George H. W. Bush Refuses More Debates

George H. W. Bush Refuses More Debates

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As the 1988 presidential campaign got underway, a debate over debates emerged, with Gov. Michael Dukakis' camp pushing for three and four and Vice President George H. Bush standing his ground at two. In an address to the American people, Bush tries to bring the matter to a close.

The Madrid Conference, 1991

On March 6, 1991, President George H. W. Bush told Congress, “The time has come to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Bush’s declaration was followed by eight months of intensive shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State James Baker , culminating in the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991. The Conference, co-chaired by Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev , was attended by Israeli, Egyptian, Syrian, and Lebanese delegations, as well as a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. For the first time, all of the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict had gathered to hold direct negotiations—a historically unprecedented event.

The Conference’s long-term impact, however, was more limited than the Bush administration had hoped. Following Madrid, Israeli, Syrian, Jordanian, and Palestinian representatives continued to meet for bilateral talks in Washington, and multilateral talks commenced in Moscow in 1992. Yet by 1993, the Washington talks had become deadlocked and were overtaken by secret Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Jordanian negotiations, which produced the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (the so-called “Oslo Accord”) of September 1993 and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of October 1994.

From the Intifada to Madrid

The United States began trying to convene an international Middle East peace conference during the final year of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. In December 1987, the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had risen up against Israeli military rule. Hoping to stop the violence and address Palestinian grievances, Secretary of State George Shultz called for an international convention that would serve as a prelude to direct negotiations between Israel, Jordan, and local Palestinians on interim autonomy for the occupied territories, followed by talks on a permanent status agreement. Shultz’s plan, however, went nowhere. Israel rejected the Secretary’s proposals because they did not call for an end to the Palestinian uprising, or intifada ,as a precondition to negotiations. In July 1988, Jordan’s King Hussein rendered the Shultz Plan unworkable when he renounced his kingdom’s links to the West Bank.

Throughout 1989–1990, U.S. peacemaking efforts centered on a plan put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir , which called for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to elect representatives who would negotiate interim arrangements for self-governance with Israel, followed by a permanent status agreement. U.S. and Egyptian efforts to build on this proposal ultimately faltered over Israel’s insistence on vetting potential Palestinian candidates for ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In March 1990, controversy over how to proceed with Shamir’s plan led to the fall of Israel’s national unity government, putting diplomacy on hold. The failure of the plan, combined with sharp U.S.-Israeli exchanges over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied territories, strained relations between Bush and Shamir. However, American efforts to bring the PLO into the peace process fared no better. In November 1988, the PLO finally met U.S. demand that it renounce terrorism and accept U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which called for Arab-Israeli peace and mutual recognition accompanied by Israeli withdrawal from “territories” it had occupied in 1967. Nevertheless, diplomatic contacts between the two sides remained at a low level and were cut off in June 1990, when Chairman Yasir Arafat refused to condemn a terrorist attack perpetrated by the Palestine Liberation Front, a PLO faction.

By March 1991, the Persian Gulf War had created a more favorable context for American peacemaking efforts. The Bush administration’s successful military campaign against Iraq left the President enormously popular at home, and highlighted America’s increasingly dominant role in a post-Cold War Middle East. The Soviet Union had not strongly opposed American intervention, and Arab states, including former Soviet client Syria, joined the coalition against Saddam Hussein. At the same time, the administration felt a need to reward its Arab partners for their support by pushing for progress on the Palestinian issue. Since the PLO backed Iraq during the war, it had alienated Egypt, Syria, and most of the Gulf States, and lost influence over Palestinians in the occupied territories. The Bush administration thus had an opportunity to bring Palestinians into the diplomatic process under conditions that the Israelis might accept.

Between March and October 1991, Baker succeeded in getting Arab leaders and Palestinian representatives from the occupied territories to drop their demands that PLO officials and Palestinians from East Jerusalem participate in an international peace conference. Instead, the Arab parties agreed that the Palestinians would only be represented by delegates from the occupied territories, and as part of a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation. Simultaneously, Baker and Bush put pressure on Shamir to drop Israel’s insistence on bilateral negotiations by withholding $10 billion in loan guarantees that he had requested to help settle Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. The President insisted that Shamir would have to promise that the funds would not be used to finance new settlement activity in the occupied territories. Shamir refused to accept Bush’s demand, but it undoubtedly played a role in his decision to come to Madrid.

The Conference and its Aftermath

The Madrid Conference opened October 30, 1991, and ended on November 4. Though the parties largely stuck to their traditional positions and did not negotiate seriously with each other, they nevertheless agreed to remain in dialogue. Bilateral talks between Israeli officials and their Arab counterparts would begin in Washington in December 1991, while multilateral negotiations began in Moscow in January 1992. From the beginning, the bilateral talks were generally regarded as the more significant of the two tracks. While these talks acquired greater momentum following the election of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in June 1992, they failed to yield results before the Clinton administration took office. Ultimately, the Israeli-Jordanian and Israeli-Palestinian tracks established at Madrid would be circumvented by the parties themselves. Frustrated by the Palestinian delegation’s inability to move forward without Arafat’s approval, the Israelis decided to negotiate directly with the PLO, culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993. King Hussein and the Israelis likewise decided to move forward independently of the Madrid framework, holding direct talks which produced a peace treaty by October 1994.

VP debates often more memorable

Vice presidential debates may not mean much in the long run — people vote for presidents, after all — but they tend to produce the most memorable moments.

"Democrat wars" …"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" …"Who am I? Why am I here?" -- all oft-echoed lines delivered during vice presidential debates.

Since their beginning in the 1976 election, vice presidential debates have featured future presidential nominees (Bob Dole, Walter Mondale and Al Gore), but only one future president (George H.W. Bush).

They have also spotlighted the first two women on national political tickets, Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008.

As Vice President Biden and Republican Paul Ryan prepare to try and make their own history on Thursday night, let's take a look at the previous contests.

1976 -- The first veep contest took place Oct. 15 in Houston, as Democratic challenger Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter's running mate, took on President Gerald Ford's political partner, Bob Dole.

The most memorable exchange came when Dole blamed the Democratic Party for global conflicts: "All Democrat wars, all in this century."

Mondale responded by saying, "Senator Dole has richly earned his reputation as a hatchet man."

Carter and Mondale won the election, barely.

1980 -- No vice presidential debate this year aides to President Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan had trouble agreeing to a format, and there was only one debate between the presidential candidates themselves.

Reagan was seen as winning that debate, and definitely won the election.

1984 -- This Oct. 11 contest in Philadelphia featured two historic participants: A future Republican president, incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush, and Democratic challenger Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a national ticket.

Gender issues seemed to flare during the debate when Bush said, "let me help you with the difference, Ms. Ferraro, between Iran and the embassy in Lebanon."

Responded Ferraro: "I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

Perhaps the most memorable moment came after the debate, as Bush was caught on an open mike saying he "tried to kick a little ass."

Other observers awarded the debate to Ferraro, though Bush and President Reagan easily won second terms.

Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle, 1988. (Photo: Ron Edmonds, AP)

1988 -- Did this Oct. 5 vice presidential showdown at Creighton University in Omaha produce the most famous political put-down in history?

When George H.W. Bush's running mate Dan Quayle pointed out he had nearly as much congressional experience as John F. Kennedy, Democratic candidate Lloyd Bentsen pounced.

Said the Michael Dukakis running mate to Quayle: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy: I knew Jack Kennedy Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. … Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Not that it mattered much: Bush and Quayle easily won the election.

1992 -- The only three-person vice presidential debate in history, and one best remembered for the third man: Ross Perot's running mate James Stockdale.

Flanked by GOP Vice President Quayle and Democratic challenger Al Gore, the retired admiral opened with a much-parodied line: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Stockdale, who has also had trouble with his hearing aide that long night in Atlanta, took a pounding after the debate, including a merciless parody by comedian Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live.

Nearly all of it was unfair.

Dan Quayle, James Stockdale and Al Gore at 1992 debate. (Photo: AP)

An author and a scholar, a Vietnam prisoner of war, the late Admiral Stockdale was and is revered by many veterans — he just wasn't a politician, and he was put in an impossible situation.

Perot had tapped Stockdale as a place-holder to accommodate states that required a running mate for ballot qualification. When Perot was unable to attract a better known person to his ticket, Stockdale remained -- and basically got fed to political lions.

Note, however, that Stockdale fired off one of the best lines of the night, one that still resonates today. After of the many arguments between Gore and Quayle, Stockdale said: "I think America is seeing right now the reason this nation is in gridlock."

Gore and his running mate, Bill Clinton, won the election.

1996 –The match between incumbent Al Gore and Bob Dole's running mate Jack Kemp proved to be the least distinguished of the vice presidential debates.

Clinton and Gore glided to re-election.

2000 -- As George W. Bush run against Gore for the presidency, Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman met in an Oct. 5 debate notable in part for its small town setting: Centre College in Danville, Ky., site of Thursday's showdown between Biden and Ryan.

The Cheney-Lieberman clash is more notable in retrospect.

Eight years later, Lieberman would again be considered for the vice presidential slot -- by a Republican, John McCain.

Cheney, meanwhile, went on to become maybe the most powerful vice president in history after George W. Bush's election.

2004 -- This Oct. 5 battle in Cleveland between Cheney and Democratic challenger John Edwards featured a notable Cheney line about the experience of Edwards, a first-term senator.

"The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight,"' Cheney said.

The Cheney-Edwards set-to is also memorable in terms of future events.

Cheney's legacy will long be a source of debate.

Edwards sought the vice presidency four years before the sex scandal that gutted his career and reputation.

Cheney and Bush wound up winning a second term.

Joe Biden and Sarah Palin debate in 2008. (Photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images)

2008 -- Perhaps the most anticipated debate in political history, certainly among vice presidential contests.

The fascination with the suddenly famous Sarah Palin -- going up against veteran Biden -- drew some 70 million television viewers, the largest audience ever for a vice presidential debate.

"Can I call you Joe?" asked the first-term Alaska governor during the opening handshake.

Palin and Biden both did well in their Oct. 5 showdown in St. Louis, and their efforts had little effect on the presidential race.

Democrats Barack Obama and Biden handily defeated John McCain and Palin on Election Day.

Look back at the past with the Des Moines Register's decades-long debate history


January's closely-watched poll results indicate who voters might choose for the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. A new candidate leads the pack. Des Moines Register

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to include local ABC affiliate WOI-TV among the Register's co-sponsors of a Dec. 10, 2011, presidential debate in Des Moines.

The CNN/Des Moines Register presidential debate on Tuesday will be the 13th that the paper has co-sponsored since 1980. Take a look back at the most memorable moments and the candidates who campaigned to lead the United States.

In 2015, the Des Moines Register partnered with CBS News and KCCI for the November debate in Drake University's Sheslow Auditorium. The Republican field was crowded, but just three Democratic candidates were running to succeed former President Barack Obama: former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The debate was moderated by CBS News Political Director John Dickerson, KCCI's Kevin Cooney and the Register's Kathie Obradovich. With just over two months until the caucuses on Feb. 1, Clinton was the clear front-runner in Iowa and national polling.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigns at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, Friday Oct 28, 2016. (Photo: Rodney White/The Register)

During the debate, Clinton was criticized for saying — in response to Sanders' comments about her wealthy donors and their expectations — that she spent time as a senator to help rebuild downtown Manhattan, "where Wall Street is," following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The comment drew hits from Republicans and caused the Clinton campaign to release a statement saying the candidate did not hesitate during her time as a senator "to call out and seek to reform the abuses and excesses that led to the economic crisis."

Clinton was largely left alone regarding an ongoing claim by rivals that she used a private server for classified emails, with Sanders stepping in to say, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails."

After the debate, Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said the emails were the easiest way to create doubt the Clinton campaign with voters.

"The most obvious way to imagine her losing is if her campaign is destroyed by the FBI inquiry," he said, "yet Sanders and O'Malley do not push her on the issue. If they truly want to defeat her, this is an obvious line of attack that they are choosing not to deploy."

Though Iowa Republican leaders urged candidates to skip the presidential debate in 2011 because of a crowded schedule, the event — co-hosted by the Des Moines Register, ABC News, local affiliate WOI-TV, Yahoo, and the Republican Party of Iowa — went on as planned on Dec. 10 at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium.

The candidates included U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

The debate came as Gingrich was surging in the polls and Romney sought to give a boost to his candidacy with time running short before the Jan. 3, 2012, Iowa caucuses.

One of the more memorable moments of the debate came when Romney bet Perry that he was wrong about what Romney had written about a national health care mandate.

“Rick, I’ll tell you what: 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?” Romney said, extending a hand for a handshake.

Perry stepped back, saying, “I’m not in the betting business.”

“Romney may have hurt himself with his jaw-dropping $10,000 bet,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, told the Register after the debate.

“Not too many average Americans can identify with a candidate who can casually risk 10 grand on a whim.”

The Des Moines Register sponsored two 90-minute debates in December 2007, both at Iowa Public Television Studios in Johnston. The debates were moderated by Register Editor Carolyn Washburn.

The Democratic debate included U.S. Sens. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd and Hillary Clinton former U.S. Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

The Republican debate included U.S. Sen. John McCain U.S. Reps. Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee former Ambassador Alan Keyes and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Washburn got into a dispute with Thompson during the GOP debate when she asked for a show of hands for whether the candidates believed global climate change was a serious threat and caused by human activity. Thompson replied, “I’m not doing hand shows,” and asked for time to explain, which Washburn denied. Thompson then remarked, “Well, I’m not going to answer,” which drew some applause.


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In 2004, the Register hosted a debate at IPTV on Jan. 4, 2004, for seven Democratic candidates: U.S. Sens. John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun U.S. Reps. Richard Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

The sharpest clashes came between Dean, who had become popular with anti­-war Democrats, and Lieberman, a supporter of the war in Iraq.

