George W. Bush

43rd president of the United States

EARLY LIFE

George W. Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, to a family that valued public service. His grandfather was a U.S. senator in Connecticut. His father, George H.W. Bush, was a U.S. representative for Texas and served several presidents before becoming vice president under Ronald Reagan in 1981 and then president in 1989.

Dubya, as the younger Bush was called, didn’t want to go into politics, though. As a child growing up in Midland, Texas, he played baseball and dreamed of becoming a star athlete. Still, he attended the same private school as the elder Bush before going to his father’s college, Yale University.

After graduating with a degree in history, Bush joined the National Guard in 1968, when the United States was fighting in the Vietnam War, a war between what was then the two separate countries of North and South Vietnam. He didn’t serve overseas, however, and remained in the United States during the war. After leaving the National Guard, Bush earned a business degree from Harvard Business School.

JOINING THE FAMILY BUSINESS

In 1975, Bush returned to Texas to work in the oil industry. He married Laura Welch in 1977, just three months after they met. Then, like his grandfather and father, he decided to run for political office. In 1978, he lost an election to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

After his election loss, Bush became owner and manager of the Texas Rangers baseball team for several years before deciding to try politics again. In 1994, he was elected governor of Texas. Four years later, he was reelected.

THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

In 2000, Bush decided to run for president of the United States, an office his father held from 1989 to 1993. He ran against the sitting vice president, Al Gore. Their contest ended with a hotly disputed debate over how to count votes in Florida, a state governed by Bush’s younger brother Jeb.

After the first tally, Bush led by a small margin in the Sunshine State. But then some people stepped forward and said they’d voted for the wrong person by accident because the ballots were hard to read. The presidency would now be decided by recounting some of the ballots in Florida.

For 36 days, the world waited to see who would become the next president. Finally the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, decided by a 5-4 vote that Bush was not receiving equal protection and due process (or fair treatment) under the Constitution, and they stopped the recounts. Bush had won Florida.

In many countries, the candidate with the most votes wins. But citizens of the United States participate in a more complex, two-step process. After individual citizens across the country vote, a group called the electoral college chooses the president. Based on population, each state has a certain number of delegates, or voters, in the electoral college who vote for the president according to how people in their state voted. The candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all the state’s delegates.

Winning Florida gave Bush enough electoral college votes to win the presidency, even though Gore received some 500,000 more votes than Bush, winning the popular vote. Bush became the first president in more than a century to reach the White House without carrying the nation’s popular vote. Only John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison before him did the same. (Unlike these previous presidents, Bush was reelected four years later.)

Not since John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams (the second and sixth presidents) had a father and his son each become president of the United States.

A WARTIME PRESIDENT

The Bush presidency had many advisers who served during his father’s administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who was secretary of defense for the elder Bush. The younger Bush’s administration planned to focus on domestic concerns like tax relief, but they were forced to focus on international affairs after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

On this date, hijackers—individuals who capture an aircraft, ship, or vehicle by force—flew planes into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center; the Pentagon, which serves as headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense just outside Washington, D.C.; and a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.

A terrorist group based in Afghanistan (a country in the Middle East) called al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Bush’s popularity soared as the United States invaded that nation to capture those responsible for the attacks. But the United States had entered what would become a 20-year war on terror.

Bush also sent troops to Iraq in 2003 because of rumors that the country was hiding dangerous weapons. People supported the invasion at first, but public opinion split after no weapons were found. The administration’s wartime use of torture also led to a loss of support for the invasion.

Following the attacks on September 11, Bush created the Department of Homeland Security. The organization is responsible for border security, immigrations and customs, and disaster relief and prevention. But they also keep a close watch over suspected terrorist groups and send warnings if they think the country and its people are in danger. That way, the government can protect them.

A SECOND TERM

Despite losing some support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush was reelected as president in 2004 after running against Senator John Kerry, a Democrat. Many people voted for Bush because they believed citizens were safer with him in charge—after all, the country had not been attacked since 9/11.

During his second term, Bush appointed two justices to the Supreme Court after the death of the Court’s chief justice, William Rehnquist, and the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor. The new members—John Roberts and Samuel Alito—preserved the conservative majority of the Court.

During his second term, Bush refocused on domestic issues like education. His No Child Left Behind program created standards every school had to follow to make sure all kids received a good education.

THE GREAT RECESSION

But many citizens grew unhappy with the wars abroad and also didn’t like his administration’s slow response to help people after Hurricane Katrina hit gulf states like Louisiana in 2005. So during the 2006 midterm elections—held during the “middle” of a president’s term—many Democrats won their races. Now that political party had control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 14 years.

But determined to win the war on terror, Bush sent more U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007, a move that many people thought was wrong. And though it did make the region safer for a while, the fighting continued for years after Bush left office.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were expensive. Bush had also supported many tax cuts, which many conservatives liked but meant that the federal budget didn’t have as much money to pay for things, like the war on terror. Soon prices on goods increased, workers weren’t being paid enough to keep up with those prices, and new banking rules made it hard for some people to keep their homes.

The result was a worldwide economic crisis—the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s—near the end of Bush’s presidency. Lasting from late 2007 through most of 2009, this period is known as the Great Recession.

LASTING LEGACY

After leaving the White House in 2009, Bush retired to Texas. Today he and his wife, former First Lady Laura Bush, do outreach through the Bush Institute, part of a center in Dallas that includes his presidential library. The organization works to improve public education, promote democracy, expand global health, and decrease poverty. Bush also started painting as a hobby—his art has even been displayed in museums.

As a recent president, Bush’s legacy is still being determined. It’s likely he’ll be most remembered for preventing another major terrorist attack from occurring in the United States after 9/11, his education policies, getting the country involved in costly wars abroad, and his mishandling of the Great Recession.

From the Nat Geo Kids books Our Country's Presidents by Ann Bausum and Weird But True Know-It-All: U.S. Presidents by Brianna Dumont; revised for digital by Avery Hurt

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