tv Dateline MSNBC December 1, 2018 2:00am-4:01am PST
terms of missions. >> world war ii veteran, texas oilman, member of congress, u.n. ambassador, republican party chairman, envoy to china. cia director. vice president to ronald reagan and 41st president of the united states. >> so help me god. >> on his watch. the gulf war. >> the battle has been zwroind. >> and the collapse of the soviet union. >> america won the cold war. >> serving just one term but later seeing his son become president. always drawing strepg rt frngth family. >> a father who gave unconditional love. grandfather devoted to his grandchildren and the husband of a sweet heart he held a long time ago. >> i've held my family very close. my heart break and my joy.
[ music playing ] . hello, everyone, i'm lersster holt. we take a lifetime journey through george herbert walker bush. we hear from him in his own words. george bush was raised to serve. politics and public service were in his blood, inherit fareed his father and passed on to his children. >> george herbert walker bush came from great wealth and privilege. he was taught early on about obligation. >> yes, i was privileged. if i got sick, my dad kicked the hospital bill. if a lot of kids weren't getting a good education, i was. so we were far more privileged in the values we got from our parents right and wrong, to help others, kindness. >> as a teenager, he excelled at
andover and upper crust new england prep school. he graduated in 1992 and joined the navy to become a fighter pilot in world war ii. >> the time i was in the service was critically important to me. because i came out of it admittedly privileged background and next thing i know i was thrown into combat or going into pre flight school. i was 18. i just turned 18. >> george bush barely escaped death after being shot down over the north pacific in 1444. the whole seen captured on film. >> i think i matured in those days. i became a man in that experience. >> he returned home to proud parents. his father, prescott bush was a successful investment banker. to his sweet heart, barbara pierce. they married in 1945.
he enrolled in yale, his father's alma mater. in 1946, with the birth of george w., he became a father, himself. bush was a standout at yale, captain of the baseball team, graduating in 1948. but he left his new england roots and with family help got into the oil business in texas. >> hello, everybody. i'm prescott bush, republican candidate for the united states senate. >> in 1950, prescott bush got into what would become the family business. politics, running for the senate from connecticut. in this early campaign ad, the emphasis was on family. >> i hope all of you have as much fun and happiness in your family life as we do. >> my father was totally honest, totally committed to service per se and that inspired me, not just there, but in his whole life. >> prescott bush lost in 1950
but one a senate seat two years later as reported on election night by nbc news' richard hartness. >> prescott bush, mr. bush is a new york investment banker. he's a partner of able ahrleman, bush will be in the senate as a republican. >> in texas, george bush prospered. george w. later recalled it as a happy childhood. >> i grew up in mid-lands, texas. i have a lot of fond memories in midland. >> through the 50, he was a friend and sometime golfer partner of president eisenhower. in 1966, presidential candidate richard nixon campaigned in connecticut and pressed bush was on hand. >> how are you? >> how are you? >> nixon lost to john f kennedy in 1960. two years later, citing core health, senator prescott bush decided not to run for re-election. with his father out of politic,
george bush wanted in. in 1964, he ran for the senate, taking on texas democrat ralph yarborough. >> yarborough's republican opponent is 40-year-old george bush. an outgoing young man who smiles easily and has been a vigorous campaigner. >> bush's ads were reminiscent of his father. >> george bush is now george bush republican candidate for the united states senate. >> i certainly hope and i'll bet you do, too, that our children can grow up knowing what freedom really is. >> reporter: 18-year-old george w. bush then a student at yale as his father had been came home to help with the campaign. the beginning of his political education. his a water u father was running as a conservative. >> the united nations has been a political failure. >> reporter: the political landscape was transformed by the
assassination of john f. kennedy. in 1964, lyndon johnson won in a landslide and ralph yarborough defeated george bush. >> before coming in here, i sat around for a few minutes trying desperately to think of somebody i could blame for this after due meditation, i regretfully concluded there was no one else to blame but me. >> reporter: in fact, bush's career was just beginning. he ran for a house seat and won and family photos at the capitol the eldest son, 21-year-old george w. bush. at yale he felt out of step with the liberal art of the 1960s. he graduated in 1968. >> that same year richard nexix was running for president. and he somerset to help with the campaign and briefly considered him as a running mate. president nixon was campaigning
for him. >> we have to think what man is best for america and george bush in my opinion is the best man for america. >> reporter: as it turned out, nixon's support in that 1970 race was not enough. >> and i have only one regret and that is that i lost. >> reporter: george bush was out of a job, but not for long. >> the fact that one door has been closed for him opens another door. >> coming up, rising through the ranks to claim the ultimate prize. >> the office of president of the united states. i am a family man.
george bush became president, in part, by being useful to the presidents pro preceded him. many served, including ronald reagan, gerald ford and richard nixon, who saw something in bush and gave him a place on the national stage. >> so help me god. [ applause ] . >> george bush the texas congressman, who ran for the senate this year and lost is president nixon's choice to be the next american ambassador to the united nations. bush is an oil millionaire and political conservative. >> reporter: in 1971 the political resume of george herbert walker bush consistented of two terms in congress and two failed senate campaigns, but richard nixon saw promise. >> the world will be a better place in which to live because of what did he do indicated men like george bush do at the
united nations. >> thank you, mr. president, for this great honor. >> reporter: bush was a controversial choice for the job of u.n. ambassador, he was inexperienced but enthusiastic. >> but you got to dream a little. we got to figure out how we can get more support for this organization. >> reporter: he immersed himself in the big issues of day. the middle east, china versus taiwan. india versus pakistan. he served the president faithfully, though, nixon seemed to think bush should be tougher as he indicated into this phone call to bush in 1971. >> i want you to hit him frontally, calmly, that clear? take the gloves off. you know exactly what we've done. okay. bye. all right. >> ambassador george bush. >> reporter: george bush at the 1972 gop national convention with 26-year-old george w. and then nixon aide donald rumsfeld. happy moment followed just weeks later by the death of the man
george bush called his hero and mentor. prescott bush died october 8th, 1972 never knowing the heights his son and grandson would some day reach. in the political world, a re-elected president nixon had another new job for george bush. >> mr. nixon today named ambassador george bush to replace senator dole of kansas. >> i think it's important work. and i look forward to getting involved in it. >> reporter: it was a job bush did not seek and did not want. nevertheless, he shared his father's sense of duty. >> when the president wants you to do something under my kind of system of civics, you ought to do it. >> reporter: bush's loyalty to nixon was soon tested by the biggest scandal in american political history. >> watergate, republican national chairman george bush said that president nixon understands the water gate
problem fully and will clear it up totally. he did not elaborate. >> i'm concerned about it, deeply, mainly for the system. i don't want to go home at night and see my young kids turned off of this political process by some illegal or allegedly illegal or close to illegal act. >> you try being chairman of the party during the watergate day, you talk about a ghastly assignment and horrible time. >> hasn't all this made your job much more difficult? >> it complicated the heck out of my job. but the loser is not the republican party. the loser is the system. >> i retain a basic confidence that the president is, indeed, telling the truth about his lack of involvement, about his involvement in this whole bedammed mess. >> reporter: in the end, of course, it became clear that nixon was not telling the truth about watergate, not to george bush or anyone else. george and barbara bush were on
