The Burden of the Reagan Legacy
on the Bush Presidency
John W. Sloan
The challenge for students of the Bush presidency is to explain its political failure in being rejected by the American electorate. George Bush was a personally compassionate, hard-working, experienced politician; his decision-making procedures contributed to historically significant foreign policy achievements. But laboring under the Reagan legacy, burdened by a sluggish economy, and delegitimized by his decision to renege on his promise not to raise taxes, Bush was able to muster only 37.5 percent of the electorate to vote for him in 1992. How did Bush—whose job-approval ratings during his four years in office averaged 61 percent, a percentage surpassed by only two post-World War II presidents, Kennedy, 71 percent, and Eisenhower, 65 percent—allow his ratings to plummet almost 30 percent in 1992 when it mattered the most?1 With the help of Stephen Skowronek’s and Richard Darman’s analyses, I hope to answer that question.
George Herbert Walker Bush was born in 1924 and raised in a nine-bedroom house in Greenwich, Connecticut. His father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was a managing partner of an investment banking firm and later a U.S. Senator from Connecticut who supported President Eisenhower against his more conservative adversaries, Senator Robert Taft and Senator Barry Goldwater. George Bush was taught by his aristocratic father and mother (Dorothy Walker Bush) to assimilate the qualities of loyalty, modesty, and competitiveness. After graduating from a private high school (Andover), he joined the navy and became a torpedo bomber pilot. His plane was shot down by the Japanese in 1944, he was rescued by an