Lieberman, who had chosen not to compete for the caucuses, used the event to attack Dean’s judgment for having said that the United States was no safer with Saddam Hussein in custody. Gephardt attacked Edwards on trade, but the senator fended off the charges. Edwards eventually surged to a second­-place finish in the caucuses.

In 2000, the Register hosted two presidential debates as contests developed in both major political parties. At the Jan. 8 event, Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley clashed sharply over farm policy, with Gore demanding that Bradley explain why he opposed disaster aid while a senator.

Al Gore checks out the menu at Java Joe's in downtown Des Moines during a campaign stop on July 14, 1999. Later, Gore spoke in Cedar Rapids and Dallas County. (Photo: Register file photo)

While Gore attacked Bradley's record on disaster aid, Bradley countered with a focus on the weak farm economy. Using a variation of the line made famous by Ronald Reagan, the New Jersey Democrat asked farmers if they were better off after eight years of the Clinton-­Gore administration.

A week later, on Jan. 15, the six Republican presidential candidates met on Iowa soil for the final time before the Jan. 24 precinct caucuses, sharpening their stances on what was developing as a defining issue: taxes.

U.S. Sen. John McCain was the only candidate not waging a formal campaign in Iowa, but he returned to the state for the debate. Then-Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, who held a strong lead in polls, said McCain’s tax proposal would impose a $40 billion increase on working Americans by taxing benefits they receive from employers, including perks for continuing education or transportation.

McCain disputed the figure, saying his five-­year plan would cut $237 billion in taxes and set aside $729 billion for Social Security.

Nine Republican candidates participated at the Register debate in 1996, and most turned their attention to a seemingly unlikely target — publisher Steve Forbes.

Forbes entered the race late but came in with a big splash, launching hard-hitting ads attacking front­runner U.S. Sen. Bob Dole that some GOP analysts believe delivered a blow from which the Kansan never fully recovered.

Candidates Steve Forbes, Sen. Phil Gramm, Morry Taylor and Sen. Bob Dole find something to be laugh about after a forum on Jan. 13, 1996. (Photo: Register file photo)

Other Republicans participating included former Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander commentator Pat Buchanan U.S. Rep. Robert Dornan U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and Richard Lugar former ambassador Alan Keyes and businessman Morry Taylor. Dole would go on to win the caucuses and his party's nomination, but he was no match for incumbent Clinton in the fall.

The Des Moines Register had planned to organize debates as before, but since George H.W. Bush was running unopposed on the Republican side, no Republican debate was necessary. And when U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa entered the Democratic race, his "favorite son" status made the Iowa caucuses a moot point for the other Democratic candidates. (Harkin went on to win 78% of Democrat caucus delegates in the low­-turnout affair.)

The Republican debate was held on Jan. 8, with the Democratic debate held a week later on Jan. 15.

The candidates in each debate were questioned by an opposition ­party leader. U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, questioned the Republicans, and Gov. James Thompson of Illinois, a Republican, questioned the Democrats.

The Republican debate included President George H.W. Bush U.S. Sen. Bob Dole former Secretary of State Alexander Haig former Delaware Gov. Pete duPont televangelist Pat Robertson and former U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, secretary of housing and urban development.

The Democratic debate included U.S. Sens. Al Gore and Paul Simon the Rev. Jesse Jackson U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

Approximately 2,600 people attended each debate, representing a cross-section of Iowa. The Register invited more than 2,400 community, business and political leaders to the two debates. In addition, seats were assigned to the general public through a random drawing.


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The debates were broadcast live on Iowa Public Television and fed to PBS stations across the country. In addition, journalists from approximately 200 news organizations were in Des Moines to cover the debates.

The Register again served as a debate sponsor for eight major Democratic candidates. Because President Ronald Reagan was unopposed, no Republican debate was held.

The Feb. 11 debate, just nine days before the caucuses, included former Vice President Walter Mondale U.S. Sens. Gary Hart, John Glenn, Alan Cranston and Ernest "Fritz" Hollings former U.S. Sen. George McGovern the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Gov. Reuben Askew.

Register Editor James P. Gannon said the debates are in the Register's tradition as an "activist newspaper" that is responsible to the entire state.

"We don't always watch things happen," he said. "Sometimes we make things happen.”

The idea for The Des Moines Register's presidential debates came from a breakfast discussion between Register Editor James P. Gannon and his wife, Joan. Gannon ran with the idea in 1980 and arranged debates for both parties.

Republican participants included Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker former Texas Gov. John Connally U.S. Sen. Bob Dole former CIA Director George H.W. Bush and U.S. Reps. Phil Crane and John Anderson. Former California Gov. Ronald Reagan turned down the offer to debate.

The Democratic debate caused a stir on two counts. First, Gannon refused to invite then ­California Gov. Jerry Brown, saying Brown had not mounted a serious campaign effort in the state and was not "genuinely competing" for support in the Iowa caucuses. When Brown subsequently opened an Iowa office and scheduled trips to the state, he was invited to participate, along with U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter.

Just weeks before the scheduled event, however, Carter pulled out of the debate, claiming that the recent Iranian hostage takeover demanded that he stay in Washington. The Democratic debate was canceled, but the Republicans met, without Reagan, who called the debate potentially "divisive." In a surprise upset, Reagan lost the Iowa caucuses to Bush.

George Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act

When George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, he did so with a great sense of enthusiasm and ceremony. The President viewed the legislation as a humanitarian gesture that would nonetheless pay substantial political dividends. In this regard, the legislation fit a long historical pattern. As with other forms of social welfare legislation, however, the President and his party failed to collect the political dividends. 1

The Ceremony

On July 18, only five days after the legislation had cleared Congress, the White House Office of Public Liaison mailed thousands of letters to leaders of the disability rights movement inviting them to a special ceremony on the South Lawn. At first, White House staff had contemplated using the East Room for the event. That location had the advantages of protection from the fierce mid-summer heat and of a fitting historical resonance: it was the site on which President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. That 1964 legislation was the closest analogue to the ADA since the ADA did for people with disabilities what the 1964 law had done for other minorities. In the minds of the leaders of the disability rights movement, the advantages of the East Room were outweighed by its small size. They contemplated a ceremony with as many as 3,000 people, and the White House obliged.

The event itself went off without a hitch. No one in the audience, composed largely of people in wheel chairs and people with sensory impairments, succumbed to the heat, even though the temperature was in the 80s and would reach 92 degrees by the afternoon. In keeping with the spirit of the legislation and the time of the year, the White House chose an Independence Day theme for the ceremony. The Marine Band played such Fourth of July standards as “Stars and Stripes Forever” before launching into “Hail to the Chief.”

The tone of the ceremony was both presidential and partisan. Appearing on a raised stage with the Ellipse and the Washington Monument as a backdrop, the President claimed the ADA as one of his administration’s proudest accomplishments. He linked the legislation with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Just as the Berlin Wall represented an obstacle to freedom, so economic and social barriers kept people from disabilities from enjoying lives of “Independence, freedom of choice, control … and the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the right mosaic of the American mainstream.” The Americans with Disabilities Act promised to lower those barriers. “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” said the President as he lifted his pen to sign the legislation.