hand for nixon's farewell and gerald ford's swearing in. >> so help me god. >> reporter: ford had to pick a vice president. and george bush was a leading contender. >> hi, how are you all? >> reporter: but it was nelson rockefeller of new york who got the job instead. >> all in all, it was a first class choice, let's face it. i was glad to be in that league. >> reporter: ford did offer bush a choice of diplomatic assign ls and george bush picked china. >> put it this way, i'm darned happy about it. >> reporter: george and barbara bush enjoyed the assignment in china. but it lasted bare lay year. >> it is my intention to nominate ambassador bush to be director of the central intelligence agency. >> reporter: bush, himself, was stunned by the news. after being on hand for president ford's visit to china and a meeting with chairman moo tse tung. he headed home to a storm of
criticism. >> yes, i have been in politics. i severaled four years in congress. i served two years as the chairman of my party. and i have no apology whatsoever for either service. >> reporter: some thought ford would make bush his running mate the following year. bush dismissed the idea. >> one would have to be hallucinating if he thought this was a stepping stone to becoming vice presidency. >> reporter: he didn't want to rule it out, either. >> i cannot in all honesty tell you that i would not accept and i don't think, gentleman, that any american should be asked to say he would not have set. >> reporter: the senate approved bush for the cia but not before president ford promised in writing not to put him on the ticket in 1976. right then, his career in politics seemed to be all but over. >> i can't confess to being clairvoyant, but i foresaw the
minute the telegram came in my life that this undoubtedly spelled the end of a, you know, a near term political future, except maybe some kind of you know long-shot lightning striking kind of an opportunity to be cast for some higher office. >> welcome. >> thank you for coming. >> reporter: george bush was sworn in today as the new director of the central intelligence. >> so help me god. >> reporter: the politically sensitive job as head of the cia in 1976 took george herbert walker bush out of the running as gerald ford's running mate. a job that went instead to bob dole. but if it was a disappointment for mr. bush, it was also an opportunity. >> my goal is to run this agency properly in the future, learning from the past, but fought dwelling on it. >> reporter: it was his fifth new job in nine years. but bush proved many of his
doubters wrong, becoming one of the most popular and effective directors of the modern cia a building today by bears his name. >> a cia i love. one year only. i just loved it. i loved defending the culture at a time when everybody was down on it. >> reporter: during the 1976 campaign it fell to cia director bush to provide briefings to the democratic candidate jimmy carter. when carter beat president ford, bush again was without a job. >> george bush told jimmy carter he will quit as director of the cia on january 20th. we are told he was being to stay on. carter gave him no encouragement. what he will do next he did not say. >> george bush declared himself as a candidate for the republican nomination. >> reporter: bush wanted general my carter's job, first he'd have to fight ronald reagan for the gop nomination. he was asked his opinion of
reagan. >> i think he'd be a much gooder president, better than carter, i'll throw that in there. i will be a better president. that's the point i got to get across. >> reporter: ronald reagan won the nomination and appeared to make history by picking a former president, gerald ford as his running mate. once again, george bush's political career seemed to be over until this electrifying moment. >> i have asked and i am recommending to this convention that tomorrow when the session recon convenience that george bush be nominated. >> we're not sure where george bush is, lightning certainly struck him tonight. >> reporter: in an instant, the future had changed for the entire bush family. reagan had salvaged george bush's political future and that very likely kept the door opened for a political future for george w. bush. >> all i can say is that we're
overwhelmed and grateful for your expression of confidence. i accept. >> reporter: bush pledged his loyalty to ronald reagan and in this moment captured by nbc news cameras, he introduced him to his son. in one frame, three future presidents. george bush had aimed for the presidency by gladly settling for number two, he made himself ronald reagan's royal heir apparent. george bush ran against ronald reagan and lost. he made himself becoming a model vice president, loirnlgs dedicated and gladly sub servient, biding his time, hoping his chance would come again. it did. >> that part of the story when we continue.
will faithfully execute the office of president of the united states. >> reporter: after spending much of his life in the service of presidents, george bush became one, himself. in january, 1989, at the age of 64, he began his inaugural address by paying tribute to the man he had served for eight years. >> president reagan, on behalf of our nation, i thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for america. [ applause [ applause ] i've spoken of the a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the nation doing good. for a new breeze is blowing and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn. for in man's heart, if not, in fact the day of the dictator is
over. >> reporter: a world refreshed by freedom, perhaps some wishful thinking on bush's part. just months into his presidency a growing democracy movement in china was bultly crushed by authorities. the tiananmen square massacre targeting students gathered if beijing by the thousands challenging china's communist government, demanding democracy human rights and political freedom. hundreds, perhaps thousands were killed. >> there has been widespread and continuing violence, many casualties and many deaths and we deplore the decision to use force and i now call on the chinese leadership publicly as i have in private channels to avoid violence and to return to their previous policy of restraint. this is not the time for an emotional response but for a reason, careful action, i believe, the forces of democracy are so powerful and when you see
them as recently as this morning, a single student standing in front of a tank and then i might add seeing the tank driver exercise restraint, i'm convinced the forces of democracy are going to overcome these unfortunate events in tiananmen square. >> reporter: the forces of democracy did not prevail in china and have not to this day. just five months after the tiananmen square massacre, freedom took center stage thousands of miles away in berlin. >> reporter: good evening, on the most historic night in this wall's history. you see behind me a celebration of this new policy announced today by the east german government is now, for the first time, since the wall was erected in 1951, people will be able to move through feery. >> let me say a word about the momentous events in east germany. i was moved as you all were by
the pictures of berliners from east and west standing atop the wall with chisels and hammers, celebrating the opening of the most vivid symbol of the iron curtain and to be honest with you, i doubted that this would happen in the very first year of this administration. 28 years after the desperate days of 1961 when tanks faced off at checkpoint charlie and that terrible barrier was built, now the east germany government has responded to the wishes of its people. >> reporter: less than a year later came george bush's biggest challenge as president and his defining hour. iraq's invasion of kuwait in august, 1990 at first bush seemed to hesitate. but he soon drew a line in the sand. >> this will not stand.
this will not stand, this aggression against kuwait. i got to go. i have to go to work. >> reporter: this will not stand, bush said, committing himself to reversing saddam hussein's invasion and rallying an international coalition to help him do it. u.s. and allied forces gathered in the desert and when diplomacy failed, the commander-in-chief launched operation desert storm. >> just two hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military forces in iraq and kuwait. these attacks continue as i speak. ground forces are not engaged. this conflict started august 2nd when the dictator of iraq invaded a small and helpless neighbor. kuwait a member of the arab league and a member of the united nations was crushed. its people brutalized. five months ago, saddam hussein
started this cruel war against kuwait. tonight the battle has been joined. >> reporter: it started as an air war. followed less than six weeks later by a ground war. operation desert storm was short, brutally efficient and successful. >> kuwait is liberated. iraq's army is defeated. our military objectives are met. kuwait is once more in the hands of kuwaitis in control of their own destiny. tonight the kuwaiti flag, once again, flies above the capital of a free and sovereign nation and the american flag flies above our embassy. seven months ago, america and the world drew a line in the sand. we declared that the addressing against kuwait would not stand. and tonight, america and the world have kept their word.
