FAS Note: This U.S. State Department biographical account may not be entirely accurate, particularly with regard to the President's service record in the Texas Air National Guard.
Biography of President-elect George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is the president-elect of the United States. He
will be inaugurated president on January 20, 2001.
Bush's name is a familiar one in the ranks of America's top
leadership: George W. Bush is the oldest son of George Herbert Walker
Bush, the 41st president. The only other set of father-son presidents
came early in the nation's history, when John Quincy Adams, son of the
second president, John Adams, became the sixth president in 1825.
President-elect Bush joins a recent parade of state governors who have
moved up to the highest office in the country: Democrat Jimmy Carter,
former governor of Georgia, elected in 1976; Republican Ronald Reagan,
former governor of California, elected in 1980; Democrat Bill Clinton,
former governor of Arkansas, elected in 1992; and now George W. Bush,
another Republican, who was elected governor of Texas in 1994.
Bush's message during the campaign appealed to a broad spectrum of
American voters - conservatives and moderates in both major political
parties, independents, men and women, Hispanics and African-Americans.
One of his themes in the campaign was the idea of inclusion. "Our
country must be prosperous," Bush said. "But prosperity must have a
purpose ... to make sure the American dream touches every willing
heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out ... to leave
no one behind."
The president-elect has called this philosophy "compassionate
conservatism." "I am convinced a conservative philosophy is a
compassionate philosophy that frees individuals to achieve their
highest potential," he told the voters. "It is conservative to cut
taxes and compassionate to give people more money to spend. It is
conservative to insist upon local control of schools and high
standards and results; it is compassionate to make sure every child
learns to read and no one is left behind. It is conservative to reform
the welfare system by insisting on work; it's compassionate to free
people from dependency on government. It is conservative to reform the
juvenile justice code to insist on consequences for bad behavior; it
is compassionate to recognize that discipline and love go
Bush believes that this note of conservatism is "neither soft nor
fuzzy. It is clear and compelling. It focuses not on good intentions
but on good results. Compassionate conservatism applies conservative,
free-market principles to the real job of helping real people, all
people, including the poor and the disadvantaged. My vision of
compassionate conservatism also requires America to assert its
leadership in the world. We are the world's only remaining superpower,
and we must use our power in a strong but compassionate way to help
keep the peace and encourage the spread of freedom."
In addition, "one of the secrets of [George] W.'s success in appealing
to almost everybody," wrote columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., in the
Washington Post, "is his mastery of the very oldest political art: He
just gets people, all kinds of people, to like him."
An Obligation to Serve
The president-elect comes from a family that has long seen politics as
a worthy calling. George Bush's paternal grandfather, Prescott Bush,
was a U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. His father
began his career in electoral politics in 1966, when voters in
Houston, Texas, sent him to the House of Representatives. The senior
George Bush was vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989
and president of the United States from 1989 to 1993. The
president-elect's younger brother, Jeb Bush, is governor of the state
"My grandfather Prescott Bush believed a person's most enduring and
important contribution was hearing and responding to the call of
public service," says George W. Bush in his autobiography, A Charge to
Keep. "Money and material things were not the measure of a life in the
long run, he felt, and if you had them, they came with a price tag:
the obligation to serve."
George W. Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut,
where his father was a student at Yale University. Two years later,
after graduating from Yale, the elder Bush took his wife, Barbara, and
young son to West Texas, where he began his career in the oil
business. Young George W. spent much of his childhood in Midland,
Texas, and still thinks of it as his hometown.
"Midland was a small town, with small-town values," he says in A
Charge to Keep. "We learned to respect our elders, to do what they
said, and to be good neighbors. We went to church. Families spent time
together, outside, the grown-ups talking with neighbors while the kids
played ball or with marbles and yo-yos. Our homework and schoolwork
were important. The town's leading citizens worked hard to attract the
best teachers to our schools. No one locked their doors, because you
could trust your friends and neighbors. It was a happy childhood. I
was surrounded by love and friends and sports."
Especially sports. "We were always playing," says Mike Proctor, a
childhood friend, "after school, during recess. We'd head for the
appropriate ball field ... pick teams and play. [George would] jump
out there to be captain."
Young George was joined by a sister, Robin, in December 1949; the
Bushes' third child, John (called "Jeb"), was born in February 1953.
Only a few weeks after Jeb's birth, blood tests showed that Robin had
advanced leukemia, a disease that is often curable now but about which
little was known back then. Robin died that October at the age of
His sister's death was a devastating experience for young George W. "I
was sad, and stunned," he says in A Charge to Keep. "I knew Robin had
been sick, but death was hard for me to imagine. Minutes before, I had
had a little sister, and now, suddenly, I did not. Forty-six years
later, those minutes remain the starkest memory of my childhood, a
sharp pain in the midst of an otherwise happy blur."