In the speech and in the pictures of the event, the White House kept the focus on Republicans. Instead of mentioning the many Democratic Congressmen who had worked on the legislation, the President chose to single out Republican Minority Leader Robert Dole for special praise. Not only did Dole work hard on the legislation, he also belonged to the group that would benefit from it.

On the platform with President and Mrs. Bush were three other key Republicans and members of the disability rights community. Justin Dart, the son of one of President Reagan’s closest friends, a former businessman, and a wheelchair user, had served in both the Reagan and Bush administrations and had convened special hearings to gather support for the ADA from coast to coast. Sandra Parrino, the mother of a disabled child, chaired the National Council on Disability, the federal agency most responsible for the legislation. Evan Kemp, the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a lawyer and a wheelchair user, had counseled President Bush on disability issues for the greater part of a decade and urged him to become an advocate of disability rights.

On this particular day, Kemp introduced the President to the crowd by comparing him to another Republican president. “Like Lincoln,” said Kemp, President Bush had the courage to take an unpopular stand in favor of civil rights. The metaphor of breaking the chains of slavery was adopted by Reverend Harold Wilkie in his opening prayer. Born without hands, Reverend Wilkie symbolized the inherent ability and dignity of people with disabilities.

The Contents of the Law

The legislation that President Bush signed contained four significant titles. Title I prohibited discrimination in hiring and on the job against qualified individuals with disabilities. It required businesses of more than fifteen employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” to people with disabilities unless the accommodations posed an “undue hardship” for the business. Title II outlawed discrimination in governmental and public activities, including public transportation. Among other things, it mandated that all new buses purchased for public transportation be made accessible to people with mobility impairments. The third title concerned public accommodations and required that such entities as hotels, restaurants, theaters, and shops be available for use by people with disabilities. Stopping short of requiring that all architectural barriers be removed, the title established the standard that removal be “readily achievable,” “able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” Title IV sought to ensure that interstate and intrastate telecommunication relay systems were available for use by speech and hearing impaired individuals.

Civil Rights as a Republican Issue

The scope of the law meant that President Bush endorsed, supported, and signed the most ambitious piece of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history. Here was an important paradox. The Republicans and George Bush used civil rights as a wedge issue to separate majority whites from minority blacks, yet Republicans and particularly George Bush viewed civil rights for people with disabilities as ideologically compatible with the Republican approach toward government. The differences in the presidential rhetoric were striking. President Bush did not hesitate to link civil rights proposals with the establishment of hiring quotas. Two months before signing the ADA, he called quotas “wrong… they violate the most basic principles of our civil rights tradition and the most basic principles of the promise of democracy.” At the same time, the President regarded the ADA as a means toward allowing people with disabilities “to achieve their highest priority, namely, the independence necessary to achieve control over their own lives and integration into the mainstream of American life.”

In the President’s view, the ADA brought civil rights law back to its original promise as a force of integration, not as a form of special treatment that amounted to segregation. According to this construction of the problem, it made as much sense for President Bush to support the ADA as it did for conservative Republican Everett Dirksen to back the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In both cases, Republicans provided crucial leadership that made the difference between victory and defeat.

Deep in the middle of the fight for the ADA, James Brady contributed an op-ed piece for the New York Times that argued the case for the ADA as a Republican piece of legislation. First, Brady, the former Press Secretary for President Reagan and a highly visible member of the disability rights movement after the attempt on the President’s life had involuntarily brought him into that status, noted that he was a Republican and a fiscal conservative. Second, he declared his pride that the legislation had been developed by a group he described as 󈫿 Republicans appointed to the National Council on Disability by President Reagan.” Third, he pointed to a historical tradition of Republican support for disability rights. He explained that President Eisenhower had urged that people with disabilities “become taxpayers and consumers instead of being dependent upon costly Federal benefits.” He concluded that ADA was an outgrowth of Eisenhower’s philosophy and that it would “save taxpayers billions of dollars by outlawing discrimination, putting disabled people on the job rolls and thereby reducing Government disability payments.”

Although Brady probably did not know it, President Eisenhower made disability legislation a centerpiece of his domestic program in 1954. In place of those who urged that Social Security be extended to pay benefits to people with disabilities, Eisenhower advocated the extension of vocational rehabilitation. The proponents of Social Security wanted to pay people with disabilities not to work Eisenhower proposed instead that they receive special counseling and other services, if necessary by means of federal funds, in order to get jobs.

Eisenhower’s 1954 program demonstrated that the Republican version of the welfare state, even in the 1950s, emphasized the provision of opportunity, rather than the maintenance of income. Twenty-five years later, the ADA appealed to the Republican Brady as a logical extension of the opportunity society. To use the sports cliché, the ADA would help to level the playing field and enable people with disabilities to compete in the labor market. As such people obtained jobs, they would leave the welfare and Social Security rolls and, as Brady noted, save billions of dollars. In this manner, civil rights in the 1980s and 1990s served the same purpose as vocational rehabilitation in the 1950s. The ADA, in sum, was not a cost to society, as the Republicans believed quotas were, but rather a source of opportunity.

The Antecedents to the ADA

More immediate legislative antecedents to the ADA than the vocational rehabilitation program were two recent civil rights laws. The development of the ADA could be described in a historical equation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 plus the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 equaled the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. By setting the basic terms of civil rights legislation in America, the 1964 law provided goals for the disability rights movement to reach. Simply put, people with disabilities wanted to obtain parity with blacks and women, and the 1964 law, more than other single statute, defined what these other minority groups had gained. The 1973 law both brought the same protections as provided in Title VI (affecting the recipients of aid from federal programs) of the 1964 law to people with disabilities.

More importantly, the process of implementing the 1973 law forced government officials to think about how to put the notion of civil rights for people with disabilities into operation. What made sense for women and blacks did not necessarily make sense for people with disabilities. The classic example of a difference concerned the blind bus driver. Even if blind people were otherwise qualified for the job, they would make bad bus drivers. Regulators had therefore to discriminate among groups of the handicapped in ways that had no clear analogue in other civil rights statutes. Similarly, regulators faced the problem of how to balance costs and benefits. Some architectural modifications to gain handicapped accessibility, such as widening the staircases on a 17th century building, would be prohibitively expensive. The solution was to establish an “undue hardship” standard. If the modification constituted an “undue hardship,” then it need not be made. Through the development of these legal terms, the government officials who wrote the regulations for the 1973 law created an operational vocabulary for disability rights: a translation of the 1964 law into concepts that made sense for people with disabilities.

It took until 1977 for Joseph Califano, Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, to sign the regulations putting the civil rights portions of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act into operation. As a result of this delay, civil rights for people with disabilities did not reemerge as a significant legislative issue until the Reagan administration. That administration maintained an initial wariness and distance from taking the next logical steps of extending civil rights for people with disabilities to cover employment and public accommodations. In time, however, the Reagan administration came to rediscover civil rights for people with disabilities as a Republican measure.