this is not a time of you feuph certainly not a time to gloat. but it is a time of pride. pride in our troops. pride of our friends who stood with us in our drives. pride in the nation -- with us in our crisis. pride in the nation. >> reporter: a week later before a joint session of congress, president bush declared victory. >> as commander-in-chief, i can report to you our armed forces fought with honor and valor. and as president, i can report to the nation aggression is defeated, the war is over. >> reporter: the iraqi forces were pushed out of kuwait. but in iraq, itself, saddam hussein was still in power and would remain so until it was toppled 12 years later by bush's son. >> i to the that saddam hussein
would leave under his over own power or being knocked off by somebody else. had i not thought that, would we have gone to try to find him? no, we wouldn't have done it. that was not our mission. and then for those who say, well, you should have gone in and killed saddam. i'm commander-in-chief. i want his son to go or his daughter into baghdad to find the most for the tied brutal dictator in history? >> reporter: 1991 began with operation desert storm. it ended with one of the watershed events of the 20th century the collapse of the soviet union. the cold war had been the world's defining struggle for decades, fought by nine american presidents. it ended with george bush. >> we gather tonight at a dramatic and deeply promising time in our history and in the history of man on earth. from the past 12 months, the world has known changes of
almost biblical proportions an even now, months after the failed coup, the doomed and failed system, i am not sure we have absorbed the full impact, the full import of what happened. >> that communism died this year. [ applause ] and even as president with the most fascinating possible vantage point, there were times when i was so busy managing progress and helping to lead change that i didn't always show the joy that was in my heart. but the biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this. by the grace of god, america won the cold war. that's longer than the buffalo wing's been around. dozen wings. and did you know that geico...
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hello, i'm dara brown, the 41st president of the united states george h.w. bush passed away at his home in houston last night. it comes after eight months his wife of 83 years barbara died. he issued a statement calling his father the man of highest character. he praised him. more coverage of the passing of george h.w. bush coming up. . >> reporter: for more than 40 years now a part of every president's job description has been to put up with being laughed at on "saturday night live." george bush was no exception. but he did more than just tolerate dana car i have making fun of him. he showed he was able to have fun at his own expense. >> dana, george bush here, i'm watching you do your impression of me and i get to to say, it's
nothing like me. it bears no resemblance, it's bad. it's bad. >> well, i'm sorry, mr. president, i think it's a fair impression. >> i don't see it, it's totally exaggerated. it's not me, those crazy hand gestures. the pointing thing, i don't do them. also non-god da, i never said it. i never once says that da da. >> reporter: problem was so taken by dana car i have'sing a. >> the president starts out with mr. rogers, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. then you add a little johnway. here we go, let's go over to ran were and put them together you got george walker herbert bush.
>> i don't dare move my hands. what i want to do. no, but i am very grateful to dana and to paula for being here and dana has given me a lot of laughs. he said to me on the phone, you sure you really want me to come there? i said, yeah. he said, i hope i've never crossed the line. i knew exactly what he meant and as far as i'm concerned, he never has and the fact that we can laugh at each shots a very fundamental thing. i'm not sure november 4th that the invitation would have gone out and had had the same enthusiasm. >> reporter: george bush did not expect to lose to bill clinton in 1992. he presided over the end of a cold war, enjoyed sky high popularity. a weak economy and elect terror rat ready for change did him in. he didn't like it one bit.
in an interview several years later, he read a letter he had written after the election. >> it's come and gone, it's hard to describe the emotions. it's hurt, hurt, hurt and i guessed is pride, too. on a competitive basis i don't like the pollsters write at the end. i don't like to see the pundits write, i don't like to see all those who have written me off right. i was absolutely convinced they were wrong. i was wrong, they were right. >> that hirts a lot. i gave it my all. did my best. got whipped and went home and boy have we been happy. >> reporter: with barbara at his side, president bush had one of the longest post-histories in american history. he saw his eldest son run for presidency. >> i want to thank my dad. the most decent man i have ever known. dad, i am proud to be your son. >> reporter: and win two terms.
he stayed active, golfing, fishing, boating. even junk out of airplanes to celebrate his 80th, yiefth and 90th birthdays and george bush overcame his political differences with bill clinton, joining forces to help victims of the disastrous 2004 tsunami in asia. >> the nice thing about it, it sends a signal around the world you can be political opponents and still work together for something more important than your own political future. >> reporter: clinton was practically a member of the family. >> everyone is talking about the odd couple. george and bill. or as i now call him, son. >> reporter: the presidency is among other things a small club and in 2009, a new member was welcomed, president-elect barack
obama. later that year, president obama paid tribute to george bush on the 20th anniversary of his points of light volunteerism initiative and for his lifetime of service. >> george bush isn't just a president who promoted the ethic of service long before it was fashionable. he's a sid whose life has embodied in that effort. from his daring service as a navy pilot during world war ii, enlisting the day he turned 18. to his time in congress at the cia and as u.n. ambassador, vice president, and president. he easily could have chosen a life of comfort and privilege and instead time and again when offered a chance to serve, he seized it. it was second nature to him. a continuation of a proud family tradition that he and mrs. bush clearly passed on to their children and grandchildren. and one which he has carried on
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the most important person in george bush's life was undoubtedly his wife barbara. they met as teenagers. married during world war ii and were inseparable throughout their remarkable life total. speaking to nbc in 1999, bush read a letter he had written to his wife five years earlier on their 49th anniversary. >> january 6th, 1994, for barbara pierce from ghwb. will you marry me? oops, i forgot, you did that 49 years ago today. i was very happy on that day if
1945 but i am even happier today. i have climbed the highest mountain in the world. even that cannot hold a candle to being barbara's husband. mumulesed to tell me, now, george, don't walk ahead, little did she know -- >> don't do that. but you know what, i was only trying to keep up. >> reporter: and another letter about a first kiss. >> i kissed barbara and i'm glad of it. i don't believe she will ever regret it or resent it. i certainly am not ashamed of it. i have never kissed another girl. >> when we tell our children i tell them i never knew i was the first girl you ever kissed. when i told them that you were the first person i ever kissed. >> i was the second, darling. avon abbott. >> oh, he was not. >> he was in there. >> he knows, you know, avon,
that's not true. having said that, no, you may not. yes, i think he is. he has children, too. but anyway, they could sort of, carry on, but that's the truth. >> reporter: you both married the first person i ever kissed? >> strange, i admit. >> still staying with your story? >> yes, i am. >> reporter: barbara pierce bush died on april 17th, 2018. as always, george bush was at her side. and when more thanners came to pay their respects, he returned the favor, greeting them from his wheel care thanking them as they filed past her casket. surrounded by family, he attended her funeral, holding up, staying strong, despite his failing health. george and barbara bush were together for 73 years. the longest marriage in american presidential history.
she was indispensable to her husband's success. ? i have always felt i was the world's luckiest woman. nobody ever had a greater, more precious family. nobody ever had a better husband. >> i think george bush andrie as good friends, as close as any two people are now. you know, we were married at 19 and 20. we sort of see the world through the same eyes. >> she was the mother that went to the little league games, raised the kids bald them out. >> i chose to bring up my children. i mean, i had that choice, i know it was a luxury. >> reporter: both bush and barbara bush campaigned hard during the week. >> i was gone a lot. she was the one that comforted our daughter when she was dying, she was the one that has kind of been there. >> after she died, it was a terrible time in our life. i sort of fell apart.
