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John Calvin Coolidge

Born: 7/4/1872
Birthplace: Plymouth, Vt.

(John) Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth, Vt., on July 4, 1872. An Amherst graduate, he went into law practice at Northampton, Mass., in 1897. He married Grace Anna Goodhue in 1905. He entered Republican state politics, becoming successively mayor of Northampton, state senator, lieutenant governor and, in 1919, governor. His use of the state militia to end the Boston police strike in 1919 won him a somewhat undeserved reputation for decisive action and brought him the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 1920. After Harding's death Coolidge handled the Washington scandals with care and finally managed to save the Republican Party from public blame for the widespread corruption.

In 1924, Coolidge was elected without difficulty, defeating the Democrat, John W. Davis, and Robert M. La Follette running on the Progressive ticket. His second term, like his first, was characterized by a general satisfaction with the existing economic order. He stated that he did not choose to run in 1928.

After his presidency, Coolidge lived quietly in Northampton, writing an unilluminating autobiography and a syndicated column. He died there on Jan. 5, 1933.

Herbert Clark Hoover

Born: 8/10/1874
Birthplace: West Branch, Iowa

Herbert Clark Hoover was born at West Branch, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 1874, the first president to be born west of the Mississippi. A Stanford graduate, he worked from 1895 to 1913 as a mining engineer and consultant throughout the world. In 1899, he married Lou Henry. During World War I, he served with distinction as chairman of the American Relief Committee in London, as chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and as U.S. Food Administrator. His political affiliations were still too indeterminate for him to be mentioned as a possibility for either the Republican or Democratic nomination in 1920, but after the election he served Harding and Coolidge as secretary of commerce.

In the election of 1928, Hoover overwhelmed Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, the Democratic candidate and the first Roman Catholic to run for the presidency. He soon faced the worst depression in the nation's history, but his attacks upon it were hampered by his devotion to the theory that the forces that brought the crisis would soon bring the revival and then by his belief that there were too many areas in which the federal government had no power to act. In a succession of vetoes, he struck down measures proposing a national employment system or national relief, he reduced income tax rates, and only at the end of his term did he yield to popular pressure and set up agencies such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to make emergency loans to assist business.

After his 1932 defeat, Hoover returned to private business. In 1946, President Truman charged him with various world food missions; and from 1947 to 1949 and 1953 to 1955, he was head of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government. He died in New York City on Oct. 20, 1964.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Born: 1/30/1882
Birthplace: Hyde Park, N.Y.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, N.Y., on Jan. 30, 1882. A Harvard graduate, he attended Columbia Law School and was admitted to the New York bar. In 1910, he was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat. Reelected in 1912, he was appointed assistant secretary of the navy by Woodrow Wilson the next year. In 1920, his radiant personality and his war service resulted in his nomination for vice president as James M. Cox's running mate. After his defeat, he returned to law practice in New York. In Aug. 1921, Roosevelt was stricken with infantile paralysis while on vacation at Campobello, New Brunswick. After a long and gallant fight, he recovered partial use of his legs. In 1924 and 1928, he led the fight at the Democratic national conventions for the nomination of Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, and in 1928 Roosevelt was himself induced to run for governor of New York. He was elected, and was reelected in 1930.

In 1932, Roosevelt received the Democratic nomination for president and immediately launched a campaign that brought new spirit to a weary and discouraged nation. He defeated Hoover by a wide margin. His first term was characterized by an unfolding of the New Deal program, with greater benefits for labor, the farmers, and the unemployed, and the progressive estrangement of most of the business community.

At an early stage, Roosevelt became aware of the menace to world peace posed by totalitarian fascism, and from 1937 on he tried to focus public attention on the trend of events in Europe and Asia. As a result, he was widely denounced as a warmonger. He was reelected in 1936 over Gov. Alfred M. Landon of Kansas by the overwhelming electoral margin of 523 to 8, and the gathering international crisis prompted him to run for an unprecedented third term in 1940. He defeated Wendell L. Willkie.

Roosevelt's program to bring maximum aid to Britain and, after June 1941, to Russia was opposed, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor restored national unity. During the war, Roosevelt shelved the New Deal in the interests of conciliating the business community, both in order to get full production during the war and to prepare the way for a united acceptance of the peace settlements after the war. A series of conferences with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin laid down the bases for the postwar world. In 1944 he was elected to a fourth term, running against Gov. Thomas E. Dewey of New York.