George Bush was a prominent member of the Reagan administration, and the issue of disability rights crossed his path several times. As the head of a Task Force for Regulatory Relief, Bush had reason to want to abolish the elaborate regulations attached to the 1973 law. In response to this threat, leaders of the disability rights movement shifted their rhetoric. During the Carter years, they spoke of entitlements. In the Reagan years, they learned to stress their desire for independence. Working through Republicans such as Evan Kemp, disability rights activists succeeded in persuading George Bush and other important figures in the Reagan administration not to dismantle the civil rights regulations. C Boyden Gray, Bush’s counsel on the Task Force for Regulatory Relief and later his chief counsel in the White House, came to the conclusion that the administration and the handicapped wanted the same thing, “to turn as many of the disabled as possible into taxpaying citizens.”

In the meantime, the National Council on the Handicapped, working through Justin Dart and its staff director Lex Frieden, began the process of drafting the next disability rights law. In a 1986 report that Frieden and staff member Robert L. Burgdorff Jr. helped to write, the National Council included a recommendation that “Congress should enact a comprehensive law requiring equal opportunity for people with disabilities.” The council suggested, “Such a statute should be packaged as a single comprehensive bill, perhaps under such a title as ‘The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1986.'” The administration that officially accepted the report was Vice President Bush.

The ADA as Legislation and Campaign Issue

In 1988 Council members persuaded Senator Lowell Weicker, a liberal Republican Senator from National Council member Sandra Parrino’s home state of Connecticut, to introduce the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recognizing that any hope of passage depended upon securing Democratic sponsors, Weicker suggested that the advocates also approach Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat from Iowa with definite presidential aspirations, to serve as a co-sponsor. Both Weicker and Harkin had personal reasons to be sympathetic to the legislation. Weicker was the father of a child with Down syndrome Harkin’s brother was deaf.

By the time the legislation was introduced in April, the presidential campaign was well underway. George Bush emerged as an early supporter of the bill. Achieving the independence of people with disabilities, the Vice President said, required “aggressive public and private support.” Part of that support was “Federal legislation that gives people with disabilities the same protection in private employment that is now enjoyed by women and minorities.” In August 1988, candidate Bush attended the swearing-in of Paul Hearne as Lex Frieden’s successor as the Executive Director of the National Council of the Handicapped. On that occasion, he specifically called for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988.

Although both candidates endorsed the ADA in the 1988 election, George Bush pursued the cause with more devotion than Michael Dukakis. When Michael Dukakis discussed disability policy, as he did in a statement prepared for the 1988 hearings on the ADA, he mentioned the ADA–that was something on which the parties could agree–but he also felt compelled to discuss other policy issues and initiatives. He criticized the Reagan administration for the wholesale manner in which it threw people off the disability rolls in the early 80s. He implied that his administration would protect the benefit rights of people with disabilities. He also highlighted health insurance as an important issue for people with disabilities. In other words, Dukakis punched the Democratic themes of health and income security. For him civil rights protection was just one of the things that people with disabilities needed and it was not necessarily the most important. As Judy Heuman, a partisan Democrat who later worked in the Clinton administration and an important figure in the disability rights movement, later put it, “the ADA by itself will not result in equality for disabled people.” Instead, such things as funding for independent living services and national health insurance were required. Republican George Bush did not carry this extra baggage. For him and for his Republican colleagues, the need for civil rights superseded the need for more intrusive and expensive social welfare initiatives. Hence, he attached greater importance to the passage of the ADA than Michael Dukakis.

After George Bush won the election, his transition team received a memo from the Louis Harris polling company that attributed a large part of his victory to the support he received from people with disabilities. The memo argued that one to three points of Bush’s seven-point margin were the result of a swing from traditionally Democratic people with disabilities toward Bush after they heard of Bush’s support for disability rights. The Louis Harris data suggested that the election came down to four million votes and that “two of those four million votes came from disabled people who changed their minds during the course of the campaign and voted for the Vice President.” Whether or not the evidence was accurate, it indicated that George Bush’s support of the Americans with Disabilities Act made good politics. It was one of the campaign promises that deserved to be fulfilled.

Congressional and Presidential Politics

After the 1988 election, the fate of the ADA was determined by a combination of Congressional and Presidential politics. The initial consideration of the ADA in the summer and fall of 1988 was cut short by the Presidential campaign. Supporters of the measure used the election period to modify the legislation so that it would appeal to Congressional leaders and the Bush administration. By May 9, 1989, a new version of the legislation was ready, and hearings began in the Senate. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, Senator Edward Kennedy enjoyed an impressive measure of influence over the bill. So did Harkin, who was the original sponsor and who chaired a subcommittee of Kennedy’s committee that was concerned with the handicapped.

During the hearings, Senator Harkin pointed out all that had been done to modify the bill. In the original version, for example, a firm needed to make accommodations for people with disabilities unless such actions sent the firm into bankruptcy. The 1989 version only required that the accommodation be readily achievable. In the original draft, all buses had to be retrofitted to accommodate the disabled the 1989 draft restricted that requirement to new buses. Through these sorts of modifications, the Congressional sponsors hoped to allay the fears of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations that the ADA would be too costly to implement.
Although the President strongly supported the general notion of the ADA, he did not immediately endorse the 1989 version. More so than the Senators, the President and his administration needed to balance the needs of people with disabilities against the needs of businessmen. Harkin and Kennedy continued to insist that the legislation was bipartisan, and both went out of their way to praise Bush. Harkin went so far as to say “no President of the United States, Republican or Democrat, has ever said the things about disabled Americans that George Bush has said. No President, including the President who was in a wheel-chair, Franklin Roosevelt.” Despite the flattery, the President hung back. Senator Dole assured his colleagues that the President wanted an ADA bill but noted that the administration was new. “Now let’s face it,” said Dole, “we’ve got a new administration some people aren’t in place yet.” Dole mentioned that the White House staff had not yet had time to focus on the ADA. It took until June 22 for the administration to testify on the bill. Appearing before Senator Kennedy, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh’s indicated the administration’s general approval but also expressed some reservations.

Thus began an intensive period of what Kennedy described as “long tough hard bargaining sessions” between Congressional Democrats, such as Kennedy, and administration officials, such as John Sununu and Thornburgh. In part these sessions served to put a bipartisan stamp on the final product and to ensure that both political parties received credit for the bill. In part these sessions provided private forums to work out important details. For example, the Democrats wanted to allow disabled people to sue for punitive damages, but the administration preferred to restrict the legal remedies to those prescribed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such as restoration of back pay. In the course of the negotiations, the Democrats yielded on this point. In return, the administration gave way on its desire to limit the entities covered by the public accommodations section of the bill to hotels, motels, restaurants, and theaters. Instead, the law would apply to a broad array of institutions, such as grocery stores and banks.

