Another Look at George H.W. Bush


The following comes from Dov Fischer at on the passing of George H.W. Bush. After praising Bush as a decent and heroic individual, especially for his service in WWII, Fischer writes the following:

The Microcosmic: James A. Baker III and the Hate

Microcosmic — he had James A. Baker III as his Secretary of State. Baker was the worst public anti-Semite in high government office since the time of World War II. I can forgive Baker for hating Jews because that is his DNA. I cannot expect someone to overcome his DNA. But I cannot forgive Bush for allowing Baker to run roughshod over Israel and for his despicable quoted closed-door comments about Jews.

In the late 1990s, I decided to move from the highly regarded national law firm where I was practicing law to a new firm, and I had a law recruiter lining up interviews for me. I actually was in somewhat high demand. All the interviews were with similarly regarded national firms. The process typically entails six or so hours of interviews, all day long, with six to eight attorneys, one after another. At one law firm the day was going exceptionally well until a late-afternoon interview with a gentleman who had a photograph of James Baker on the wall. I entered his office. He offered me a seat.

I do not talk politics at work. I definitely never ever talk religion at work as an attorney. (I have been known occasionally to discuss religion in my other career, as a synagogue rabbi.) I wear a yarmulka.

The guy interviewing me immediately did the politically incorrect and said, “I see you are wearing a yarmulka. What are your thoughts about Israel and the West Bank?”

I could not believe the question. People just do not ask that. And certainly not during an interview to practice complex civil litigation at a major national law firm. I delicately responded with a soft joke, trying to change the subject. However, like a rabid dog, this fellow would not leave it alone: “What are your thoughts about Israel and the West Bank?”

I softly asked him why he wanted to go that route in the interview instead of discussing my litigation skills and experience. He explained that he had worked as a top aide to Secretary of State Baker, and he then proceeded to lambaste Israel, its political leaders, and said something quite inappropriate about Jews. It was surreal. He made his point pretty clearly: If I am strongly supportive of Israel, there will not be room for me at that law firm.

I got the point and quickly grasped that this interview was going nowhere. So I smiled gently, and I replied: “Well, I guess I will not be working here. I love America deeply and passionately, and yes I also have a deep affection for Israel, just as Italian-Americans have a special place in their hearts for Italy, just as Irish-Americans relate warmly to the Old Sod. In terms of my political views on the Middle East, I believe that Israel should annex the West Bank and extend sovereignty over all of it. I do not even call it ‘West Bank’ but ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria.’ In fact, I was part of a group of 35 young families ten years ago, before I went to law school, who pioneered creating a new Jewish community in Samaria, what you and Mr. Baker would call a ‘West Bank Jewish settlement.’ I later came back to America and went to law school. But that Samaria Jewish community is one of the proudest achievements of my life, and I will tell you that Israel never will leave that land. There now are thousands of Jews living there. And you can tell that to James Baker, too.”

He got from me what he wanted. But he had one more question: “And what is your opinion of James Baker as a person?”

I responded: “You mean the guy who said ‘F- – – the Jews’? Well, he is entitled to his opinion. You now have asked me my opinion. I regard James Baker to be a bastard. And I regard people who admiringly worked for him not only to be bastards but also to be lowlifes. Any more questions?” End of interview. I went to work somewhere else — same salary, same benefits. All the major law firms pay the same.

George H.W. Bush should have removed Baker, as other Presidents remove cabinet officers who do not represent Administration values. However, Baker accurately reflected Bush Administration values. By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s Secretaries of State had been Gen. Alexander Haig and George P. Shultz, each fantastic.


The Macrocosmic: Destroying the Reagan Revolution and Institutionalizing the Era of the RINO

On the bigger macrocosmic plane, I identify George H.W. Bush as the man who destroyed the Reagan Revolution. No Democrat could have done that. Only a Republican successor to Reagan. Bush never believed in Reagan’s economic principles and in the economic miracle that Reagan wrought. He mocked Reaganomics as “voodoo economics.” When he took over after Reagan was termed-out, he reversed the great economic miracle of the post-Carter age, and he sent the economy into a downspin that cost him the White House. He promised “No New Taxes” and then imposed new taxes. He brought in the RINOs who transformed the Reagan conservative revolution and left the GOP vision of conservatism stymied for the next quarter century. Symbolic of his vision thing, he named David Souter to the United States Supreme Court. That was not prudent.

