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

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Richard Benedetto

I am national political correspondent with USA Today, the only media member of this panel, and I was the White House correspondent for the four years that George Bush was president, so I was there for pretty much most of it.

Professor Silverman just asked about whether or not government—where government fits in, or whether it has a major role in, helping people move beyond self. I would submit that the government does have a major program that helps people move beyond self; it’s known as the military service. But unfortunately, a very small percentage of the population today partakes in that, and I think that the country is somewhat poorer for it. I didn’t intend to talk about that, but I wanted to just make that point.

I think that in judging the George Bush administration, it’s important to understand that the press corps that covered George Bush was a different kind of press corps than had covered presidents before him. It was a press corps that probably for the first time was made up of a majority of members of the Baby Boom generation. The Reagan administration was covered by reporters who were a little bit older, but George Bush was covered primarily by not only reporters who were of the Baby Boom generation, but you also had, back at the newspapers and back in the newsrooms of television networks and radio networks, editors who were also of the Baby Boom generation. And many of those people who were in those positions of decision making were judging George Bush on the basis of their own personal experience. And on the domestic side of the equation, it was one of political activism, so that they saw the government as a major participant in solving problems, and they judged George Bush on whether or not his proposals were major efforts to solve those problems or not. And on the foreign policy side, they were judging George Bush through the prism of the Vietnam War, and the Vietnam War, which shaped them, caused them to judge him on that basis. They were antiwar, for the most part, and therefore they often found George Bush’s responses to the Persian Gulf and to Panama and toward the Soviet Union as being not of their particular persuasion. We forget that the early press coverage of the invasion of Kuwait and George Bush’s reaction to it was quite negative, and also was reflected from the Democratic side of the Congress.

So in that context, I want to look at the points of light thing first, because I remember the program’s inception; I remember when George Bush first talked about it. I think he mentioned the words “points of light” and “kinder, gentler” for the first time during the campaign of 1988, in a speech in San Francisco. Mr. Petersmeyer might remember that—is that correct? I remember when it came up. It was in San Francisco; it was late at night for the East Coast, because if he was speaking at 8 o’clock in San Francisco, it was 11 o’clock at night in New York and way past most newspapers’ deadlines. And the speech didn’t get covered well. It

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