On August 2, 1989, Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater announced that the Senators and the administration had come to an agreement. Fitzwater explained that the President wanted to bring persons with disabilities into the mainstream but he wanted to do so “through a framework that allows for maximum flexibility to implement effective solutions, builds on existing law to avoid unnecessary confusion and litigation and attains these goals without imposing undue burdens.” Despite these reassurances, business leaders still complained about the measure, arguing that it would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Much of the business protest, muted somewhat by the White House approval of the bill, centered on the fear that the ADA would lead to endless costly litigation. “Leaving reasonableness (as in the concept of reasonable accommodation) to the discretion of the courts is scary,” said the head of the Greyhound Bus Company.

Business groups adopted a “yes, but” approach to the legislation, trying to gain concessions yet not opposing the law. The business groups recognized that, with such strong support from the administration and the Democratic leadership, few Congressmen could afford to vote against the bill. Nancy Fulco of the United States Chamber of Commerce bluntly stated that, “No politician can vote against this bill and survive.” Kennedy’s committee, reporting the bill out at the end of August, did its best to continue the process of reassurance that the administration had begun.

The report stressed the cautious way in which the law would be implemented, the savings in government expenditures, and the low costs of complying with the bill. It would take two years for the employment features to go into effect, and even then the law would affect only employers with more than 25 workers. Four years would elapse before the law reached employers with fewer than 25 employees, and those businesses with less than fifteen workers would not be affected by the employment provisions in the law at all. Companies like Greyhound would have five years in which to make their buses accessible. Eliminating welfare costs for previously unemployed disabled people would save billions of dollars. Most accommodations, such as providing an indicator light for a deaf medical technician, cost little. So, although the head of Woolworths complained of “ruinous” costs, the report provided the prelude to the Senate’s passage of the ADA on September 7, 1989 by a comfortable margin of 76 to 8.

Complaints from liberals and conservatives indicated the success of the sponsors’ search for the political center. Mary Johnson, the outspoken editor of the grass-roots publication called the Disability Rag, dismissed the measure as little more than a “public-spirited gesture… a low-risk commitment to a relatively unorganized group … a relatively painless way for the Republican Party to woo a new constituency.” Susan Mandel, writing in the conservative National Review said that “ignorance” on the part of Congressmen and “fear” of political reprisal “may be enough to gain the passage of the most disruptive piece of civil rights legislation in our history.”

Complications in the House

Complications in the House delayed the final passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Two factors in particular led to the delay. One was the resignation of Tony Coelho, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, in the early summer of 1989. The other was the need to send the legislation to no fewer than four House committees. Although the counterpart to Kennedy’s committee on Labor and Human Resources acted with dispatch, the other committees took until well into the spring of 1990 before reporting out the legislation.

With the passage of time, the possibility for political conflict increased. By the spring of 1990, a new controversy arose over the legal remedies available under the Act. Some Congressional Democrats wanted to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to allow for punitive damages, and the Senate bill said that the penalties in the ADA would be the same as those in the 1964 Act. Hence, the Senate bill allowed for the payment of punitive damages under the ADA if the amendments to the Civil Rights Act should pass. The Bush administration wanted to guard against this possibility by limiting the legal remedies to those in the 1964 Act, not the 1964 Act as amended. In this manner, Attorney General Thornburgh and other administration officials hoped to restrict penalties to court injunctions directing a business to stop discriminating and to reinstatement and back pay for those fired or not promoted as a result of discrimination. If the matter were not resolved in a satisfactory manner, senior administration threatened that President Bush might withdraw his support. As the controversy unfolded, protesters in wheelchairs staged a demonstration in the Capitol Rotunda, urging the passage of the ADA.

On May 22, 1990, the administration lost the battle over the penalties to be included in the ADA. By a close vote of 227 to 196, the House defeated an amendment offered by James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) that would have limited the penalties to those in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The House then passed the legislation by a wide margin. The only peculiarity in the process was the inclusion of an amendment concerning people infected with AIDs or other communicable diseases. The amendment allowed restaurants and similar establishments to transfer people with an infectious and communicable disease such as AIDS from jobs in which they handled food. In the House version, the person needed to pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others before he or she could be transferred.
The food handling amendment required the formation of a conference committee. In the end, Senator Hatch succeeded in brokering a compromise in which the Senate version prevailed but in which the Secretary of HHS was directed to publish a list of diseases that could be transmitted through food handling.

The Mixed Political Legacy of the ADA

In the meantime, the administration made it clear that President Bush would not veto the legislation. By this time the administration had too much invested in the law even to contemplate such a veto. On the contrary, it moved swiftly to celebrate the ADA’s passage after the Senate’s final acceptance of the conference report on July 13, 1990. The President announced that he was delighted with the acceptance of the conference report and looked forward “with great pleasure” to signing the bill. The result was the celebration of Independence Day I, as the disability rights advocates called it, on the South Lawn of the White House. “I am proud of America,” exalted Justin Dart. The President, despite his exuberant rhetoric about taking a sledgehammer to the wall of exclusion, exercised more caution. Noting that the law provided flexibility and contained many features designed to contain costs, he directly confronted the fears of the business community that the law would be expensive and result in a quagmire of litigation.

In time President Bush lost some of his caution with regard to the ADA. On the brink of another Congressional election in November 1990, he referred to the ADA as historic legislation. Just before the President left Washington in 1993, he attended a lunch at which Robert Dole predicted that people would look back on the passage of the ADA as “one of George Bush’s greatest achievements.”

Whether or not it was a great achievement, and the early evidence is mixed, it was not a great enough achievement to keep George Bush in office. One of the reasons he lost the election of 1992 was the arrival of the Bush recession, which not only turned many voters against him but also limited the gains that could be achieved through the ADA. A weak economy provided an uncertain platform from which to launch the legislation. To cite one example, the Social Security and welfare disability rolls did not decline in response to the implementation of the ADA. Instead, the weak economy caused more people with disabilities to drop out of the labor force and swelled the rolls. Government-related disability costs went up, not down in the years following passage of the ADA. In the sluggish economy, businesses hesitated to make the sort of accommodations that would have enabled large numbers of people with disabilities to get jobs.

A further irony was that George Bush fell victim to a familiar Republican problem with regard to social welfare legislation. Because the ADA was the product of a Democratic Congress, it became difficult for President Bush to take credit for it, despite the tremendous effort that he and his administration put into it. As in nearly all social welfare legislation, the Democrats could easily outbid the Republicans on its terms. In this case, the Democrats and many members of the disability rights community had wanted punitive damages to be explicitly included in the bill it was the White House that said no to that. Furthermore, Senators Harkin and Kennedy and Representative Steny Hoyer achieved a great deal of visibility in the passage of the legislation. Even on the day of President Bush’s triumph on the White House South Lawn, the celebrants soon migrated across the street and heard speeches from Senator Harkin and other Democrats in the park on the Ellipse.

When the election arrived, the Bush administration created the Americans with Disabilities for Bush-Quayle 󈨠. Justin Dart, Evan Kemp, and Mrs. Ginny Thornburgh headed the group. Justin Dart explained his enthusiasm for the President by noting that, “More than other President in history, George Bush has been a leader in elevating perceptions of people with disabilities from pitiful candidates for paternalistic charity to fully adult Americans with potential be fully productive… Unlike his opponent, he refuses to treat us as children.” Evan Kemp, for his part, said that the country would not have had the ADA “without the personal push by President Bush,” and he was undoubtedly right.