Theodore Roosevelt had been a transformative President. TR chose not to seek reelection, and he promoted the candidacy of his protégé, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt came to believe that Taft had become too conservative, so TR formed the Bull Moose Party to oppose Taft. With the 51% Republican vote split between the two, Woodrow Wilson was elected with 41% of the vote. The next transformative President, Franklin Roosevelt, died in office and was succeeded by Harry Truman who carried out FDR’s program. And then came the next transformative President, Ronald Reagan. Reagan did not die in office. He did not choose to bypass reelection; rather, he was termed out. But he was so popular that his coattails carried his Vice President, George H.W. Bush, into the White House. Bush had Reagan to thank for making it in, and he inherited a fabulous prepared table. As history confirms, Reagan had driven the Soviets into terminal decline, with collapse of the USSR around the corner. America was strong and at peace. The Iranian hostages were at home, safe and sound. The economy was humming. A new morning had dawned in America. All Bush had to do was be prudent and stay the Reagan conservative course — and also secure the southern border. Instead, he went full-steam RINO, promised a “kinder, gentler” approach than Reagan’s kind and gentle approach, introduced new taxes that he promised never to launch, tanked the economy, and fatally terminated the Reagan revolution.

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There are 19 comments.

  1. MarciN Member

    As far as James Baker is concerned, 41 inherited him from Ronald Reagan. I don’t anything about Baker.

    This is a more complicated story, concerning President Bush’s views on Gaza and the West Bank settlements, but they were military and political issues, not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic problems. Of all the accusations I have seen concerning 41, the anti-Semitic one just doesn’t ring true for me. The passage below explains some of the larger issues around the accusations toward 41:

    Bush had opposed the loan guarantees as long as Israel continued settlement in the West Bank and Gaza. The president finally agreed to a loan guarantee package in August 1992, requiring as a set-off any funds Israel spent to build housing or infrastructure in the territories. Despite this action, the political damage was done. The loan guarantee controversy later motivated Jewish opposition to President Bush, who received no more than 12% of the Jewish vote in the 1992 election (down from close to 35% in 1988). While some claimed that Jewish opposition to Bush caused his 1992 defeat, there is little evidence that this was the case. Other actions had caused problems with the Jewish community as well. In March 1990, Bush expressed objection to “new settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.” His reference to eastern Jerusalem and his suggestion that it was not a sovereign part of Israel created a furor and added to strained feelings between Israel and the U.S.

    [comment continues]

    • #1
    • December 4, 2018, at 10:24 AM PDT
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  2. MarciN Member

    [continued from comment 1]

    Bush’s relations with the Jewish community, however, were far more nuanced than the issue of loan guarantees. As vice president, he personally spearheaded Operation Joshua, the 1985 rescue of Ethiopian Jewry, and was involved in every step of the U.S. military’s manning and execution of that mission. In 1991, America was a key to the success of Operation Solomon, which brought 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In 1991, the Bush administration succeeded in reversing the infamous U.N. resolution that equated Zionism with racism.

    In addition, the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War led to a heightening of the military relationship between the two countries. Central to Bush’s strategy was keeping Israel from entering the war and thereby placing the U.S. in the role of Israel’s protector from an irate Iraq. Patriot anti-missile batteries were sent to Israel to provide protective cover. In the end, Iraq sent missiles towards Israel, and while they caused terror among the population, and isolated property damage, only one person was killed. Israel’s responsiveness to U.S. strategy needs led to an intensification of the military relationship. Intelligence sharing, joint exercises, access to military, equipment, and personal relationships among military personnel reached new levels. The Bush Administration financed much of the Arrow anti-missile program and created the concept of prepositioning of U.S. arms in Israel.

    It is unfair to cast George H. W. Bush as anti-Semitic. I followed his presidency pretty closely, and I am an ardent supporter of Israel. I never saw any indication of his being less than stalwart in his support for Israel.

    • #2
    • December 4, 2018, at 10:26 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Western Chauvinist Member

    While I agree we shouldn’t conclude GHWB was antisemitic because James Baker was, it’s not accurate to say he “inherited” James Baker. Baker was Bush’s closest friend straight out of Texas, and worked to campaign for him in his earliest political efforts. They were close.

    • #3
    • December 4, 2018, at 10:48 AM PDT
  4. MarciN Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    While I agree we shouldn’t conclude GHWB was antisemitic because James Baker was, it’s not accurate to say he “inherited” James Baker. Baker was Bush’s closest friend straight out of Texas, and worked to campaign for him in his earliest political efforts. They were close.

    I did not know that. He was clearly a terrible person.

