George HW Bush and the End of the Cold War: Crash Course US History #44
Hi, I’m John Green, this is CrashCourse
U.S. history and we’ve finally done it we have reached the moment where we get to talk
about the presidency of George HW Bush. The 2nd most important man named George Bush ever
to be President of the United States. A man so fascinating that we did not give him a
face. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, so we’re almost in
the present? Well we’re never really gonna get to the
present Me From The Past because we’re always in the past. But you are like 20 years in
the past which is soon going to create a time paradox that I can not possibly deal with.
So I’m just going to let Hank deal with that over on the science shows.
Intro Anyway despite like calendars and everything,
the 1990s really began in 1988 with the election of George Herbert Walker Bush, who had probably
the best resume of any presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.
I mean he was a war hero, having enlisted in the Navy upon graduating from high school
and then going on to become the youngest pilot in Navy history. He flew 58 missions in the
Pacific during WWII and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for completing a mission in a
burning plane before ditching into the sea. So just consider that the next time you complete
a heroic mission in Call of Duty 4. After the war Bush went to college at Yale,
and then moved to Texas where he made millions in the oil industry. Then, he became a Congressman,
and then ambassador to the UN, and then director of the CIA, and then Vice President. The guy
had more careers than Barbie! Plus like every great American politician
George Bush grew up in hardscrabble poverty working his way through the Depression…
just kidding he was the son of Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush.
But I guess after like 20 years of peanut farmers and former actors, America was ready
to have an aristocrat at the helm again, as long as he pretended to be from Texas.
Like certain Crash Course teachers wearing striped polo shirts George HW Bush was an
old school Episcopalion so he was never totally comfortable with like public professions of
faith. So when it came down to pick his vice presidential
candidate, Bush chose J Danforth Quayle aka Dan. A young, family values, senator from
right here in Indiana. Now these days of course Dan Quayle is primarily
known for getting in an argument with a fictional television character named Murphy Brown, and
also for not being able to spell the word potato, but once upon a time he was a promising
young Republican. Bush’s opponent in that 1988 was Massachusetts
Governor Michael Dukakis, who was perceived as competent but kinda heartless and weak
and a little bit clueless. As this famous picture of him in a tank indicates
he was not a war hero. But at the beginning of the Democratic primary
the leading contender was actually the reverend, Jesse Jackson, who had a legitimate shot at
being the first African American Democratic Presidential nominee. That would have to wait.
Because instead the Democrats chose the northern, liberal governor Dukakis and paired him with
Texas Senator Lloyd, I’m gonna make Dan Quayle look good, Bentsen.
Which I bring up primarily to point out that Texas actually used to have Democrats.
So negative campaign ads had existed before 1988 but the 1988 election took it to an entirely
new level and ushered in an era of going negative in politics.
Like everybody says they hate negative ads, but they also work like the Bush campaign’s
efforts to make Dukakis look weak on defense and crime were brutally effective.
The most infamous ad featured Willie Horton who while on furlough from prison committed
rape and murder. And even though Dukakis’ Republican predecessor had actually started
the furlough program, the Horton crime occurred while Dukakis was governor.
The ad featured a terrifying photo of Horton and prisoners walking through a revolving
door and it worked. Dukakis was regarded as a liberal who was weak on crime.
In fact, it was George HW Bush who was the first to use the word liberal as an insult
in American politics, which represents the larger shifts that were happening.
So in retrospect, possibly the most important thing about the 1988 campaign was George Bush’s
famous pledge at the Republican convention: “Read my lips, No New Taxes!” No way that’s
gonna come back to bite him. So once he was President, it’s not surprising
that Bush focused more on foreign policy than domestic concerns. I mean that was his background
with the UN and at the CIA. But it also makes sense in the larger historical context because
the Cold War actually ended during Bush’s presidency. Even though no one ever gives
him credit for it. I mean the Berlin Wall came down, Poland’s
military rule ended, the Velvet Revolution happened in Czechoslovakia during Bush’s
watch. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble The end of the Cold War was really a failure
on the part of the USSR rather than the result of successful American policies. But it left
the U.S. in something of a policy limbo. I mean after all, the idea of a super-powerful
malevolent Bowser Boss Soviet Union poised to destroy the American Way of Life provided
a comfortable structure for all our foreign relations for almost 50 years as well as providing
the reason for massive military build up and all the jobs that came with it.