The Democrats nonetheless countered with a letter from Tom Harkin and Steny Hoyer to disability rights leaders. The real impetus for the ADA, they claimed, came not from President Bush but from “the testimony of thousands of Americans with disabilities and their advocates.” The Senator and the Congressman pointed that an overwhelming percentage of the original co-sponsors of the legislation in both Houses were Democrats. “Let’s face it. Republicans in Congress and the White House have opposed or whittled down civil rights legislation for more than three decades. The ADA is no exception.”


Not historians but rather partisan politicians in the middle of contested campaign, Harkin and Hoyer perhaps did not understand that the ADA was indeed an exception. The acceptance of the ADA by President George Bush and his administration was far from grudging. On the contrary, it fit a long pattern of Republican support for disability policy that emphasized independence in the labor force over dependence on the welfare rolls. George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990 with real enthusiasm. The moment represented the celebration of a legislative victory and the culmination of a long campaign. But the celebration could not be sustained through the next Presidential election. By then the country kept to a twentieth century tradition and elected a Democratic president in a time of recession. By then, too, the triumphs to which the President referred in his July 26 speech seemed less certain.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Berkowitz, E. (2017). George Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from

2 Replies to &ldquoGeorge Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act&rdquo

[…] universal access that arose in the 1970’s. However, an unlikely friendship developed between then Vice President George Bush and Justin Dart, that would change the landscape for the disability community. This bond steered the path for the […]

George Bush Sr. on Health Care

1964: Medicare is socialized medicine

George seemed to have regressed. His 1964 campaign was opposed to everything his father represented: civil rights, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, open housing, Medicare. George called Medicare "socialized medicine" and Martin Luther King Jr. "a militant." Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.216 & 218 , Sep 14, 2004

Lost a daughter at age 3 to leukemia

We are taking action on AIDS, despite complaints

BUSH: We have increased funding for AIDS. We've doubled it. My request for this year was $4.9 billion for AIDS, 10 times as much for AIDS victim as per cancer victim. I think that we're showing the proper compassion and concern. I was a little disappointed in Magic, because he came to me and I said, "Now, if you see something we're not doing, get ahold of me, call me, let me know." He went to one meeting, and then we heard that he was stepping down.

PEROT: If you're going to die, you don't have to go through this 10-year cycle that FDA goes through. People with AIDS are more than willing to take that risk.

CLINTON: We need to put one person in charge of the battle against AIDS to cut across all the agencies. We need to accelerate the drug approval process. The President should lead a national effort to change behavior. Source: The First Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 11, 1992

Frivolous lawsuits run up medical costs by $25 billion

BUSH: Clinton failed to take on the malpractice suit people, these frivolous trial lawyers' lawsuits that are running costs of medical care up by $25 billion to $50 billion. He refuses to put any controls on these crazy lawsuits. If you want to help somebody, don't run the costs up by making doctors have to have 5 or 6 tests where one would do for fear of being sued, or have somebody along the highway not stop to pick up a guy and help him because he's afraid a trial lawyer will come along and sue him. We're suing each other too much and caring for each other too little.

PEROT: We've got plans lying all over the place in Washington. Nobody ever implements them. Source: The First Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 11, 1992

Choice and coverage: health insurance tax credit

Increase taxes on cigarettes

Let people buy into Medicaid no mandated insurance

BUSH: One thing I will not do is sock every business in the country and, thus, throw some people out of work. I this economic recovery going. What I will do is permit people to buy into Medicaid. I believe that's the answer. I am proud to have been part of an administration that past the first catastrophic health bill.

There isn't any such thing as free out there. It either gets passed along as increased prices or it gets passed along by people being put out of work. So, I think we ought to do it in the Medicaid system. I think we ought to do it by full enforcement of the catastrophic h insurance. I think we ought to do it by everybody doing what they can do out of conscience. It's a terrible problem in terms of flexibility on private insurance. But I just don't want to mandate it and risk setting the recovery back. Source: Presidential Debate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (APP) , Sep 25, 1988

Fight AIDS by encouraging families test AIDS at marriage

Education is important, but I'm troubled by teaching every little kid how to use a condom. Monogamous sex and sex with love is very important. I think that the values should be at the family level, the local school level, the local community level, the church and religious-centered level. I did come out for mandatory testing at the time a marriage license is issued. The papers played it up as being very cautious on this question. Certainly, intravenous dirty needle or infections should be strongly and roundly condemned. Source: Letter from George Bush in All The Best, p.359-360 , Apr 8, 1987

1980: Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter

Ronald Reagan, a former actor, was a natural during presidential debates and had a knack for winning over the crowd with one-liners. He showed off this skill in a 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter.

After Carter delivered a lengthy and intricate monologue on healthcare, Reagan looked at him with a smile and said, "There you go again."

Reporting on the debate at the time portrayed Carter as lacking a sense of humor and far too serious while Reagan was viewed as "calm and reasonable."

Reagan showed that delivering a quick zinger in a debate could quickly shift the conversation away from policy and devastate an opponent.

The former California governor went on to defeat Carter, making him a one-term president.

Bush's Speech on Immigration

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH. Good evening. I’ve asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a matter of national importance: the reform of America’s immigration system.

The issue of immigration stirs intense emotions and in recent weeks, Americans have seen those emotions on display. On the streets of major cities, crowds have rallied in support of those in our country illegally. At our southern border, others have organized to stop illegal immigrants from coming in. Across the country, Americans are trying to reconcile these contrasting images. And in Washington, the debate over immigration reform has reached a time of decision. Tonight, I will make it clear where I stand, and where I want to lead our country on this vital issue.

We must begin by recognizing the problems with our immigration system. For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border and millions have stayed.

Once here, illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Many use forged documents to get jobs, and that makes it difficult for employers to verify that the workers they hire are legal. Illegal immigration puts pressure on public schools and hospitals, . it strains state and local budgets . and brings crime to our communities. These are real problems, yet we must remember that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.

We are a nation of laws, and we must enforce our laws. We’re also a nation of immigrants, and we must uphold that tradition, which has strengthened our country in so many ways. These are not contradictory goals. America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time. We will fix the problems created by illegal immigration, and we will deliver a system that is secure, orderly, and fair. So I support comprehensive immigration reform that will accomplish five clear objectives.

First, the United States must secure its borders. This is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation. It is also an urgent requirement of our national security. Our objective is straightforward: The border should be open to trade and lawful immigration, and shut to illegal immigrants, as well as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.

I was the governor of a state that has a twelve-hundred1,200- mile border with Mexico. So I know how difficult it is to enforce the border, and how important it is. Since I became president, we’ve have increased funding for border security by 66 percent, and expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents. The men and women of our Border Patrol are doing a fine job in difficult circumstances and over the past five years, they have apprehended and sent home about six million people entering America illegally.