    The charges against Baker may be accurate. I have no idea. But I know 41 was not against Jews or Israel.

    • #4
    • December 4, 2018, at 10:54 AM PDT
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  5. MarciN Member

    I wish people would not think this about 41. I realize I am not knowledgeable enough to launch a solid defense.

    But I felt I should say something rather than letting this accusation sit without some response. Personally, I just don’t believe it. It doesn’t fit with anything else I know about him.

    The gay community went after 41 for not doing enough to fight AIDS, and at one point, they confronted him at Kennebunkport. I remember him going out to the gate to talk to them. He said, “My administration has spent more on AIDS research than it has spent on heart disease or cancer.” So how anti-gay people was he? Not much.

    • #5
    • December 4, 2018, at 11:00 AM PDT
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  6. Western Chauvinist Member

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    While I agree we shouldn’t conclude GHWB was antisemitic because James Baker was, it’s not accurate to say he “inherited” James Baker. Baker was Bush’s closest friend straight out of Texas, and worked to campaign for him in his earliest political efforts. They were close.

    I did not know that. He was clearly a rude jerk.

    But I was just thinking that there needs to be a distinction made between the neo-Nazi skin head white supremacist and the guy who has simple run-of-the-mill prejudices.

    The charges against Baker may be accurate. I have no idea. And maybe George turned out to be a good influence on him in his anti-Semitism. :-) We’ll never know.

    But I know 41 was not against Jews or Israel.

    Baker’s young wife died leaving him to raise four children. Bush was there for him. So, as usual, people and relationships are complicated.

    BTW, we watched 60 minutes(?) interview people remembering GHWB, which is where I learned this. If you can find it, it’s very good. It even makes Bill Clinton look good that he speaks so well of his “friend.” I do believe GHWB was a good influence in people’s lives. Not a great president, but maybe he makes up for it in his friendships.

    • #6
    • December 4, 2018, at 11:09 AM PDT
  7. MarciN Member
    • #7
    • December 4, 2018, at 12:16 PM PDT
  8. Al French, sad sack Member

    • #8
    • December 4, 2018, at 8:01 PM PDT
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  9. MarciN Member

    I’ve been reading all afternoon and evening, and I think there’s a lot more to this story than the American Spectator is describing. 

    For one thing, although 41 may have recommended him in the first place for the job, James Baker was Reagan’s chief of staff, and Reagan apparently liked him enough to keep him around for five years:

    In 1981, Baker was named White House Chief of Staff by President Ronald Reagan, in spite of the fact that Baker managed the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford in 1976 and of George Bush in 1980 opposing Reagan.[11] He served in that capacity until 1985. Baker is considered to have had a high degree of influence over the first Reagan administration, particularly in domestic policy.

    In 1982, conservative activists Howard Phillips, founder of the Conservative Caucus, and Clymer Wright of Houston joined in an unsuccessful effort to convince Reagan to dismiss Baker as Chief of Staff. They claimed that Baker, a former Democrat and a Bush political intimate, was undermining conservative initiatives in the administration. Reagan rejected the Phillips-Wright request, but in 1985, he named Baker as United States Secretary of the Treasury, in a job-swap with then Secretary Donald T. Regan, a former Merrill Lynch officer who became Chief of Staff. Reagan rebuked Phillips and Wright for having waged a “campaign of sabotage” against Baker.

    There’s no one who works more closely with the president than his chief of staff. I can’t picture Reagan putting up with someone who was virulently anti-Semitic for five years. 

    I think there has to be more to this whole story than is commonly believed.


    • #9
    • December 4, 2018, at 8:32 PM PDT
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  10. RufusRJones Member

    Thanks for posting that, Yehoshua.


    • #10
    • December 5, 2018, at 6:39 AM PDT
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  11. Hang On Member

    @marcin James Baker ran GHW Bush’s 1980 campaign for President, i.e., the “voodoo economics” campaign.

    • #11
    • December 5, 2018, at 6:42 AM PDT
  12. Hang On Member

    I think a far broader assessment (and one I agree with for both strengths and weaknesses) is from Robert Merry.

    For foreign policy:

    “But any president’s legacy consists of multiple elements, and with Bush three in particular deserve exploration. All were in the realm of foreign policy. They are: his administration’s decision to assure Russia that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward; his invasion of Panama to upend a disruptive foreign leader within the American sphere of influence; and his decision to send some 28,000 troops into Somalia, a war-crushed basket-case country in East Africa. The NATO decision was absolutely correct, and it’s a tragedy of history that it was cast aside by subsequent presidents. The Panama incursion, while perhaps debatable, can be justified on geopolitical grounds. But the move into Somalia set America upon a new azimuth of foreign policy that ultimately proved disastrous for the country and other segments of the world.”