On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Ga., shortly after his return from the Yalta Conference. His wife, (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, whom he married in 1905, was a woman of great ability who made significant contributions to her husband's policies.

Harry S Truman

Born: 5/8/1884
Birthplace: Lamar, Mo.

Harry S. Truman was born on a farm near Lamar, Mo., on May 8, 1884. During World War I, he served in France as a captain with the 129th Field Artillery. He married Bess Wallace in 1919. After engaging briefly and unsuccessfully in the haberdashery business in Kansas City, Mo., Truman entered local politics. Under the sponsorship of Thomas Pendergast, Democratic boss of Missouri, he held a number of local offices, preserving his personal honesty in the midst of a notoriously corrupt political machine. In 1934, he was elected to the Senate and was reelected in 1940. During his first term he was a loyal but quiet supporter of the New Deal, but in his second term, an appointment as head of a Senate committee to investigate war production brought out his special qualities of honesty, common sense, and hard work, and he won widespread respect.

Elected vice president in 1944, Truman became president upon Roosevelt's sudden death in April 1945 and was immediately faced with the problems of winding down the war against the Axis and preparing the nation for postwar adjustment. Germany surrendered on May 8, and in July Truman attended the Potsdam Conference to discuss the settlement plans for postwar Europe. To end the war with Japan, he authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945. Japan surrendered on Aug. 14. Although the action undoubtedly saved many American lives by bringing the war to an end, the morality of the decision is still debated.

The years 1947–48 were distinguished by civil-rights proposals, the Truman Doctrine to contain the spread of Communism, and the Marshall Plan to aid in the economic reconstruction of war-ravaged nations. Truman's general record, highlighted by a vigorous Fair Deal campaign, brought about his unexpected election in 1948 over the heavily favored Thomas E. Dewey.

Truman's second term was primarily concerned with the cold war with the Soviet Union, the implementing of the North Atlantic Pact, the United Nations police action in Korea, and the vast rearmament program with its accompanying problems of economic stabilization.

On March 29, 1952, Truman announced that he would not run again for the presidency. After leaving the White House, he returned to his home in Independence, Mo., to write his memoirs. He further busied himself with the Harry S. Truman Library there. He died in Kansas City, Mo., on Dec. 26, 1972.

Dwight David Eisenhower

Born: 10/14/1890
Birthplace: Denison, Tex.

Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Denison, Tex., on Oct. 14, 1890. His ancestors lived in Germany and emigrated to America, settling in Pennsylvania, early in the 18th century. His father, David, had a general store in Hope, Kans., which failed. After a brief time in Texas, the family moved to Abilene, Kan.

After graduating from Abilene High School in 1909, Eisenhower did odd jobs for almost two years. He won an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but was too old for admittance. Then he received an appointment in 1910 to West Point, from which he graduated as a second lieutenant in 1915.

He did not see service in World War I, having been stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. There he met Mamie Geneva Doud, whom he married in Denver on July 1, 1916, and by whom he had two sons: Doud Dwight (died in infancy) and John Sheldon Doud.

Eisenhower served in the Philippines from 1935 to 1939 with Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Afterward, Gen. George C. Marshall, the army chief of staff, brought him into the War Department's General Staff and in 1942 placed him in command of the invasion of North Africa. In 1944, he was made Supreme Allied Commander for the invasion of Europe.

After the war, Eisenhower served as army chief of staff from Nov. 1945 until Feb. 1948, when he was appointed president of Columbia University.

In Dec. 1950, President Truman recalled Eisenhower to active duty to command the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Europe. He held his post until the end of May 1952.

At the Republican convention of 1952 in Chicago, Eisenhower won the presidential nomination on the first ballot in a close race with Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio. In the election, he defeated Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois.

Through two terms, Eisenhower hewed to moderate domestic policies. He sought peace through Free World strength in an era of new nationalisms, nuclear missiles, and space exploration. He fostered alliances pledging the United States to resist “Red” aggression in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 extended commitments to the Middle East.

At home, the popular president lacked Republican congressional majorities after 1954, but he was reelected in 1956 by 457 electoral votes to 73 for Stevenson.

