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George W. Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut. His parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, accumulated a great deal of wealth when they moved to Midland, Texas, and began working in the oil industry. George H.W. Bush spent much of his life in business and politics, serving as Vice President and President of the United States. In school, the younger George played multiple sports and was known for being a good all-around athlete. Academically, however, George was average or even below average, causing his parents to worry that he would not be offered admission into an elite university. Because of his family ties, however, Bush was able to matriculate into Yale University. At Yale, Bush spent most of his time socializing rather than studying but was still able to become a part of the Skull and Bones Society, a club whose membership contains some of America’s most powerful people. Two weeks before graduation, he enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard, earning his fighter pilot certification during the height of the Vietnam War. Bush served for a few years and was honorably discharged in 1974. After he left the military, he enrolled in Harvard Business School and began working for a Texas oil firm, where he became wealthy.
The Governor of Texas
In 1988, Bush moved his family to Washington DC to help his father on the campaign trail while he was running for president. After his father won the White House, he returned to Texas and led a group of investors who bought the Texas Rangers baseball team. After his father lost his bid for reelection in 1992 to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush decided to run for governor of Texas. Bush was able to win this election in 1994 largely in part to his family name and his popularity from owning the Texas Rangers. As governor, Bush earned a high approval rating, largely because he was able to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats. As his political prospects improved, Bush decided to make a run for the White House in 1999.
One of the Most Controversial Elections
The 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore would be one of the most highly contested elections in American history. As Election Day unfolded, there was no clear winner. By early the next morning, Bush had 246 electoral votes and Gore had 255, with 270 needed to win. Florida's twenty-five electoral votes were held in the balance as several counties in the state reported problems with balloting. Whichever candidate won Florida would win the election and become president. After more than a month of recounts and legal proceedings, the US Supreme Court decided the election result, giving George Bush the victory. Though Gore lost the election in the electoral college (271 to 266), he received a higher number of popular votes, which only added to the controversy.
The September 11 Terrorist Attacks
During Bush's first term, he faced a terrorist attack on American soil, known as 9/11. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four US airplanes that struck the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon outside of Washington, DC, and a field in western Pennsylvania, which may have been headed to the White House or US Capitol Building. Bush promised the American people that he would respond appropriately and his first post-9/11 action was creating the Patriot Act, which allowed the US government to monitor the activity of any suspected terrorists. Bush also created the Department of Homeland Security that was meant to gather intelligence about terrorists and any possible terrorist attacks. In September 2002, the Bush administration announced that the United States would use military force if necessary to prevent threats to its national security by terrorists or "rogue states," especially those that possessed weapons of mass destruction. Based on what would prove to be questionable intelligence reports, the Bush administration successfully obtained a UN Security Council resolution to return weapons inspectors to Iraq. Soon, Bush announced Iraq's noncompliance with the sanctioned inspections, and on March 20, 2003, the United States launched a successful invasion of Iraq, quickly defeating the Iraqi military. Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, fell on April 9, 2003, and Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003. This conflict came to be known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Bush was able to win reelection in 2004, defeating Democrat John Kerry. Bush saw great pushback by conservatives when he tried to implement social security reform. In August of 2004, the city of New Orleans was largely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The images of thousands of people on rooftops awaiting rescue, and the government's perceived inadequate response, contributed to Bush's declining approval rating. In addition, Bush increased military spending and implemented tax cuts that drained the budget surplus left by Bill Clinton. By 2008, the United States was faced with high unemployment and a credit crisis. By the end of his second term, it was clear George W. Bush would not be remembered as one of America's great presidents. Historians rank him 34th among the 43 ranked presidents.