The Progressive Policies of George H. W. Bush

george herbert walker bush

Before George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President of the United States, he was the 43rd Vice President, a U.S. Representative, an Ambassador, Director of Central Intelligence, and an officer and aviator in the U.S. Navy.

Thinking back on Bush Sr.’s political career, it’s easy to get lost in what many progressives consider to be mistakes and even outright malevolence. However, while we at Big Easy Magazine have no wish to excuse these actions, we also don’t want to ignore the progressive policies that he championed. It is with that in mind, that today, as he is laid to rest, we present, the progressive policies of George H. W. Bush.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 extends the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to those with disabilities. It is through this law that employers and schools are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and students. It’s also why we now have greater public accessibility. The ADA applies to those with both physical and mental conditions, with no regard to severity or permanence.

The ADA was widely opposed by conservative groups such as the Association of Christian Schools International and the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as business organizations such as Greyhound Bus Lines, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. In spite of this, Bush continued to fight for it’s passing. When signing the measure into law, Bush said:

“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1991

It is unfortunate that Bush chose to veto the Civil Rights Act of 1990 (becoming the only President in history to successfully veto a civil rights bill), fearing the implementation of racial quotas. However, one year later he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 into law. This Act was the first since 1964 to change some of the rights provided by federal law in employment discrimination cases. Not only did it provide the right to a jury trial in discrimination cases, but it also introduced the possibility of awarding damages for emotional distress. This combination of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination not only on the basis of color/race, but also religion, sex, and nationality.

A Return to Space Exploration

President Bush was the first since the 1960s to encourage a return to space exploration. On July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, Bush spoke of his vision for resuming exploration of the moon and completing Space Station Freedom. He also spoke of beginning an exploration of Mars, which may be the root of the efforts that are continuing on that front today. He was later awarded the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement’s National Space Trophy.

Reauthorization of the Clean Air Act

Bush reauthorized the Clean Air Act of 1970, adding the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. These increased the authority and responsibility of the federal government by a substantial amount, and authorized programs to control acid rain, as well as greatly expanding the program for controlling air pollution. The amendments also expanded research programs, implemented provisions for ozone protection, and increased enforcement authority.

Points of Light

This is, perhaps, one of the most notable bright spots of Bush’s Presidency. His Points of Light Movement inspired a sense of community, volunteerism, and service that many consider to have laid the foundations for the activism of today. Bush called on ordinary people to look beyond themselves to touch the lives of people in need, to inspire hope, and to offer friendship beyond their usual circles.

The Defeat of Prop 8

It is impossible to ignore the role that President Bush played in the defeat of Prop 8, the California amendment attempting to outlaw same-sex marriage. Though the measure passed in the 2008 state elections, it was later ruled unconstitutional by Judge Vaughn Richard Walker; a gay man who had been appointed to the district court by President G.H.W. Bush.


There is no doubt that, as many flawed human beings do, President Bush made mistakes over the course of his life and career. But today, we at Big Easy Magazine choose to honor him for the progressive policies he championed, and for his efforts that have laid the foundations for much of our work today.

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