George H.W. Bush's Legacy Is Shaped By A Life In Public Service

Barbara Perry of UVA's Miller Center says Bush's legacy is shaped by his previous time in public office, from the U.N. to the CIA.

George H.W. Bush's Legacy Is Shaped By A Life In Public Service
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Beyond his one term in office as commander in chief, President George H.W. Bush dedicated most of his adult life to public service. Even before he became vice president in the Reagan administration, he held a variety of other roles.

"George H.W. Bush will be remembered among our presidents as having the most golden resume coming into the White House as president, starting with his war years, his World War II years, and of course he will be the last of the Greatest Generation, or the World War II generation, to serve as president of the United States," said Barbara Perry, presidential studies director at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. 

After his military career, Bush made his way to Congress before eventually accepting roles at the U.N., CIA and Republican National Committee. According to Perry, a couple of those positions really shaped his influence as president. 

"So one would be having been a congressman so that when he became president, he was really able to reach out to Congress, bring members of Congress to the White House and form bonds with them that were legitimate and authentic," Perry said. "In addition to that, then his diplomatic roles as both envoy to China and then … U.S. ambassador to the United Nations mean that he had all that diplomatic experience."

Bush's time in the White House is strongly associated with involvement in international conflict, from the end of Cold War to the Gulf War. However, his role in the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement — known as NAFTA — would end up playing a major role in the administrations to come. 

President Donald Trump won his office by campaigning against NAFTA and promising to roll back U.S. involvement abroad. Perry said those ideas are contrary to what Bush believed.

"I think George H.W. Bush would continue to support global trade alliances as well as global political and military alliances because they are responsible for, generally speaking, a robust global economy, a robust American economy, as well as world peace," Perry said. 

Though Bush and his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, have died, the family dynasty remains — including another former president and relatives who've held political office at the state level.