    Somalia was an intervention I have never understood and set a horrible precedent that has led to nothing but disaster for us.

    That other administrations have followed the aggressive policy towards Russia beginning with Clinton in particular is something we are paying for today as Russia and China get closer.

    • #12
    • December 5, 2018, at 6:48 AM PDT
  13. Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Coolidge
    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu Post author

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Thanks for posting that, Yehoshua.


    Thanks for being here, Rufus.

    • #13
    • December 5, 2018, at 7:20 AM PDT
  14. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Another Bush/Baker miscalculation has serious repercussions today:

    The various players involved have different versions of events. Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

    For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

    After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

    Did this cause Putin’s bellicosity?

    No more than James Baker and April Glaspie caused the first Gulf War when Glaspie said this (there are other versions with similar effect) to Saddam:

    We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.

    Or than Dean Acheson caused the Korean War when in a 1950 speech delineating the United States’ “defense perimeter” he left South Korea out.

    I can’t blame the Poles, Hungarians, and Czechs for wanting to ally themselves with the West (or for wanting to stick a thumb in Russia’s eye,) and today they support Western values more than does the EU. But that doesn’t mean I think that NATO’s eastward expansion was wise.

    • #14
    • December 5, 2018, at 10:38 AM PDT
  15. RufusRJones Member

    Foreign policy is so easy to screw up.

    • #15
    • December 5, 2018, at 10:42 AM PDT
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  16. MarciN Member
    • #16
    • December 5, 2018, at 11:03 AM PDT
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  17. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Hang On (View Comment):
    “But any president’s legacy consists of multiple elements, and with Bush three in particular deserve exploration. All were in the realm of foreign policy. They are: his administration’s decision to assure Russia that NATO wouldn’t expand eastward….it’s a tragedy of history that it was cast aside by subsequent presidents.

    That is for sure. On multiple levels. First, not keeping the United States’ pledged word; not a good thing in principle, and I think it was highly predictable that the promise would be broken – which means that making the initial pledge, however correct on the merits, much worse than doing nothing.

    It’s also interesting that supporters of those subsequent presidents, and now Russiagate’s bipartisan backers deny that this assurance to Russia was ever made.

    Second, kicking Russia when it was down, which was extremely short sighted. Assuming that Russia would become a weak, exploitable, Western style democracy, which seems by US actions at the time to be what Yeltsin was supposed to do, was a bad assumption.

    Third, Putin was, I think, correct that Russia and the West had substantial interests in common and that the US and Russia could (if not being natural allies, as he sometimes has apparently said) constructively work together. The “subsequent presidents” made that impossible. I think Putin had hopes that Trump might change that, but in the event that was not to be and Putin’s turn towards China looks to be permanent, and suboptimal for US interests.

    • #17
    • December 5, 2018, at 11:06 AM PDT
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  18. I Walton Member

    I’d never heard that about Baker although I didn’t think much of his role as Secretaries of Treasury and State. Like Bush I thought he lacked that vision thing. I wonder if the Republican establishment wanted Baker there to keep tabs on Reagan, and once gone influenced Bush in establishment, non conservative, directions. Maybe he just reflected the pro Arab anti Israeli bias of big oil of that law firm. Bush was an administrator, a gentleman but didn’t have a lot of ideas of his own. Maybe the mistakes I thought he made were Bakers.

    Mentioning this article to my wife, she reminded me of Baker’s chief of staff advise me, since I was just a Charge, to not speak to him as I accompanied him on a reasonably long drive to an event, and to avoid being photographed with him. I opened the conversation by saying I’m not supposed to talk to you, but later honored the photograph thing. He was there to meet with the Soviet’s and his chief arms negotiator said that Baker knew the subject better than he did. That impressed me. 

     It was said, and I did witness this, that he’d avoid issues until success was assured. I thought at the time it was because being a winner added to ones power which I thought Baker used for the country, maybe it was just about Baker.

    • #18
    • December 5, 2018, at 1:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  19. RufusRJones Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    I wonder if the Republican establishment wanted Baker there to keep tabs on Reagan, and once gone influenced Bush in establishment, non conservative, directions.

    This is similar to what David Stockman says. 

    • #19
    • December 5, 2018, at 1:37 PM PDT
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