One positive result of the end of the Cold War was a reduction in nuclear weapons. Under
Bush the U.S. and USSR negotiated and implemented the START I and START II treaties, which limited
the number of warheads each country could possess to between 3,000 and 3,500. I mean
that was still enough to end human life on Earth several times over but it was amazing
progress. The collapse of the Soviet Union and end of
the Cold War led the president to declare the dawn of a New World Order, but calling
it a New World Order didn’t make foreign policy any easier. Without the Cold War to
orient us foreign policy issues were much more confusing and messy. So for example,
Bush kept the United States out of Yugoslavia, which disintegrated in 1991, turning into
a bloodbath. But he sent troops into Somalia to help deliver food aid, resulting in the
botched operation described in the movie, and book, Black Hawk Down.
And then there was the foreign policy crisis that Bush handled decisively: Saddam Hussein’s
invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Bush brought the issue to the UN and ushered through a
Security Council resolution that set a deadline for Saddam to leave Kuwait. When he didn’t
meet the January 15, 1991 deadline, the U.S. had already put together a coalition of 34
nations ready to make him leave. America first launched a spectacular air war
that destroyed much of the Iraqi defense capability. And then our technological prowess was on
display for the world on CNN, which featured coverage of “smart bombs” blowing stuff
up. When ground troops led by General Norman z finally moved in, they were able to defeat
the Iraqi army in just 100 hours. Thanks Thought Bubble. So the Iraq war, I
guess we now have to say first Iraq war, was a huge military success. America lost fewer
than 300 soldiers. Iraq suffered somewhere between 1500 and 9500 killed in action.
And the US’s military objectives had been achieved clearly and quickly. And Bush claimed
that the victory had forever banished the so called “Vietnam Syndrome,” the reluctance
to use American military power for fear of becoming bogged down in another “quagmire.”
Now in hindsight, if the Americans had supported Iraqi efforts to topple Saddam Hussein and
build a new Iraq, we might have achieved that objective as well, but the mission under the
UN resolution was to get Iraqis out of Kuwait and so that’s what we did. Bush didn’t
want to take it any further. Oh it’s time for the Mystery Document? The
rules here are simple I read the mystery document. I either guess
the author correctly or I get shocked. “Five of the seven agree with President
Bush that the war is just or at least necessary. But not one wants to fight in it. All are
opposed to a draft, though a few said one might be necessary as a last resort. They
said they would gladly serve in non-military public service jobs.
“This might sound selfish, but I think it would be a shame to put America’s best minds
on the front line,” said Jason Bell, 20, a junior English major from Elizabethtown,
KY. “If we have to go, we have to go, but I think it would be a shame.” 
Yeah, Jason Bell, that does sound selfish. Alright Stan this is from like a newspaper
or magazine. I assume that you are using it to call attention to the fact that this was
really the first big American military initiative without a draft. And it also reminds us that
the war was not universally popular, I mean at least before it was fought, after it was
fought it pretty much was. But I have no idea who actually wrote the piece in the mystery
document, how would I know that? Is it a famous journalist?
Is it like David Halberstam? No? David Maraniss? Who the hell is that? Does he have a Wikipedia
article? Meredith does he have a Wikipedia article? Alright apparently he does have a
Wikipedia article. He even won a Pulitzer Prize so congratulations sir. Ahhh!
So the Gulf lifted the President Bush’s approval rating to an unheard of 89%. And
in April 1991 it looked like there was no way that George HW Bush would lose his re-election
bid, but he didn’t consider the domestic issues that were kind of important to Americans.
We are very happy to talk about all the wars that we are fighting unless and until someone
raises our taxes! So Bush wasn’t much interested in putting
together a domestic agenda – he once called it “the vision thing” – and anyway he
would have had a hard time getting anything through the Democratically controlled Congress.
So Congress continued to pass New Deal style “liberal” legislation including expanded
funding for Head Start and welfare, as well as a Family and Medical Leave bill (which
Bush vetoed twice) but eventually passed nonetheless. With the Family Medical Leave Act of course
America joined every other country in the world in offering paid maternity and paternity
leave to new parents. What’s that? We didn’t? We still don’t? We still don’t have that?