Three more children were born to the Bushes in West Texas - Neil in
1955, Marvin in 1956, and Dorothy in 1959. Soon after Dorothy was
born, her father moved the family to Houston, in the southeastern
corner of the state, where he took over operations of an offshore
oil-drilling company he had helped to found. George W. had just
finished the seventh grade at San Jacinto Junior High in Midland and
had been elected class president for the following year. His family's
move meant he had to leave this familiar school for a private academy,
Kinkaid School, in a Houston suburb.
A Traditional Education
In the fall of 1961, George Bush's parents sent him to Phillips
Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the country's most
prestigious college preparatory schools and his father's alma mater.
He went there as a 15-year-old boy who had never lived away from home,
who was far more used to the wide-open landscapes of the Southwest
than to the wooded hills of the Northeast. But he adjusted.
"Andover taught me how to think," Bush has said. "I learned to read
and write in a way I never had before. And I discovered a new
interest, one that has stayed with me throughout my adult life. It was
sparked by a great teacher, Tom Lyons, who taught history. He had a
passion for the subject and an ability to communicate his love and
interest to his students. He taught me that history brings the past
and its lessons to life, and those lessons can often help predict the
After graduating from Andover in 1964, Bush went to Yale University in
Connecticut, where he concentrated on traditional activities. He was
elected president of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and
continued to pursue his love for sports. Baseball remained his
favorite, but, he says, "my talent never matched my enthusiasm; I was
a mediocre pitcher on the Yale freshman team. In my junior year, I was
introduced to rugby, and I worked my way onto the first team for my
George W. graduated from Yale in May of 1968 with a major in history.
Two weeks before graduation, he went to the offices of the Texas Air
National Guard at Ellington Air Force Base outside Houston to sign up
for pilot training. One motivation, he said, was to learn to fly, as
his father had done during World War II. George W. was commissioned as
a second lieutenant and spent two years on active duty, flying F-102
fighter interceptors. For almost four years after that, he was on a
part-time status, flying occasional missions to help the Air National
Guard keep two of its F-102s on round-the-clock alert.
Business, Politics, and Poverty
During this period, George W. worked for a former partner of his
father's, who had left the oil-drilling business to start an
agricultural company in Houston that had interests in a wide variety
of things, from cattle and chickens to tropical plants. George's job
was to travel around the United States and to countries in Central
America looking for plant nurseries his company might want to acquire.
In the spring of 1972, he left this job and went to Alabama to work on
the unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Winton Blount.
Returning to Houston, he became a counselor for African-American
youngsters in a program called PULL (Professional United Leadership
League). The program brought together volunteers from the athletic,
entertainment, and business worlds to work with young people in a
variety of ways. George taught basketball and wrestling and organized
field trips to juvenile prisons, so his young charges could see that
side of life and resolve not to end up there themselves.
"He was a super, super guy," says Ernie Ladd, a professional football
player who also worked with the program. "Everybody loved him so much.
He had a way with people. ... They didn't want him to leave."
His work with Project PULL, Bush says in A Charge to Keep, gave him "a
glimpse of a world I had never seen. It was tragic, heartbreaking, and
uplifting, all at the same time. I saw a lot of poverty. I also saw
bad choices: drugs, alcohol abuse, men who had fathered children and
walked away, leaving single mothers struggling to raise children on
their own. I saw children who could not read and were way behind in
school. I also saw good and decent people working to try to help lift
these kids out of their terrible circumstances."
In the fall of 1973, Bush enrolled in Harvard Business School in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Harvard was a great turning point for him,"
his mother, Barbara Bush, told the Washington Post. "I think he
learned ... what is that word? Structure."
Professional Setbacks, Private Gains
After receiving his master's of business administration degree in
1975, George decided to go back to Midland to try his hand at the oil
business. He started out as a "landman" - a small-businessman who
researches the mineral rights to pieces of property and then seeks to
negotiate leases for the promising oil properties. Before long, he
began trading mineral and royalty interests and investing in drilling
In the summer of 1977, at a dinner at the home of friends in Midland,
George W. met Laura Welch. She had been born in Midland and had earned
a bachelor's degree in education from Southern Methodist University in
Dallas and a master's degree in library science from the University of
Texas at Austin. She was working as the librarian at an elementary
school in Austin when she met George.
Their friends were not sure the two would get along. "Laura is calm,"
George has said. "I am energetic. She is restful; I am restless. She
is patient; I am impatient." Their opposite personalities seemed to
complement each other, and the two fell in love and were married three
months after they met.