Despite this progress, we do not yet have full control of the border, and I am determined to change that. Tonight I’m calling on Congress to provide funding for dramatic improvements in manpower and technology at the border. By the end of 2008, we will increase the number of Border Patrol officers by an additional 6,000. When these new agents are deployed, we will have more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol during my Presidency.

At the same time, we are launching the most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history. We will construct high-tech fences in urban corridors, and build new patrol roads and barriers in rural areas. We will employ motion sensors, … infrared cameras… and unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent illegal crossings. America has the best technology in the world and we will ensure that the Border Patrol has the technology they need to do their job and secure our border.

Training thousands of new Border Patrol agents and bringing the most advanced technology to the border will take time. Yet the need to secure our border is urgent. So I’m am announcing several immediate steps to strengthen border enforcement during this period of transition:

One way to help during this transition is to use the National Guard. So in coordination with governors, up to 6,000 Guard members will be deployed to our southern border. The Border Patrol will remain in the lead. The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, … analyzing intelligence, … installing fences and vehicle barriers, … building patrol roads … and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities. That duty will be done by the Border Patrol. This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, to respond to natural disasters, and help secure our border.

The United States is not going to militarize the southern border. Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend. We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, . to confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, . and to reduce illegal immigration.

Another way to help during this period of transition is through state and local law enforcement in our border communities. So we will increase federal funding for state and local authorities assisting the Border Patrol on targeted enforcement missions. And we will give state and local authorities the specialized training they need to help federal officers apprehend and detain illegal immigrants. State and local law enforcement officials are an important part of our border security resource and they need to be are part of our strategy to secure our borders communities.

The steps I have outlined will improve our ability to catch people entering our country illegally. At the same time, we must ensure that every illegal immigrant we catch crossing our southern border is returned home. More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other countries, it is not as easy to send them back home. For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called “catch and release,” is unacceptable and we will end it.

We’re taking several important steps to meet this goal. We’ve have expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We’ve have expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we’ve have ended “catch and release” for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end “catch and release” at the southern border once and for all. When people know that they’ll will be caught and sent home if they enter our country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in.

Second, to secure our border, we must create a temporary worker program. The reality is that there are many people on the other side of our border who will do anything to come to America to work and build a better life. They walk across miles of desert in the summer heat, or hide in the back of 18-wheelers to reach our country. This creates enormous pressure on our border that walls and patrols alone will not stop. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across.

Therefore, I support a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks. And temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their stay. A temporary worker program would meet the needs of our economy, and it would give honest immigrants a way to provide for their families while respecting the law. A temporary worker program would reduce the appeal of human smugglers and make it less likely that people would risk their lives to cross the border. It would ease the financial burden on state and local governments, by replacing illegal workers with lawful taxpayers. And above all, a temporary worker program would add to our security by making certain we know who is in our country and why they are here.

Third, we need to hold employers to account for the workers they hire. It is against the law to hire someone who is in this country illegally. Yet businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees, because of the widespread problem of document fraud. Therefore, comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. A key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-proof. A tamper-proof card would help us enforce the law and leave employers with no excuse for violating it. And by making it harder for illegal immigrants to find work in our country, we would discourage people from crossing the border illegally in the first place. Fourth, we must face the reality that millions of illegal immigrants are already here already. They should not be given an automatic path to citizenship. This is amnesty, and I oppose it. Amnesty would be unfair to those who are here lawfully and it would invite further waves of illegal immigration.

Some in this country argue that the solution is to — is to deport every illegal immigrant and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty. I disagree. It is neither wise nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border. There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant, and a program of mass deportation. That middle ground recognizes that there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, … to pay their taxes, … to learn English … and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I’ve have just described is not amnesty it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society, and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen.

Fifth, we must honor the great American tradition of the melting pot, which has made us one nation out of many peoples. The success of our country depends upon helping newcomers assimilate into our society, and embrace our common identity as Americans. Americans are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly, and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America. English allows newcomers to go from picking crops to opening a grocery, … from cleaning offices to running offices, … from a life of low-paying jobs to a diploma, a career, and a home of their own. When immigrants assimilate and advance in our society, they realize their dreams, . they renew our spirit . and they add to the unity of America.

Tonight, I want to speak directly to members of the House and the Senate: An immigration reform bill needs to be comprehensive, because all elements of this problem must be addressed together or none of them will be solved at all. The House has passed an immigration bill. The Senate should act by the end of this month so we can work out the differences between the two bills, and Congress can pass a comprehensive bill for me to sign into law.

America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone. Feelings run deep on this issue and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone’s fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say. I know many of you listening tonight have a parent or a grandparent who came here from another country with dreams of a better life. You know what freedom meant to them, and you know that America is a more hopeful country because of their hard work and sacrifice. As president, I’ve have had the opportunity to meet people of many backgrounds, and hear what America means to them. On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery — Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him … and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.

We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they’ve have always been: people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom. And America remains what she has always been: the great hope on the horizon, … an open door to the future, … a blessed and promised land. We honor the heritage of all who come here, no matter where they are from, because we trust in our country’s genius for making us all Americans, one nation under God. Thank you, and good night.

Election Weighs on Americans' Minds

With less than a month until Election Day, candidates are crisscrossing the country, debates are stoking the public’s political fire, and water coolers are bubbling with discussion about whom to vote for. Recent Gallup polling reveals that even in terms of the heightened attention common around elections, the current level of political interest is truly exceptional.

Continuing Change in U.S. Views on Sex and Marriage

Americans' views on the moral acceptability of sexual behavior and marriage have shifted significantly over the past 20 years.

The spirited history of presidential debates

American debates have changed much since the days when an Illinois lawyer held the nation spellbound with his moral arguments against slavery.

That was 1858, and the arguments of Abraham Lincoln, who was debating Stephen Douglas, didn’t lead to Lincoln’s winning the Senate seat he sought. Nevertheless, transcripts were distributed throughout the country and became a springboard that vaulted Lincoln into the White House two years later.

It was not until more than a century later, beginning in 1976, that national debates would be held for every presidential election. This year’s schedule includes three debates between the major parties’ presidential candidates and one between their vice presidential running mates.

There will be changes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The debates may be more important than in earlier races because the candidates have had fewer opportunities for typical campaign events because of public health restrictions.

Painting of one of Abraham Lincoln’s debates with Stephen Douglas, September 18, 1858 (Fotosearch/Getty Images)

The differences from the Lincoln-Douglas debates will be many: Instead of each candidate speaking for an hour or more at a time over three hours, today’s candidates will take turns during a 90-minute televised question-and-answer session run by journalists. Instead of transcripts going out by telegraph, tens of millions will watch the events live, and social media and the press will amplify both the candidates’ words and viewers’ reactions to them, during and after the debates.

The U.S. debates usually include the Republican and Democratic candidates but not candidates representing other parties. However, third-party candidates/independents will be on ballots.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters ran the debates for years, but in 1988 party leaders took control. Since then, only candidates with substantial support in public polls have been allowed to debate. That generally has left only two candidates on stage each fall, though independent Ross Perot was included in 1992.