We still don’t have paid leave? Oh god.. However you are no longer allowed to be fired
for 12 whole weeks while you take unpaid leave to care for your child. That’s why Stan
couldn’t replace me with text-to-voice software after my daughter, Alice, was born.
But in news that actually was sort of cutting edge Congress also enacted the Americans With
Disabilities Act in 1991. Before I talk about the recession that ended
George Bush’s presidency I want to talk about Rodney King. Because this revealed huge
fissures in the American population and called into question the achievements of the rights
revolution. In April 1992 an all white jury in Simi Valley
found three of four policemen not guilty of beating black motorist Rodney King, even though
the incident had been recorded on videotape. After the verdict, Los Angeles erupted into
the deadliest riots seen in America since the New York City Draft Riots. 52 people were
killed and 2,300 injured in rioting that caused $1billion in property damage. So obviously
race remained a volatile issue in the U.S. It was also an issue that Bush seemed unprepared
to deal with like he toured burned out LA neighborhoods but had little in the way of
real comfort to offer, contributing to the perception that he was this millionaire, Ivy
League-educated, Washington insider who was out of touch with regular Americas.
But the biggest issue to most Americans was money. America fell into recession in 1990
and the slump lasted until 1992. It might have been caused by the end of the Cold War
and the subsequent reductions in defense spending, or by Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s sluggish
refusal to lower interest rates, or maybe the economy just needed to reset at a lower
number after growing every year since 1982, or maybe macroeconomics is more complicated
than who is President and sometimes people unjustly get blamed or credited for things
that they had very little to do with. Regardless, 4.5 million Americans lost their
jobs and the unemployment rate rose from 5.3% in 1989 to 7.5% in 1992, its highest level
in almost a decade. Along with the many thousands of manufacturing
workers who lost their jobs in America’s continuing de-industrialization, white-collar
workers were thrown out of work, too, and college graduates, of whom there were record
numbers, couldn’t find work as they came out of school. Stop me if any of that sounds
familiar. One person who struggled to find a job after
graduating during the Bush Recession was none other than CrashCourse writer Raoul Meyer,
who after sending 100 resumes out got 3 job interviews and ended up working at a small
independent school in Alabama, where he became the teacher of … Me From the Past.
Now the recession was certainly bad for Bush politically, but what probably destroyed Bush’s
re-election hopes was the whole taxes thing. In 1991, with tax receipts dropping and spending
not slowing very much, President Bush did something that now seems unthinkable: he authorized
a tax increase. And in doing this he called his conservative
credentials into question. Especially in the eyes of small-government-wanting-libertarian-leaning
republicans. They had never really trusted the faux Texan
Bush anyway, but he had said, “Read my lips..” and they believed him but it turned out he
had no lips! Now when coupled with Bush’s lukewarm support
of the evangelical wing of the republican party and his running mate’s inability to
spell the word potato it all prompted a primary challenge from conservative commentator Pat
Buchanan. Which he beat back easily, however some of
the GOP voter base, especially the evangelical Christians, stayed home on Election Day.
Then there was also a third party candidate, Texas Billionaire and muppet impersonator
H. Ross Perot, who won 19% of the vote (the best third-party performance since Teddy Roosevelt
in 1912) All of this came together to open the door
for a pudgy lad from Hope, Arkansas, who had never inhaled marijuana, and didn’t cheat
on his wife except for sometimes, named William Jefferson Clinton.
Looking back from today the fascinating thing about the George HW Bush administration is
that it seems like a weird interruption in a larger narrative. For a couple decades we
had seen increasing conservatism and rising partisanship and then suddenly George HW Bush
comes along and everybody kind of works together. They didn’t always make good decisions when
working together, but they did make decisions! But what’s really fascinating to me is that
if you’re from Eastern Europe or China this period was one of the most important in history.
Whereas if you’re American arguably the most important thing the leader of this era
ever did was raise George W Bush. For better and for worse America didn’t
really change that much as a result of the end of the Cold War. But we’re creeping
up now on the growth of the Internet which would change the way that Americans and everyone
else imagines history and everything else forever. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you
next week. Crash Course is made with the help of all
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to be awesome.” ________________
 source for these numbers is Patterson, Restless Giant p. 235.
 From “It’s Their War, Too” by David Maraniss Washington Post, 2/11/91