While retaining most Fair Deal programs, he stressed “fiscal responsibility” in domestic affairs. A moderate in civil rights, he sent troops to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce court-ordered school integration.

With his wartime rank restored by Congress, Eisenhower returned to private life and the role of elder statesman, with his vigor hardly impaired by a heart attack, an ileitis operation, and a mild stroke suffered while in office. He died in Washington, DC, on March 28, 1969.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Born: 5/29/1917
Birthplace: Brookline, Mass.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born in Brookline, Mass., on May 29, 1917. His father, Joseph P. Kennedy, was ambassador to Great Britain from 1937 to 1940.

Kennedy was graduated from Harvard University in 1940 and joined the navy the next year. He became skipper of a PT boat that was sunk in the Pacific by a Japanese destroyer. Although given up for lost, he swam to a safe island, towing an injured enlisted man.

After recovering from a war-aggravated spinal injury, Kennedy entered politics in 1946 and was elected to Congress. In 1952, he ran against Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., of Massachusetts, and won.

Kennedy was married on Sept. 12, 1953, to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, by whom he had three children: Caroline, John Fitzgerald, Jr. (died in a 1999 plane crash), and Patrick Bouvier (died in infancy).

In 1957 Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for a book he had written earlier, Profiles in Courage.

After strenuous primary battles, Kennedy won the Democratic presidential nomination on the first ballot at the 1960 Los Angeles convention. With a plurality of only 118,574 votes, he carried the election over Vice President Richard M. Nixon and became the first Roman Catholic president.

Kennedy brought to the White House the dynamic idea of a “New Frontier” approach in dealing with problems at home, abroad, and in the dimensions of space. Out of his leadership in his first few months in office came the 10-year Alliance for Progress to aid Latin America, the Peace Corps, and accelerated programs that brought the first Americans into orbit in the race in space.

Failure of the U.S.-supported Cuban invasion in April 1961 led to the entrenchment of the Communist-backed Castro regime, only 90 mi from United States soil. When it became known that Soviet offensive missiles were being installed in Cuba in 1962, Kennedy ordered a naval “quarantine” of the island and moved troops into position to eliminate this threat to U.S. security. The world seemed on the brink of a nuclear war until Soviet premier Khrushchev ordered the removal of the missiles.

A sudden “thaw,” or the appearance of one, in the cold war came with the agreement with the Soviet Union on a limited test-ban treaty signed in Moscow on Aug. 6, 1963.

In his domestic policies, Kennedy's proposals for medical care for the aged and aid to education were defeated, but on minimum wage, trade legislation, and other measures he won important victories.

Widespread racial disorders and demonstrations led to Kennedy's proposing sweeping civil rights legislation. As his third year in office drew to a close, he also recommended an $11-billion tax cut to bolster the economy. Both measures were pending in Congress when Kennedy, looking forward to a second term, journeyed to Texas for a series of speeches.

While riding in an automobile procession in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, he was shot to death by an assassin firing from an upper floor of a building. The alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed two days later in the Dallas city jail by Jack Ruby, owner of a strip-tease club.

At 46 years of age, Kennedy became the fourth president to be assassinated and the eighth to die in office.

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Born: 8/27/1908
Birthplace: Stonewall, Tex.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was born in Stonewall, Tex., on Aug. 27, 1908. On both sides of his family he had a political heritage mingled with a Baptist background of preachers and teachers. Both his father and his paternal grandfather served in the Texas House of Representatives.

After his graduation from Southwest Texas State Teachers College, Johnson taught school for two years. He went to Washington in 1932 as secretary to Rep. Richard M. Kleberg. During this time, he married Claudia Alta Taylor, known as “Lady Bird.” They had two children: Lynda Bird and Luci Baines.

In 1935, Johnson became Texas administrator for the National Youth Administration. Two years later, he was elected to Congress as an all-out supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and served until 1949. He was the first member of Congress to enlist in the armed forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in the navy in the Pacific and won a Silver Star.

Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1948 after he had captured the Democratic nomination by only 87 votes. He was 40 years old. He became the Senate Democratic leader in 1953. A heart attack in 1955 threatened to end his political career, but he recovered fully and resumed his duties.