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hurt, not me. remember the old song, "i'll be there ready when you are." there's so much excitement ahead, so many grandkids to watch grow. if you need me, i'm here. >> george bush lived for many years after writing that letter. he saw his children grow up and grow old. he welcomed the arrival of grandchildren and great cha grandchildren. when he was 93, he saw his wife go before him. he also saw the party and the country he had loved for so long change in ways he could not imagine and did not welcome. george herbert walker bush was the last of the greatest generation to serve as president. he embodied the best of that generation, decency, honor, integrity.
he remains an inspiration to so many. i'm lester holt. thank you for being with us. it is 1:00 in the east. we continue our coverage of the death of former president george herbert walker bush, america's 41st chief. he has died at the age of 94. that word came to us now just over an hour ago. the word being passed from a statement from his son, the 43rd president, george w. bush.
we're going to pause here just for a few seconds because we're going to be joined by our network affiliates, pick up the network coverage as we continue our coverage. this is an nbc news special report. ♪ steve kornacki here in new york with the breaking news. this overnight, former president george herbert walker bush has passed away at the age of 94. that word coming to us just over an hour ago, a statement released by his son, the 43rd president george w. bush. he had governed this country from 1989-1993, a time of momentous change not just in this country, but in this world. a president who oversaw the prosecution of the gulf war, the fall of soviet communism, the
fall of the berlin wall, the reunification of germany, major global events that played out under the watch of george h.w. bush, a one-term president whose legacy in the last 25 years in the generation since his presidency has in many ways been enhanced in a way that few one-term presidents before him we have seen. hallie jackson, who's covering the current president donald trump on his township to the g20 summit in buenos aires, she joins us live from there. >> reporter: we have. in a statement from president trump and first lady melania trump responding to the death now of former president george h.w. bush. i'm going to read you pieces of this. president trump saying that melania and i join with the grieving nation to mourn the loss of former president george h.w. bush who passed away last night. through his essential disarming wit and faith in country he inspired generations of fellow americans to public service,
being, in his words, a thousand points of light. about some of the defining moments of george h.w. bush's life and legacy, talking about how he always found a way to set the bar higher. president trump continues with sound judgment, common sense and unflappable leadership, president bush guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the cold war and as such set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed. president trump adding that through all he accomplished, he remained humble. following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction. president trump and the first lady saying along with his full life of service to this country, we will remember president bush for his devotion to his family, especially the love of his life barbara. his example lives on and will continue to stir future americans to pursue a greater cause. our hearts ache with his loss and we send our prayers to the
entire bush family as we honor the life and legacy of 41. that's, steve, again the response from president trump as he is here at the g20 summit in argentina. it is roughly 3:00 local time. a little bit earlier than where you are on the east coast and back home in washington. in the coming days we expect that there will be of course be serviced in d.c. for the former president, starting with george h.w. bush liying in state at th capitol and a service at the national cathedral. we don't have exact timing on that at this point, but i expect that will come shortly. we are hearing too from members of congress paying their respects to the former president, who is such a key political figure to a lot of folks inside the republican establishment. world leaders perhaps reacting as they start to wake up here at the g20 this morning. a couple of notes on the relationship between president trump and the former president. it was fraught at times. it's interesting the thousand points of light phrase is being
included here, so important to president bush, but something that president trump jabbed at when he was on the campaign trail. that put him under scrutiny from former bush aides and allies who weren't quite sure why president trump was going after george h.w. bush there. former first lady barbara bush, at her funeral melania trump attended on behalf of the trump family. president trump said he would not attend, according to the white house, out of respect for the family, steve. >> hallie, thank you for that. bring in now jon meacham, biographer of george h.w. bush. jon, the moment in his presidency that will probably define it more than any other was the decision to go to war with saddam hussein and iraq in 1991 when saddam hussein had invated kuwait.
it was a controversial decision and he chose to go. >> he chose to go because he believed this will not stand, this aggression against kuwait. he decided from the 2nd of august 1990 through about the 5th of august that it was important in a post cold war era to attempt to establish a rule of law among nations. he saw kuwait as a victim. he saw saddam hussein as an aggressor. he and james baker successfully marshalled the world to project force around the world in order to try to attempt and, as president bush put it in a speech to congress on september 11th, 1990, that the law of nations should trump the law of the jungle. >> jon meacham, thank you for joining us. again, the word coming in now. it's about 90 minutes ago that we learned that the former president of the united states george h.w. bush passed away
earlier this evening at the age of 94. again, the 41st president of the united states from 1989 to 1993. for those of you watching our nbc stations, our coverage of the death of george h.w. bush continues on msnbc. i'm steve kornacki, nbc news. continuing our coverage here on msnbc of the death of former president george herbert walker bush, the former president we learned passing away earlier in the evening at the age of 94. he was the commander in chief from 1989 to 1993, a time of seismic change across the world. general barry mccaffrey joins me now on the phone. you knew him personally, general. your reaction, your memories? >> well, he's an utterly magnificent public servant. his entire life was really a model to be emulated. 18-year-old navy carrier pilot world war ii.
i knew him both as a division commander during the gulf war. he and barbara and the senior leaders of congress came to my division before the attack started and had thanksgiving dinner with us. what an incredible impact he had on my soldiers. then he also went to ft. stewart, georgia, to visit our families while we were deployed. and then later on as colin powell's assistant, i had traveled with him on several occasions overseas, international conferences, essentially his liaison officer between the chairman and the president. again, just a model of public service, integrity, good judgment, personal courage.
>> barry mccaffrey, please stay with us. we're joined now by tom brokaw, who covered george h.w. bush. tom, you wrote the book about george h.w. bush's generation, the greatest generation. he was the final president of the united states from that generation. >> he was. and i had a hard time persuading him to participate in that book. he was always so modest about his public service. and i finally said, you know, mr. president, this is your generation and you were so representative of it. and he reluctantly agreed. and then i remember one of the most vivid moments and proudest moments of my life on the dedication of the world war ii memorial in washington, d.c., he was seated just down from me on the podium and when the remarks from the various speakers were going on, he took off a piece of cardboard and wrote on it and said, dear tom, i think i was wrong, maybe we were the greatest generation. and then i developed a personal relationship with him through our mutual friend jim baker.
he was the same in private as he was in public. he was always a modest man, worried about how others were doing. i was with him toward the conclusion of his son's decision to invade iraq and he was supportive of his son, but at the same time i know that he was very anxious about the outcome of it. he worried about what would happen. he was close to colin powell, for example, who was the secretary of state in his son's administration. you'll remember that colin powell was not included in a lot of the decision making by vice president cheney and defense secretary rumsfeld and that troubled him. but he was always a man who has had great grace. he was a good athlete. he worried about others. he worry about others. his wife barbara had this impish sense of humor. from time to time she'd say something that was impolitic. george would say, oh bar, don't go there.
i think both as a political figure and certainly as a friend to his generation and as a friend to people who came up to him, he was a man without peer. >> there's an assessment of him out there as a political figure, that he was more comfortable governing than campaigning and that that showed. do you think that's accurate? >> i think that's true. i remember he was elected to that first term and then toward the end of it the economy took a sharp downturn. and he didn't respond to it in the way that would have been useful to him, i think, in the campaign. there were a number of reasons for that, some of them had to do with people in his administration. but he liked governing, but campaigning went against the advice he always got from his mother growing up in a privileged household in new
england. now, george, don't talk about yourself, he would say. that's why he as a prigs in contrast to others who occupy that position, he was reluck tant to do it. his good manners were always there with him. he was ambassador to china, the director of the cia, the vice president to the united nations. when he became president, he really did close a deal with the russian government that was discarding the soviet union. he was a seminal figure in so many positions in american political life. storm, the liberation of kuwait from iraqi occupation. he hit 91% approval rating. there were patriotic celebrations in this country, parades, ticker tapes, celebrations that we really hadn't seen since world war ii that spring.
