I. Domestic Stalemate and Global Upheaval: The Presidency of George H. W. Bush
A. Gridlock in Government
When Ronald Reagan achieved a commanding lead in the 1980 primaries, George H. W.
Bush put his own presidential ambitions on hold, adjusted his more moderate policy
positions to fit Reagan’s conservative agenda, and accepted second place on the
Republican ticket, serving as Reagan’s Vice President.
Bush won the presidential election in 1988, defeating Democratic candidate,
Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, but the Democrats gained seats in the House
Although Bush saw himself as guardian and beneficiary of the Reagan legacy, he
promised “a kinder, gentler nation” and was more inclined than Reagan to approve
government activity in the private sphere, as evidenced by his signing of the Clean Air
Act of 1990 and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991.
Yet Bush needed to satisfy party conservatives and promised “no new taxes,” opposing
most proposals requiring additional federal funds.
Continuing a trend established during the Reagan administration, states tried to
compensate for this paralysis, by becoming more innovative than Washington in
spending and cutting funds.
But a huge federal deficit inherited from the Reagan administration impelled the
president and Congress to break their deadlock as Bush agreed to modest tax increases
for high-income Americans and higher levies on gasoline, cigarettes, alcohol, and luxury
Bush also continued Reagan’s efforts to create a more conservative Supreme Court; he
set off a national controversy by nominating Clarence Thomas, a conservative black
appeals judge, who had opposed affirmative action as head of the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under Reagan.
The Senate Judiciary Committee investigated charges brought by Anita Hill, a law
professor and former EEOC employee, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment.
The Senate voted narrowly to confirm Thomas, solidifying the Court’s shift to the right.
B. Going to War in Central America and the Persian Gulf
President Bush won greater support for his actions abroad, twice sending American
troops into battle.
Labeled “Operation Just Cause,” U.S. forces invaded and overcame Manuel Noriega’s
troops in Panama, an action that was censured both by the United Nations and the
Organization of American States.
Bush’s second military engagement represented both continuity and a decided break with
the past; when Iraqi forces invaded the oil-rich country of Kuwait, Bush, with the consent
of Saudi Arabia, ordered a massive mobilization of land, air, and naval forces,
assembling more than thirty nations in an international coalition to stand up to Iraq.