George W. Bush came to power as the second presidential son (after John Quincy Adams) to achieve the office, and in one of the most contested elections in American history. By the time he left office, his public approval ratings were among the lowest in modern times. Bush's champions insisted that this was because the 43rd president had not flinched from making tough, unpopular decisions, and that future historians would find much to admire in his record.
Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father was attending Yale. The family moved to Midland, Texas, where the senior Bush entered the oil business. Young George grew up so much a Texan that he found it a cultural shock to be sent to his father's prep school, Phillips Academy. After Yale, he served in the Texas Air National Guard, went to Harvard Business School, and then returned to Midland, where he entered the oil industry and, in 1977, married Laura Welch, a teacher and librarian, who, in 1982, gave birth to twins Jenna and Barbara. In 1978, Bush was defeated in a campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the 1980s, Bush worked to gain a foothold in a flagging Texas oil economy while serving as adviser during his father's vice presidency and presidential campaigns. On his 40th birthday, he gave up drinking and grew more serious about his Christianity. He became managing partner of the Texas Rangers while keeping his eye on political opportunities in his home state.
In 1994, Bush defeated incumbent Ann Richards to become governor of Texas. Extolling "compassionate conservatism," he won the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. That November, in one of the most bizarre nights in our political history, the television networks declared that Bush's opponent, Vice President Al Gore, had won Florida, then awarded the state and the election to Bush, whereupon Gore called his foe to concede. Then the networks concluded that Florida and the election were both "too close to call."
Gore had won the popular vote, but for a month, Americans did not know who would be their next president, until the Supreme Court confirmed a machine recount's verdict that Bush had won Florida by 537 votes, which gave him the presidency.
On September 11, 2001, almost three thousand people were killed in an attack by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bush declared a worldwide "war on terrorism," took the nation into battle against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and waged war against the Iraqi dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Bush's campaign for reelection in 2004 was jeopardized by the Iraq War's growing unpopularity and the uneasiness of many independent and moderate voters about the Bush administration's strong conservatism. But after a close race, Bush defeated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry by 51 to 48 percent.
Bush's second term proved full of trial. He was criticized for being too slow to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Others complained that while pursuing terrorists, Bush had been too insensitive to civil liberties and American values. In 2006, the voters gave both houses of Congress to the Democrats for the first time in 12 years. In September 2008 came a Wall Street collapse and world economic crisis.
When Bush returned to Texas, he insisted that his presidency had been a "joyful" experience. He noted that he had kept the nation safe from terrorism after 2001 and maintained that "the true history of my administration will be written fifty years from now."
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