>> it was kind of the last time we had that moment, any military operation. when you stop and think about it, the last unconditionally successful military operation that we had. it was over in a hurry. there was a lot of pressure on him to go all the way to baghdad. he didn't want to do that. he thought we accomplished what he set out to do, which was drive saddam hussein out of kuwait. there was one mistake made. general schwartzkopf said unfortunately i allowed saddam hussein's men to have access to helicopters and they used those helicopters to open up another war in the southern part of iraq. at that point, they had a lot of enemies. that was probably a mistake, but it was more of a tactical than it was a strategic mistake. and he was very concerned about the spread of war in that part of the world.
part of the reason his son and certainly cheney and rumsfeld wanted to go to war is they felt that they had to finish the job, so to speak. and they completely misrepresented, in fact, what was going on in iraq. there were no weapons of mass destruction. and we went into a war that is still simmering in its own way. >> it seems there's an irony there, obviously, to put it mildly, that so many of the now positive assessments of george h.w. bush's presidency are rooted in the perceived failures of his sons when it came to iraq. >> that's true. it was so often in any presidency it is very hard to project about what the enduring advantage of a decision will be or the disadvantage of it will be. and he got caught in the
downdraft of his own presidency, especially when it came to the economy. also there was a generational thing. bill clinton was unparalleled as a campaigner and he was of his generation a kind of seminal figure when it came to understanding the new tools of campaigning. he'd grown up wanting to be president of the united states, two terms as governor of arkansas. he represented his generation in so many ways. and george bush was a man of the greatest generation of a different time and a different set of values. >> tom brokaw from nbc news. the anchor of nbc news when george h.w. bush was president. thank you. >> my pleasure. he was a great man. i really got to know him as a friend. one final story about him. i was visiting with him up at kennebunkport and he was at that point concerned about what was going on in the republican party.
i'll leave some of the names out. but his wife barbara said sit over there next to george, tom, so i can take your picture together. she said i'm going to release this as the cochairs of get -- i don't say who it is we're walking about. george said, oh barbara, don't do that now. they had this wonderful relationship. by then he was in a scooter because he had parkinson's disease from the waist down. it frustrated him so much because he was such a good athlete. he couldn't move around in the same way, but the fact that he lived to be 94 and he's going to get this kind of farewell, no man deserved it more. >> all right. tom brokaw, thank you very much. >> it was my great pleasure. >> jon meacham is still with us. jon, let me bring you back in. tom mentions for much of his life the physical strength of george h.w. bush. i remember him in 1988 running
for president probably at 64, 65 years old, back then going out jogging at one point during that campaign. and of course the passing in just the last year of his wife. that relationship, barbara bush and george h.w. bush, talk a little bit about that if you would. >> they met three weeks after pearl harbor at a dance at the greenwich country club. she wore a red and green dress and he endeavored to get introduced. their first date was a day or two later. george h.w. bush, known as poppy in those days and still to the family in private moments, he was worried that perhaps there might not be enough to talk about. so he borrowed the family car that had a radio in it. he found quickly that barbara pierce did not suffer silence very easily. and as she used to say, they never had to have a car with a radio again, because she would fill whatever space there was.
they were married in january of 1945, fully thinking that lieutenant junior grade george h.w. bush, as he was at that point, would go back to be part of the invasion and attack on the home islands of japan. vj day was an incredibly joyous moment for them as millions of other americans. they were married for 73 years. it was one of the great marriages. had its ups and downs, as every marriage does. we talked about the loss of robin in 1953. as you know, families that lose a child, sometimes it brings you closer and sometimes it creates rifts that are difficult to heal. with the bushes, they were strong for each other.
president bush, by his own admission was very affected by watching robin be treated at memorial sloan kettering as it was then and would run out of the room. barbara used to say that robin must have thought he had the weakest bladder in america because he would hustle out. mrs. bush was strong during the treatment. after robin died on columbus day weekend of 1953, it was george bush's turn to be strong. and she always remembered how he would hold her sobbing in the watches of the night down in midland, texas, where they were living. they hadn't heard the word leukemia ever until they heard their daughter's diagnosis in 1953. it brought them together. they were a formidable political partnership. as a friend of president bush's once remarked to me, that president bush didn't like saying anything bad about folks, but he didn't really mind
hearing, which was a good thing because mrs. bush was pretty candid. in fact, the president would sometimes when mrs. bush was on a particular roll, he would say, bar, where do you get so damn many opinions. it was that kind of teasing relationship. george w. bush has remarked he has his daddy's eyes and his mama's mouth. i think that's a good way for folks to think about the combination of qualities that were passed onto the next generation. just in a general way, i want to say again this is america's last great soldier statesman. this is someone who understood combat, who understood the costs of military action. he was restrained in the use of power. he understood america's role in the world. he believed that we were stronger the more widely we opened our arms. one of my favorite stories is
the first time he came back to the white house after he lost in 1992 was in june of 1993 to help gerald ford and bill clinton and jimmy carter talk about nafta, which was then facing ratification largely negotiated under reagan and bush. bill clinton gets up and gives this remarkably synthetic and wonderful description of globalization and why free trade matters. and president bush got up and said we have just seen once again why he's living here and i'm not. not many politicians and almost no presidents are that self-deprecating. and one of the things we've lost tonight is a sense of humility at the highest levels. george bush, for all of his faults -- and he'd be the first to say i think we're going on a little too much here. but for all of his faults, he embodied the idea that you could be a humble man in the biggest arena of american politics and
still keep your humanity, keep your grace, keep your integrity. >> we have talked about one of the most significant moments, not just in george h.w. bush's presidency but really in modern american history. that is the 1991 gulf war. it was august of 1990 when saddam hussein's forces in iraq invaded kuwait. george h.w. bush formed an international coalition, amassed troops, set a deadline for hussein to withdraw his forces or to face war. got approval from congress. then when that deadline passed and saddam hussein hadn't budged and george h.w. bush declared war. this was that moment. >> now the 28 countries with forces in the gulf area have exhausted all reasonable efforts to reach a peaceful resolution v no choice but to drive saddam from kuwait by force.
