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George W. Bush: A Profile

MONDAY 3rd June 2002
To accompany Christopher Hitchens' profile of George W Bush we survey the president's raucous early life and "compassionate conservative" political career. A political coming of age

When George Walker Bush entered the White House it seemed satire was truly dead. After the most controversial election in American history, professional iconoclast Michael Moore called Bush "a squatter in the Oval Office" and kinder critics called him "the accidental president".

But in the same way as the Gulf War defined his father's tenure, so Dubya faced his political coming of age on 11 September.

Americans were freshly enamoured by their indignant leader. The election clouds cleared and Bush enjoyed his nation's approval.

Texan dynasty

The US has always heralded a dynasty, and Bush's is more illustrious than most. His grandfather was a senator, he's the son of another president and his brother is governor of Florida.

His genes may have promised great things, but Bush's initial efforts did not. Born in Connecticut in 1946 but raised in Texas, he followed his father to military school and then Yale but concentrated more on fraternity duties than his studies. As the president puts it, "When I was 17, I behaved like a 17 year old".

Bush later joined the National Guard but failed to get posted to Vietnam. Armed instead with a Harvard business degree, Junior followed his father into the oil industry. After various job failures he could be found in local bars, complaining, "I'm all name but no money".

"Me or Jack Daniels"

1986 was a watershed year for George W. It is rumoured that his wife gave him what locals call The Texas Choice - "Me or Jack Daniels". Whatever the reason, the morning after his 40th birthday, Bush went on the wagon.

Embracing Christianity, his new-found religion and reinvention as a family man would form a crucial element in his political success.

The next few years were a whirlwind. Having helped his father's presidential campaign and made a string of highly profitable deals, by 1994 this high-profile Texan had ousted popular incumbent Ann Richards to become his state's governor.

While his lack of environmental concern and approval of the death penalty horrified critics, tax cuts and improved education ensured his popularity. In 1998 Bush was returned to the governor's office with 68.6% of the vote, and was spurred on to higher paths.

The road to Washington

Grammatical gaffes and a failure to name foreign leaders made Bush ripe for caricature throughout his presidential campaign. Nevertheless, his direct speaking and get-things-done approach found a warm welcome. Weary of Clinton's shenanigans, Americans were perhaps relieved to find a politician unable to talk himself out of a hole.

The 2000 presidential election became a soap opera. Dallas met Dynasty after the Florida cliff-hanger when Dubya picked up his Stetson and retraced his father's steps into the Oval Office.

A self-professed "compassionate conservative" young George surrounded himself with loyal Bushites from his father's era and set about making the Republican Party more inclusive, improving education and reforming tax and welfare.

Only time will uncover the true merits of Bush's Afghan campaign, but few can argue with the defining moment of his presidency so far. When Americans were attacked on their home soil, they looked to a figurehead who surely felt their pain, even if he had trouble expressing it.

His arrival as the world's most powerful man may have been accidental. But after his elegant reaction to his nation's outrage, the world will be watching to see if the rest of George W Bush's tenure contains anything like the same purpose.