This week as former President George Herbert Walker Bush is lauded in Washington, D.C. and laid to rest in his adopted hometown of Houston, Texas, he will be rightly commended as a World War II hero, oil tycoon, a congressman, ambassador to China and the United Nations, CIA director, and architect of both the Cold War finale and Gulf War. This resume of course, is topped off by his tenure as the 41st President of the United States.
1964 Civil Rights Act
Early in George H.W. Bush’s political career, when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, deriding his opponent as “radical” for supporting the bill that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. According to David Greenberg, a professor of history and journalism and media studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Bush reportedly said: “The new civil rights act was passed to protect 14 percent of the people. I’m also worried about the other 86 percent.”
1968 Fair Housing Act
In an interview with Our Weekly, Javon Johnson, assistant professor and director of African American and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, believes “Bush was often torn between the right thing to do versus the political thing to do. When Bush was serving as a freshman congressman from Texas, he joined a group of moderate thinking Republicans to support civil rights legislation and voted in favor of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, an action that did was not embraced by his conservative constituents back home.”
The Fair Housing Act introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms. It outlawed any refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.
According to Johnson, the refusal to support The Fair Housing Act seemed at odds with the Bush’s family’s long history of supporting civil rights. “His father, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut senator, was also an early supporter of the United Negro College Fund, serving as chairman of the Connecticut branch in 1951. Prescott Bush worked to desegregate schools, protect voting rights and with his own work raised money for the United Negro College Fund.” Bush himself was an early supporter of the UNCF while a student at Yale University.
Johnson say’s, “In Texas during that time, the Republican Party was steadily becoming more conservative and embracing the Southern strategy of appealing to White voters, Bush’s position made sense if he wanted to win. The same strategy used today by President Trump.”
According to Timothy Naftali, author of “George H.W. Bush: The American Presidents Series,” Bush would later regret opposing the groundbreaking bills, even apologizing to his pastor Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.”
1988 George Bush’s Presidential Campaign
“If you can buy crack across the street from the White House, then you
can buy it anywhere.”
-President George Herbert Walker Bush speaking from the Oval Office on Sept. 5, 1989.
The path to this illustrious plateau found the President-elect being influenced, in part, by the efforts of campaign manager and dirty trickster the late Lee Atwater, a master of stoking the latent racism of voters without actually saying the “n” word. Atwater swayed voters in the 1988 presidential campaign away
from Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis by suggesting he was soft on crime, pointing to a rape committed by Willie Horton, a Black convicted murderer released on Massachusetts’ controversial weekend furlough program while Dukakis was governor.
Once in office, Bush continued the War on Drugs started by his predecessor Ronald Reagan. By September 1989, his and his minions hit upon a scheme to illustrate how pervasive the narcotics problem was.
In short order, a subordinate in the Justice Department reportedly arranged a dope purchase nearby Lafayette Park through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
To hammer home the idea that drug trafficking had spread to the president’s own neighborhood, undercover agents focused on a youthful dealer who’d been under surveillance for three-months, one Keith Timothy Jackson, who’d been documenting buying crack cocaine from agents on three previous occasions.
As preparations for the Presidential address were underway, Jackson was being groomed by the DEA for one final buy, a bust which would hopefully implicate the organization Jackson was working for. Since the location for this string was several blocks away, DEA staffers William McMullan and James Millford arranged for this intrigue to take place across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park, a seven-acre public park not known for narcotics peddling, but ideal for publicity due to its placement just north of the presidential residence.
The transaction did not go smoothly. The trafficker did not know where the park was, so the DEA resorted to having one of its informants drive him there. Microphones used for recording the deal malfunctioned. The agent filming the event endured assault from a homeless woman. Once Jackson exchanged three ounces of (low grade) crack for $2,400, the agents lost track of him, and he was not arrested until three weeks later.
None-the-less, a few days later with evidence in hand, President Bush gave his national address declaring that drugs were “the greatest domestic threat facing our nation today,” as he held up the seized contraband. This broadcast gave him the leverage to escalate his National Drug
Control Strategy (to the tune of $7.8 billion), and paved the way to arm police agencies with military-grade equipment.
Ironically, Jackson was acquitted for the Sept. 5 arrest (the court deemed it entrapment, as the DEA induced him to sell the cocaine). He was convicted of other prior offenses and did time in prison until 1998.
1990 Civil Rights Act
In 1990, Bush vetoed a civil rights act that would have expanded job protections. He and Ronald Reagan were the only presidents to veto a civil rights measure since the start of the civil rights era. Bush said the bill would have introduced the “destructive force of quotas into our national employment system.”
The move garnered criticism from civil rights leaders and liberals, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who said the veto showed Bush was “more interested in appeasing extremists in his party than in providing simple justice.”
According to Michael I. Niman of Truthout, the Iran-Contra Affair involved a complex chain of interconnected activities where the Reagan administration sold missiles to Iran while they were technically an enemy state hostile to the U.S. This was supposedly payback for the aforementioned hostage deal. The dark money from the missile sales was used to fund “Contra” terrorists (a.k.a. “liberation fighters”) waging war against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. This money was necessary after Congress cut off funds to the Contras because of bad press about unsavory activities, such as assassinating elected officials and bombing schools, clinics, busses and electric stations.
Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh’s subsequent investigation of the Iran-Contra affair was obstructed by Bush who, before leaving the White House, issued pardons to six targets of the investigation, most notably the former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who was about to go on trial. According to Walsh, Bush’s pardon of Weinberger, “marked the first time a president ever pardoned someone in whose trial he might have been called as a witness, because the president was knowledgeable of factual events underlying the case.” Walsh, a Republican who previously served as United States deputy attorney general under President Eisenhower, accused Bush of “misconduct” in helping to cover up the Iran-Contra affair.
Michael I. Niman of Truthout, believes the ironic actions of the Iran-Contra incident may have exacerbated the socioeconomic decline of Compton—a city the Bush family briefly called home in the early 1950s—and South Los Angeles in general—because of the influx of drugs.