>> general barry mccaffrey is still with us. general, just before george h.w. bush made that statement on national television in january 1991, there had been predictions that if the united states did launch that war, it would turn into a vietnam in the desert. it had been basically 15 years since the end of vietnam. there were terrible memories of that that were wide in this country. and it turned out that that war lasted far shorter than almost anybody had predicted. the ground war lasted i think less than 100 hours. far fewer casualties. when it was over, george h.w. bush said we had kicked the vietnam syndrome once and for all. i do wonder looking back at that moment, in an indirect way, did that triumph -- did the unexpected ease of that triumph change this country's psychology when it came to war, when it came to the idea that maybe war
was a lot easier than we thought it would be? >> that the first time i've heard that question put that way. by the way, i have to backtrack and say it's been really a joy listening to jon meacham and tom brokaw with their own memories of this great man. i think he literally was. this is unusual. think of where we are now and look at president bush's life and his devotion to his family and to the country and the service. just a remarkable, gentle, kind, intelligent, mature public servant. back to the gulf war, i think one of the things that was most notable about that conflict was we had in the case of both president bush with his intense aviation combat experience in world war ii. and by the way, he told my division at thanksgiving in saudi arabia one of his last missions flying off an aircraft carrier during world war ii was
in support of the 24th infantry division, my division fighting in the philippines. all of us were just overwhelmed. i say that because it underscores he understood the consequences of war. he barely survive it himself. our chairman at the time, colin powell, had been badly wounded as a major in vietnam. a lot of combat experience, our joint commander in the gulf, norm schwarzkopf had been badly wounded in vietnam. so at the very top, you had our strategic planning being done by public servants who as young men had been in combat. that changed everything. by the way, that was one of the few wars where the media and many in congress completely misunderstood what was about to happen. just before the attack started,
there were all sorts of comments, the effect of this was going to be the bloodiest day since the invasion of normandy. the people on the ground, division commanders, brigade commanders, particularly those of white house fought in vietnam -- i told secretary cheney before the attack started this war was going to be short, relatively moderate casualties. i thought my division would have 2,000 killed and wounded. we ended up with 8 killed and 38 wounded. i think it was the generation where everyone at the top understood what we were about to do. and that started with the president of the united states. >> in the gulf war in 1991 transformed the reputations, the images of, among others, colin powell, the scharm of -- chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff. polling after the war showed him one of the most popular people in america, perhaps the most popular person in america, a movement throughout the '90s to get him to run for president, ultimately becoming secretary of state under george w. bush. dick cheney, who had been defense secretary during the gulf cawar, running the pentago his reputation certainly increased dramatically after that. and then in 2000 he became the running mate for george w. bush, the vice president for george w. bush. with dick cheney in the george w. bush administration, you also got donald rumsfeld, his old ally and somebody who was not necessarily an ally of george w. bush. >> absolutely. the past was not prologue when it came to that. rumsfeld and george h.w. bush were young rivals in the washington of nixon and ford. it's sort of a shakespearean rivalry.
george w. bush was always very determined throughout his son's both governorship and presidency, he took pains to point out these were different eras, they were different men. it's impossible to understand george w. bush without understanding texas politics. it's impossible to understand george h.w. bush without understanding how much the political center of the country moved from new england to the sunbelt in the 20th century. the family story writ large is in many ways the story of american politics prior to 2016. my sense of -- i spend a lot of time talking to him about it through the years. president bush really did look on his son's presidency in the way that dad would as opposed to the way a former president might. that's hard for people to get their heads around. there are a lot of conspiracy theories. there's more armchair psychology
about this than near damn near anything else in modern american history, but i believe it to be true. jeb bush explained it once as saying why wouldn't someone look at it as a dad? you're watching your son in the maelstrom, there's immense pride, there's immense concern about what the son faces. president bush was very clear that he thought his son was facing after 9/11 possibly the greatest crisis since the civil war because there had been an attack on our soil. and he believed always that a president of the united states of either party deserved the deference of the people around him, that the nature of citizenship required someone to give the president their best views, but to support them and to try to serve where that president asked. so i think you have to look at
those two men in different frames because they ruled in different eras. but i do know that the immense pride, the immense emotional reaction that the president had watching his son govern in tumultuous times certainly fundamentally shaped his last decades. >> andrea mitchell is still with us as well. i was going through that list of names whose reputations, images, places in history were transformed by that gulf war. another one was secretary of state james a. baker iii and obviously close friend of george h.w. bush. they
went way back before that. and jim baker was called in when florida was in the balance for george w. bush against al gore in the 2000 election. that relationship between bush and jim baker, what can you tell us about that?
>> that was the most extraordinary partnership, friendship. it was george bush who got jim baker into politics. they were friends in houston going all the way back. they suffered great losses. jim baker lost his first wife. and of course you've talked about robin, the child that the bushes had lost. they lost elections. jim baker lost his attempt at elected politics, but then he became the ally, the partner, the secretary of state and was
very reluctant to leave the job he loved so much secretary of state to become campaign manager again in 1992, but he did. they were trade-offs back and forth but jim baker was a really close friend.
jim baker was maybe the close nephew, not a son, but someone just so close in partnership. they continued this week. jim baker had a rice baker institute commemoration. barack obama was the speaker, but it was also earlier in the day that barack obama went to visit george herbert walker bush at home, probably one of the last major visits that he had before his passing. he was failing in the last couple of days and had been. really family and friends expected almost eight months ago to barbara bush's passing. i think we all remember seeing him sorrowful and frail at that service and the love and support of his children. i had the great opportunity recently to sit down and talk about the past and the present and current politics and policy at a private gathering, an
academic gathering with jeb bush. and we talked about his eloquent eulogy for his mother. it was very much on his mind because we all knew that his father's health was failing. remember at age 90 when he took that parachute jump and when i listened to barry mccaffrey talking about him as a commander and working in the first gulf war for george bush, the commander in chief, you think of him as being the youngest naval aviator in world war ii, to think of his rescue in the pacific is just extraordinary when you think from the recollections of tom brokaw who covered him and became his friend. what this man did in reunifying germany, which was not a self-evident decision, a brave decision which changed the map
of europe forever. economically and politically and geographically. and all of the big decisions he took to follow up on the legacy of ronald reagan and complete the end of the cold war. i just think this was one of the most consequential single term presidencies. in fact, the sacrifice he made in terms of policy choices that led to his defeat, not just the fact that there was a three-way race with ross perot, but also the decision to raise taxes when he knew it was the right thing to do and that he was violating the signature pledge of his convention acceptance speech and that it would probably mean he would not be elected to a second term. >> we've talked so much about george w. bush's presidency, his son's presidency and what he might have thought about that and how he approached it. but his son, george w. bush, played a role in his presidency as well.
