory reform, drug interdiction, and foreign affairs while avoiding being caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal. During this time, he developed a strong trust in and friendship with the president.
By 1988 Bush was ready for his next run for the presidency. Although he had moved to the right during his time as Veep, he was still distrusted by party conservatives and criticized for his relative ineloquence, especially when compared to Reagan, “The Great Communicator”. While entering the race as a frontrunner his campaign floundered until his virtual Super Tuesday sweep after which he won the nomination. He then won the election largely due to a combination of Dukakis’ many unforced errors and the Bush campaign’s shameless misrepresentations of his opponent.
President Bush was forced to focus on foreign policy. He and his cabinet masterfully managed Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union. They provided the Soviet leader with a face-saving off-ramp and exit from Russia’s growing problem in managing its restive and rebellious Eastern European satellites. And after the Soviet Union collapsed, Bush was careful not to publicly shame the Russians. Then came the U.S.’s invasion of Panama when former ally Manuel Noriega annulled an election, violated a number of treaties, and his troops ended up killing a U.S. soldier.
Bush was again forced to intervene in foreign affairs when Saddam Hussein invaded and began to overrun Kuwait. Hussein took over Kuwait’s huge oilfields and threatened to capture the nation’s huge cash reserves in support of his own expansionary goals and brutal tactics. Bush made good on his “This will not stand” pledge with the so-called “Hundred Hour War”. The administration masterfully assembled the 46-member Coalition of the Willing that totally devastated Saddam’s army, driving it back to its border and then stopping the invasion–all with minimal loss of allied lives.
Read My Lips
But with all of Bush’s international successes, Bush was unable to win re-election. The domestic economy was sluggish. Bush bravely broke his “No new taxes” pledge to slow the rapid deficit growth that was largely attributable to Reagan’s tax cuts—a plan that Bush referred to as “Voodoo Economics” when running against Reagan. He was running against a charismatic young Democratic opponent (Clinton). The Bush and Carter-supported NAFTA agreement has a “giant sucking sound” on American jobs). And then there was the populism of the independent, self-funded, billionaire Ross Perot which led to a three-way split of the presidential vote. Bush’s days were finished.
Retiring to Family and Kennebunkport
His and Barbara’s retirement provided more time for family and leisure at their Kennebunkport compound. It also gave them time to write several books and to devote more effort to their charities such as Thousand Points of Light and the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center.
Mandella: The Official Exhibition
The Bush exhibit ended with a high-level overview of Bush’s work against South African apartheid as something of a transition to a special exhibit titled “Mandella: The Official Exhibition”. The exhibit portrayed the origin, continued expansion of and humiliating effects of the colonial atrocity of apartheid. It explained how Mandela had been exposed to this through his childhood and early adulthood, the growth in his opposition, the harassment and threats he encountered, his underground existence, and his 27 years in prison on Robbins Island.
Mandella’s controversial decision to engage in negotiation with South African President de Klerk was discussed. Mandella won his election. He had the moral force to refuse to retaliate against the whites who had so brutally oppressed his people for so long,
College Station Restaurants
As a college town, College Station was not exactly brimming with quality restaurants. Yet we ended up with two winners.
The size of the huge, fall-off-the-bone delicious rack of ribs that we ordered was overwhelming. We barely finished half of it which came with a small order of pinto beans and cole slaw with iced teas. Plenty of leftovers for the next day.
Porters is a steakhouse and bar with a very creditable wine list and a big selection of whiskeys and other distilled spirits. Too bad that we remained too filled from lunch to be able to capitalize. Although the food was very good, we reluctantly limited ourselves to lightly-fried quail legs with spicy honey cider glaze and horseradish aioli appetizer. We followed it with a grilled salmon salad with cherry tomatoes and ranch dressing. Looking for just another bite, we finished with crème brulee with strawberries. We accompanied the meal with a 2021 Ken Wright Willamette Valley Pinot Noir
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