George had already decided to run for Congress, for the seat being
vacated by a Democrat who was retiring from the House of
Representatives after serving for 43 years. After the wedding,
therefore, the couple postponed their honeymoon in order to start
campaigning, traveling all over the large West Texas congressional
district. Bush won the Republican nomination but lost the race. He was
pleased, however, by the fact that, in a district that had never
elected a Republican, he had received 47 percent of the vote.
"Defeat humbles you," Bush says in A Charge to Keep. "You work, you
dream, you hope the people see it your way, then suddenly it's over
and they did not. It's hard not to take a political loss personally;
after all, it's your own name spelled out there on the ballot. Yet if
you believe in the wisdom of the voters, as I do, you get over the
disappointment, accept the verdict, and move on."
Moving on, for George, meant going back to the oil business in
Midland. He formed a company called Arbusto (Spanish for "bush")
Energy, later changed to Bush Exploration, but things did not go well.
Oil prices began falling in the early 1980s, making it difficult for
the new company to operate. In 1984, Bush decided to merge his company
with another small exploration firm and became president of the new
company, called Spectrum 7.
During this time, in 1981, twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, were
born to George W. and Laura Bush. "There was never any question that I
would help take care of them," Bush says in A Charge to Keep. "I was a
modern dad, plus we had our hands more than full. For a while we had a
nurse, but I learned to change diapers, give baths, and feed them. We
took them for long walks in the stroller."
The steep decline in oil prices continued, leaving Spectrum in serious
financial trouble. In 1986, a larger company, Harken Energy
Corporation, bought the small company. George W. worked for a while as
a consultant to Harken, but then began helping with his father's
presidential campaign, as an adviser and speechwriter.
Baseball Executive to Governor
After his father was elected to the presidency in 1988, George W.
moved to Dallas, Texas, with the intention of opening a business
there. However, news that the Texas Rangers professional baseball
team, which played in a suburb of Dallas, was for sale changed his
plans. Here was a chance to act on his lifelong love for baseball. He
assembled a group of wealthy investors who bought the team for about
$75 million. Bush himself used the money he had received when Spectrum
was sold to buy a small share. He and another investor named Edward
"Rusty" Rose were asked to handle the day-to-day management of the
"Rusty didn't like to give speeches or talk with the media," Bush says
in A Charge to Keep, "so I became the face and voice for the
management of the Texas Rangers. I worked hard to sell tickets. I
traveled the Rangers' market, which encompasses a huge part of Texas,
speaking to civic groups and chambers of commerce. I did thousands of
media interviews, touting baseball as a family sport and a great
In the process, George W. also became a prominent figure in Texas in
his own right, out from under the shadow of his famous father. In
1993, after his father had been defeated in his bid for re-election,
George W. decided to try again to run for office - this time for
governor of Texas. He challenged the incumbent, Democrat Ann Richards,
running on promises to improve public education and to reform the
juvenile justice system, welfare, and the state's tort laws - the
system under which an injured person may sue for damages.
"All four are important," he has said, "but education is closest to my
heart. As I said in speech after speech, education is for a state what
national defense is for the federal government, the first priority and
most urgent challenge. If a state doesn't educate children, if the
federal government doesn't defend America from foreign threat,
whatever important issue comes next seems a very distant second."
In November 1994, Bush defeated Ann Richards by a margin of 53 percent
to 46 percent and became governor of Texas. Most observers agree that
his first year in office was a very successful one. He worked well
with the Democrats who controlled both houses of the Texas legislature
-- and managed to get bills passed that dealt with the issues he had
emphasized in his campaign.
As governor, Bush advocated and signed the two largest tax cuts in
Texas history, totaling over $3 billion. During his time in office,
legislation emphasized local control of schools, raised standards, and
rewrote the state's curriculum to insist on academic basics. Other
laws passed while Bush was governor effectively abolished parole for
violent adult offenders in Texas, lowered the age at which violent
juveniles can be tried as adults, and required automatic jail time for
juveniles who carry firearms illegally or commit crimes with a gun.
Welfare rolls were reduced by requiring work and limiting how long
people can stay on welfare. And tort reforms were enacted to reduce
what Bush called "frivolous" lawsuits.
As soon as he was elected, Bush put his interest in the Texas Rangers
baseball team into a trust and gave up his managerial
responsibilities. The team was later sold to a Dallas businessman.
Bush ran again for governor in 1998 and was reelected with 69 percent
of the vote. Soon after that, he began thinking about the possibility
of running for president of the United States.
