Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Daniel L. Ostrander

I’m working on a book with President Bush that’s going to come out on the opening of his library on this very topic—on the 1990 budget deal. And talking to him about it, he feels that it is one of the key issues that did cost him his reelection, and he wanted me to write down the five reasons why I wanted to do this and put this book together for him on this topic. And he agreed that the issues needed to be addressed and cleaned up.

I think that Professor Ippolito’ s topic, “Governance versus Politics,” is an excellent title for the discussion of the 1990 budget crisis. If President Bush would have been reelected, we’d be talking about his great public policy, but because he was defeated, people are making reference here to some of his failed political policies.

One of the things that bothered me about the papers is that Professor Ippolito in particular, throughout his paper, gives President Bush—he gives all the evidence for great governance on the part of President Bush, but he doesn’t come out and say, “This is what this man should be noted for, this is what he should get credit for,” because that’s what the man did: He had good governance; he put this country first. Professor Ippolito points out that the budget deal was clearly necessary. President Bush didn’t have any choices. He pointed out that if the budget deal hadn’t gone through, there would have been a sequester of at least $100 billion with cuts immediately, across the board, of 25 to 40 percent.

Professor Windsor points out that a first-term president often has to choose between doing what he perceives to be the national interest versus being reelected. James Baker used a line yesterday that I planned on using, so I’ll use it again. And that is, when George Bush came to a problem, he always asked one question: What is the best interest for this country, not what’s the best interest for George Bush.

In evaluating a president’s decisions, I think there are at least three standards—and probably many more, but at least three standards—that should be used to evaluate that decision. And that is, first of all, was the decision in the best interest of this country, or was a decision personally, politically, or party motivated? Second of all, was the decision in keeping with the integrity of the office of the presidency? That was something that’s very important to President Bush. Third, was the decision in keeping with the president’s own personal, individual integrity? And because of the values and the type of character President Bush has, and the way that he was raised, that was very important for him as well, to preserve his own integrity.

To give you an example, on April 29 of 1990, in a White House meeting, Darman, Sununu, Brady were there. They saw that the country and the Congress was not moving forward in the right direction. The Congress was not coming up with a budget like it should, and that it called for presidential leadership. At the conclusion of that meeting on April 29, Bush agreed that the “no new tax” pledge

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