i think the famous instance there was john sununu, the embattled chief of staff. it was george w. bush the son that was called in to get him to walk the plank. >> absolutely. george w. bush was a very tough political operator in his father's first campaign and subsequently when he was president of the united states. when people talk about their disagreements, which were very private and i'm not sure fully expressed even between the two of them over the second gulf war, the iraq war, it understates how close they were in terms of their election campaigns and the political advice. w was a very big figure in 1988 in the election of president bush. >> we have a statement coming in from former president barack obama and his wife michelle obama. george h.w. bush's life is a
testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling and he did tremendous good along the journey, expanding america's promise to new immigrants and people with disabilities, reducing nuclear weapons and building a broad coalition to expel a dictator from kuwait. when democratic revolutions bloomed across eastern europe, it was his steady diplomatic hand that made possible an achievement once thought anything but. ending the cold war without firing a shot. it's a legacy of service that may never be matched even though he'd want all of us to try. again, that statement just coming in to us from former president barack obama and the former first lady michelle obama. going to bring back hallie jackson from buenos aires. she's been traveling with president trump to the g20 summit. interesting to come back to you on that note, the note that barack obama strikes in that statement about george h.w. bush's reputation as an internationalist president, somebody who had relationships
across the globe, somebody who made friends in europe, in the middle east, was able to forge that coalition, that very delicate, fragile coalition that held maybe against the odds in the runup and during the gulf war in 1991. looking at the current president and where you are right now with those world leaders and george h.w. bush, there is a contrast in approach there. >> there is. it's so different, steve. we've been seeing that on display here at this international summit with the president piecing together, as the "new york times" phrases it, a patch work of allies, snubbing some you would think would be allies, cozying up to others you would think would not be. this is what president trump has done ever since he took office. he campaigned on blowing up some of that world order that president george h.w. bush put in place, if you will. it is a moment to think about as acover this president, steve, the relationship that president trump has had with past
presidents, including 41. there have been instances where we have seen the ex presidents together. i think of that hurricane harvey relief service where there was that gathering of five ex-presidents together. president trump was not among them. there have been not been instances where we have seen president trump as part of that so-called president's club, leaning on his predecessors for advice or guidance. he has been from the moment he was inaugurated rather isolated from that group. yes, in the past they have been from different political parties, of course. but look at what andrea just talked about barack obama having visited george h.w. bush just in the last few days. there is the sense that presidents have held a special place in american history, they have shared one of the most hallowed grounds there is, the oval office, the white house, they have lived there, they have worked there. there is a very small group of people that can say that.
president trump has always been on the outskirts of that group, of that club, if you will. this will be a moment when president bush is laid to rest. we expect in the coming days he will have a service at the national cathedral in washington after having laid in state at the capitol. you will see president trump with his predecessors paying his respects to someone who was important to the republican establishment, to people of faith, for those in the broader service community. it is going to be a dynamic that president trump will be navigating in the next week or so. it's one that we saw him have to navigate when barbara bush, the love of george bush's life died within the past year. president trump did not attend her funeral. not totally out of the ordinary for a sitting president not to attend, but melania trump did go to represent the white house. president trump at the time said he was not attending out of
respect to the family. there are going some moments to watch in the coming days related to how president trump relates to the bush family and his predecessors in office. certainly some moments to watch as we move forward with that. >> a statement as well from former president bill clinton, who of course defeated george h.w. bush in the 1992 presidential campaign. hillary and i mourn the passing of president george h.w. bush and give thanks for his great long life of service, love and friendship. i will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed from the moment i met him as a young governor invited to his home in kennebunkport. i was struck by the kindness he showed to chelsea, by his innate decency, his devotion to barbara and their growing brood. few americans will be able to match president bush's record of service to the united states and
the joy he took every day from it. from his military service in world war ii to his work in congress, the united nations, china, the central intelligence agency, the vice presidency and the presidency where he worked to move to the post cold war toward greater unity and freedom. he never stopped serving. i saw it up close working with him on tsunami relief in asia. and here at home after hurricane katrina. his remarkable leadership and great heart were always on full display. i am profoundly grateful for every minute i spent with president bush and will always hold our friendship as one of my life's greatest gifts. our thoughts and prayers are with george, jeb, neil, marvin, doro, their families and the entire bush clan. again, that statements coming in to us from former president bill clinton on the passing of george h.w. bush. we still have jon meacham with us. jon, i'll bring you back in. we mentioned bill clinton defeating george h.w. bush in 1992. one of the reasons he was able to do that was that decision to go back on the read my lips, no
new tax promise. he made that in the 88 campaign. he cut a deal to do it in 1990. he called it a mistake on the campaign trail in 1992. a generation later in 2014 he ended up being awarded a profile in courage award from the kennedy library in boston. it seemed as a candidate and a president he never learned how to talk about that. what is your sense? did he always think that was the right thing to do? >> he did. he actually got a fax from richard nixon during the transition in december of 1988 where nixon offers him -- which nixon did to a lot of his successors, offered a lot of advice. one was to go ahead and break the pledge and get it over with, get the deficit under control. bush wrote back saying that he'd be dead meat if he did it that
quickly. but he did signal -- actually in a conversation with michael dukakis during the transition, a man he defeated in 1988, he actually signalled that he might have to break the pledge. so he was always prepared to do it. he did it at a breakfast meeting in late june of 1990. in many ways, that was kind of the pearl harbor of the current partisan -- particularly on the conservative side, the bolt of the right and of newt gingrich. one story i think says a lot about this is a story told by vin weber, the former minnesota congressman who had run newt gingrich's campaign to get into the house leadership in 1989. gingrich was not a bush figure, to say the least. he was a bomb thrower. bush was the guy at whom he was
throwing bombs or at least the world was the target of his bombs. but bush being bush wanted to have gingrich over to say i want to work together, congratulate him on winning the leadership race. as vin told me the story, only george bush would think to invite the guy who ran the campaign as well as the guy who won within the caucus. so they're having a beer up in the residence in 1989 and both gingrich and weber can tell there's something bush wants to say but can't quite get it out. finally as they're leaving, weber says, mr. president, what worries you most about us? and without missing a beat, bush, relieved to have the opportunity to speak, said, i worry that sometimes your idealism may get in the way of what i think of as sound governance. your idealism. and weber said he always
appreciated that bush said idealism, he didn't say ideology, he didn't say unreflexive positions, he didn't say dogma. he gave them credit for believing in what they believed in. but he knew that sound governance was more complicated than what one had to say on the campaign trail. bush had picked up a phrase in china about the empty cannons of rhetoric. he saw campaigns in many ways as a long fuselage of empty cannons of rhetoric. weber and gingrich both thought back to that exchange in 1990 when bush made the decision to raise what were initially some excise taxes. they weren't even marginal rates. they got a worse deal after the republicans bolted against bush. but it really is one of the last moments where a president self-evidently and consciously compromised his own political future for what he saw as the national interest.
and i don't want to exaggerate. president bush would hate it if we exaggerated. he'd think it was bragadocious. it is simply a historical fact that he knew he would pay a steep, steep price, which he did both the republican house caucus bolting on him and bringing pat buchanan into the 1992 race. and patd buchanan's 1992 race in many ways configured the rise of 2016. he knew he had to do it. bush knew he had to do it for the good of the country. one of the last conversations i had with him asked him what do you want us to remember about you? and he hated that kind of question. and he said we put the country first, made our share of mistakes, but we always tried to put the country first. that's not just sentiment. that's the substance of what he did. >> it was at the end of the
1990s about five years after george h.w. bush left office that this country actually had a balanced budget and actually began running a budget surplus for a few years. you look at the boom economy of the '90s and you look at the windfall revenues produced by the tax hike probably in 1990 and the tax hike in 1993 under bill clinton, both extremely unpopular, but there was a period where this country cleaned up its books at the end of the 1990s that may seem a little bit distant right now. joe watkins, who worked in the bush white house now. jon mentioned the name pat buchanan, the pundit turned candidate who challenged george h.w. bush in the 1992 presidential primaries in part in response to george h.w. bush going back on that pledge not to raise taxes. but the platform that buchanan ran on is in many ways one that we would recognize today as trumpism.