The Presidential Campaign
With his election behind him, "the pressure to make a decision about
seeking the presidency began mounting," Bush has said. "I wrestled
with the decision. I was worried about my family, worried about
exposing them to an environment that I know better than most. I know
what it feels like to have someone you love torn up on the national
stage, and I worried about putting my girls and my wife through that
difficult process. On the other hand, I worried about my country,
about an increasing drift that I felt threatened America's promise of
opportunity for all at home and America's place as the keeper of
freedom in the world."
He did decide to run, won his party's nomination in August 2000, and
defeated Democrat Al Gore, who had been vice president under Bill
Clinton for eight years, in the November election.
Being the son of a former president may be an asset for the
president-elect. "I learned a great deal from my dad's presidency and
campaigns, lessons large and small," George W. Bush has said. "I
learned the value of personal diplomacy as I watched my dad build
friendships and relationships with foreign leaders that helped improve
America's stature in the world. I learned firsthand the importance of
surrounding yourself with smart, capable, and loyal people, friends
who are not afraid to tell you what they really think and will not
abandon ship when the water gets choppy. I learned you must give your
senior advisers direct access to the boss, or they become frustrated
and disillusioned.... And from a great leader, my dad, I learned the
most important lesson of all: you can enter the arena, serve with
distinction, absorb the slings and arrows, and emerge with dignity and
integrity and the love of your family intact."
The president-elect's speeches and writings, before and during the
recent campaign, give a good idea of what he will work for during his
He has said often that Americans cannot depend on the federal
government to solve all of society's problems, but must be willing to
help their fellow citizens themselves. "We can now say, without
question, that the belief that government could solve people's
problems instead of people solving people's problems was wrong and
misguided. That does not mean we should not help people. It means we
should look for more effective means of help. We must reduce the reach
and scope of the federal government, returning it to its proper,
limited role, and push freedom and responsibility back to local
governments, to neighborhoods, and to individuals....
"The problem with government bureaucracies is not only that they are
too costly. They are also too cold. Often when a life is broken, it
can be rebuilt only by another caring, concerned human being --
someone whose actions say, 'I love you, I believe in you, and I'm in
your corner.' This is compassion with a human face and a human voice."
One of his concerns is making sure that everyone in the United States
has full economic opportunity. "Ours is an age of unmeasured
prosperity...," he has said. "Yet, in this plenty, there is need. At
the edges of affluent communities, there are those living in
prosperity's shadow. The same economy that is a miracle for millions
of Americans is a mystery for millions as well.... Our newspapers and
television programs praise and profile the winners in our high-tech
economy. But we must never become a winner-take-all society. Our
economy must also honor and reward the hard work of factory and field,
of waiting tables and driving cabs - not just enterprise, but sheer
effort, not just technology, but toil.... It will be said of our times
that we were prosperous. But let it also be said of us that we used
our wealth wisely. We invested our prosperity with purpose. We opened
the gates of opportunity. And all were welcomed into the full promise
of American life."
The president-elect's vision also extends beyond the borders of the
United States. "The world seeks America's leadership," he writes in
his autobiography, "looks for leadership from a country whose values
are freedom and justice and equality. Ours should not be the
paternalistic leadership of an arrogant big brother, but the inviting
and welcoming leadership of a great and noble nation. We have an
individual responsibility to our families and our communities, and a
collective responsibility as citizens of the greatest and freest
nation in the world. America must not retreat within its borders. Our
greatest export is freedom, and we have a moral obligation to champion
it throughout the world."
A Vision for the Future
In accepting the Republican Party's nomination for the presidency in
August 2000, George W. Bush pronounced himself "eager to start on the
work ahead" to renew America's purpose. "If you give me your trust, I
will honor it.... Grant me a mandate, and I will use it.... Give me
the opportunity to lead this nation, and I will lead," Bush told the
Reflecting on the country's economic prosperity during the past
decade, Bush noted that times of plenty, like times of crisis, are
tests of the American character.
"Prosperity can be a tool in our hands - used to build and better our
country," he said. "Or it can be a drug in our system - dulling our
sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty."
He pledged to seize this moment of American promise and use these good
times for great goals. "We will confront the hard issues - threats to
our national security, threats to our health and retirement security
-- before the challenges of our time become crises for our children,"
"And we will extend the promise of prosperity to every forgotten
corner of this country. To every man and woman, a chance to succeed.
To every child, a chance to learn. To every family, a chance to live
with dignity and hope."
Bush concluded: "I know how serious the task is before me. I know the
presidency is an office that turns pride into prayer. But I am eager
to start on the work ahead. And I believe America is ready for a new