George Bush and the Last Whig Presideney
Michael P. Riccards
George Bush’s presidency has almost vanished from sight, lost between the sparkling personality of Ronald Reagan and the ambitious and apparently deeply flawed undertakings of Bill Clinton. No president, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has ever reached such popular acclaim in the polls as Bush did after the Gulf War triumph, when he received an approval rating of nearly 90 percent. Yet in a short time he fell to the confusing populist campaign of Bill Clinton. To conservative Republicans, Bush lost his way by abandoning Reagan’s antigovernment, antitax gospel.1 To others it was unrealistic to expect that any party in this day and age could hold onto the White House for a fourth consecutive term. Still others speculated that if fellow Texan billionaire Ross Perot had not run, Bush would indeed have achieved reelection, an assertion that is disproven by the voting data.2
After his defeat, Bush, normally not a reflective man, observed that he had failed to project his true views to the American people, that he had been unable to show that he really did sympathize with their concerns.3 Thus, Bill Clinton—the “Great Empathizer”–was just what the popular mood dictated. But in many ways Bush’s demise was directly linked to his unique views on the nature of politics, human behavior, and the role of the presidency. Pundits to the contrary, there was much to admire in the man and in that philosophy. George Bush was the last Whig president, and it is from those roots that he drew his strength as well as his shortcomings.
The Whig party and its adherents began as a reaction against the populist—and some said simply crude—political machinations of Jacksonian Democrats. The