he ran on a border wall, he ran on immigration restriction, not just illegal, but legal immigration restriction. he ran on many of the cultural themes and many of the economic nationalist themes that donald trump would embrace a generation later. george h.w. bush confronts that in 1992. >> absolutely. j jon meacham is absolutely right. president bush was somebody who always felt that it was important to put country first. that's what he did. he put country first. he did it and sacrificed basically a second term to do the right thing. i just had enormous respect for the man. i had the utmost personal as well as professional respect and regard and love for george h.w. bush. just not only a great man but also a good man, a man who cared deeply about people and who was
every bit as kind and gentle behind the scenes as he is in public. you remember, of course, the speech he gave where he said he'd like to see a kinder gentler nation when he accepted the nomination back in 1988. he really did make an effort to do that. even at the end of the conflict with saddam hussein, the president had almost tears in his eyes when he spoke to congress, because the whole idea was not to needlessly sacrifice human life and to lose people, even in that conflict. i loved that about him. he's somebody who he himself had experienced war as a very young men in world war ii. he talked about how his father cried as he went off to world war ii and he very nearly died, of course. he was shot down and was dramatically rescued. i think the youngest navy pilot at the time for the u.s. but he never forgot his
experience as somebody who fought in world war ii and he realized how precious life was and he wanted to do everything that he could to make sure there wasn't unnecessary loss of life in that conflict. and that's who he was personally as well as professionally. thats who he was. personally as well as profess n profession professionally. that's who george h.w. bush was, a very, very kind man, somebody who cared deeply about people. and remember, when he was elected to congress back in the late 1960s, he supported from that houston district he supported fair housing. and that was a controversial move at the time but he supported fair housing because he knew it was the right thing to do. his father of course had been one of the republicans that worked with president johnson in 1964 to pass the civil rights bill and in '65, the voting rights bill and when he worked
in the white house, when he was president of the united states and i was working in the white house, of course we passed the civil rights bill as well and i worked closely with the president and the rest of the team to get that done. but i -- i enjoyed working for him. i loved his style. he was somebody who didn't believe in bragging about himself, very humble. you'd never hear him talk about himself, let others talk about me but i don't want to talk about myself. his mother told him not to brag and he clearly was never that and he also took time to consider everybody in the room from the least important person to the person who might think that they were the most important. he took time to consider everybody in the room and that's what i will always appreciate about him. i have a whole bunch of personal memories of kind things that he did that i saw him do and that he even did for me when i was in the white house staff working for him.
but i -- the country mourns and rightly so and my heart goes out to his family, to his sons and his daughter and his grand kids. i know that they are sad today because he was a good, good man. >> joe watkins, thank you for taking a few minutes with us. general, i wonder about the relationship between the interactions between george bush and the military leadership. in the gulf war obviously, but in general, that relationship, what was that like? >> well, you know, you raise really an excellent point. particularly when you look at the current president trump's dealings with kim jong unone on one, no one else in the room, dealing with putin one on one. i was with president bush on several foreign trips.
moscow, it always used to amuse me when i back briefed the pentagon that as a general statement and i was just a lieutenant general representing the chairman of the acs to general powell but i was always in the room so there might be five people in the room, the secretary of state on both sides, head of government and i'd be the only uniformed figure in there. now, some of it was the fact that the president wanted me to have direct access to report back to general powell but a lot of it was, he liked having us around. he was very comfortable with us. you know, both my wife and i have handwritten notes framed that we keep in the home from him thanking us for things we've done to support the country so just a very unusual relationship in which all of us almost
uniformly in the armed forces really almost worshipped the guy. but your previous interviewers, jon meacham in particular made the point about his gentility and his thoughtfulness and his maturity, but boy, he was a unique figure in american society. i normally refer to him in lectures as the equivalent of american nobility because that's really the way i saw him. >> jon meacham, we talked a little bit with tom brokaw earlier about some of the struggles that george h.w. bush had as a candidate with that aspect. the stage craft that comes with being a candidate for office. the flip side, i think i had read this about the 1988 presidential campaign. he talked about the personal touch that bush had behind the scenes. that cultivating friendships,
cultivating friendships. a christmas card that has ballooned to 30,000 names on it with a staff to maintain it all year, but this was a cultivator of personal relationships who had -- who could have 30,000 friends and they could all feel close to him. >> there will be -- there are tonight and will be in the coming days tens of thousands of people, maybe more who will feel as though they have lost a very close friend. and that's given to very few people in life, much less in politics. his relationships were not inherently transsachsactional. he was a master of the science of human relationships. he never met a stranger. i was with him once in houston
and a waiter in a restaurant said, mr. president, you were going to bring me a pair of cuff links, you know, the cuff links that all presidents give out and bush had forgotten so he put his hands on his own cuff links and took them off and gave them to the man. and there will be again, an infinity of those stories. the country is going to get tired of hearing what an amazing man he was. but it is that kind of grace is in such vanishingly small supply today that i think the more we can be reminded of it and the more we can perhaps heed our own better angels. because he was not a perfect man but he left us a more perfect union and he left a model of how to behave that may not have always done the right thing but he was a human being but he was
the best kind of human being even with those kind of limitations and i think it's a cliche', but cliche's are cliche's because they're true. we're not going to see his like again. >> we talked so much in the last couple of hours about how the legacy of his administration of his one term presidency has evolved over the last generation and how he used to talk about the idea of history looking back favorably on his tenure. a generation later as he passes from this world, is that place in history that he sought, is that secure for him? >> i think it's evermore so. i think he will be seen as someone who made courageous decisions. he did them for the national interest. he was, you alluded to it. he was not the best wholesale politician. he was not the smoothest political performer. but you know, in his very private moments he didn't really
ascribe to that as you could almost hear him saying you know i was president so how bad could i have been at that? he talked about how he climbed the highest mountain in the world and i think when we look historically at what he did, he -- i remember henry kissinger saying he had head the most consequential foreign policy presidency of any president since truman and for him to say that when he hadn't been directly involved you know it has to be true. >> and general mccaffrey, it is in many ways foreign policy, the massive transformations that took place around the globe that obviously is the legacy of the bush presidency and it does seem that no matter what, no matter what we make of the domestic side of things, that foreign policy legacy, the end of the
soviet union, the end of soviet communis communism. the gulf war in 1991, those really are just -- they're towering moments in history no matter what your opinion was of the politics or leadership of george h.w. bush. >> fascinating contrast to today's challenges with mr. trump and i don't mean to bring him into the argument to compare and contrast but one of the great gifts of president bush and the phenomenal people he kept around him and we've talked ability secretary baker was their ability to build coalitions and it wasn't just on self-interest. it was also on values. and on the personal trust and respect that president bush had around the world. i mean, you -- i was at a state dinner in the kremlin and you could see in the room just as
total respect for the president of the united states. >> general barry mccaffrey and jon meacham, thank you both for joining us over the past several hours and stay tund for continuing coverage of the life and legacy of george h.w. bush. good morning, everyone. it is 7:00 here in the east. 4:00 a.m. out west. america's 41st president, george herbert walker bush has died. over this next hour, his defining moments in the oval office, chaperoning the fall of the berlin wall and soviet union. swift victory in the gulf war and one big promise that he could not keep. to his post presidency a further life of