At the height of his power as Senate leader, Johnson sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1960. When he lost to John F. Kennedy, he surprised even some of his closest associates by accepting second place on the ticket.

Johnson was riding in another car in the motorcade when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He took the oath of office in the presidential jet on the Dallas airfield.

With Johnson's insistent backing, Congress finally adopted a far-reaching civil-rights bill, a voting-rights bill, a Medicare program for the aged, and measures to improve education and conservation. Congress also began what Johnson described as “an all-out war” on poverty.

Amassing a record-breaking majority of nearly 16 million votes, Johnson was elected president in his own right in 1964, defeating Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

The double tragedy of a war in Southeast Asia and urban riots at home marked Johnson's last two years in office. Faced with disunity in the nation and challenges within his own party, Johnson surprised the country on March 31, 1968, with the announcement that he would not be a candidate for reelection. He died of a heart attack suffered at his LBJ Ranch on Jan. 22, 1973.

Richard Milhous Nixon

Born: 1/9/1913
Birthplace: Yorba Linda, Calif.

Richard Milhous Nixon was born in Yorba Linda, Calif., on Jan. 9, 1913, to Midwestern-bred parents, Francis A. and Hannah Milhous Nixon, who raised their five sons as Quakers.

Nixon was a high school debater and was undergraduate president at Whittier College in California, where he was graduated in 1934. As a scholarship student at Duke University Law School in North Carolina, he graduated third in his class in 1937.

After five years as a lawyer, Nixon joined the navy in August 1942. He was an air transport officer in the South Pacific and a legal officer stateside before his discharge in 1946 as a lieutenant commander.

Running for Congress in California as a Republican in 1946, Nixon defeated Rep. Jerry Voorhis. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee, he made a name as an investigator of Alger Hiss, a former high State Department official, who was later jailed for perjury. In 1950, Nixon defeated Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, a Democrat, for the Senate. He was criticized for portraying her as a Communist dupe.

Nixon's anti-Communism ideals, his Western roots, and his youth figured into his selection in 1952 to run for vice president on the ticket headed by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Demands for Nixon's withdrawal followed disclosure that California businessmen had paid some of his Senate office expenses. His televised rebuttal, known as “the Checkers speech” (named for a cocker spaniel given to the Nixons), brought him support from the public and from Eisenhower. The ticket won easily in 1952 and again in 1956.

Eisenhower gave Nixon substantive assignments, including missions to 56 countries. In Moscow in 1959, Nixon won acclaim for his defense of U.S. interests in an impromptu “kitchen debate” with Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.

Nixon lost the 1960 race for the presidency to John F. Kennedy.

In 1962, Nixon failed in a bid for California's governorship and seemed to be finished as a national candidate. He became a Wall Street lawyer, but kept his old party ties and developed new ones through constant travels to speak for Republicans.

Nixon won the 1968 Republican presidential nomination after a shrewd primary campaign, then made Gov. Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland his surprise choice for vice president. In the election, they edged out the Democratic ticket headed by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey by 510,314 votes out of 73,212,065 cast.

Committed to winding down the U.S. role in the Vietnamese War, Nixon pursued “Vietnamization”—training and equipping South Vietnamese to do their own fighting. American ground combat forces in Vietnam fell steadily from 540,000 when Nixon took office to none in 1973 when the military draft was ended. But there was heavy continuing use of U.S. air power.

Nixon improved relations with Moscow and reopened the long-closed door to mainland China with a good-will trip there in Feb. 1972. In May of that same year, he visited Moscow and signed agreements on arms limitation and trade expansion and approved plans for a joint U.S.–Soviet space mission in 1975.

Inflation was a campaign issue for Nixon, but he failed to master it as president. On Aug. 15, 1971, with unemployment edging up, Nixon abruptly announced a new economic policy: a 90-day wage-price freeze, stimulative tax cuts, a temporary 10% tariff, and spending cuts. A second phase, imposing guidelines on wage, price, and rent boosts, was announced Oct. 7.

The economy responded in time for the 1972 campaign, in which Nixon played up his foreign-policy achievements. Played down was the burglary on June 17, 1972, of Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington. The Nixon–Agnew reelection campaign cost a record $60 million and swamped the Democratic ticket headed by Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota with a plurality of 17,999,528 out of 77,718,554 votes. Only Massachusetts, with 14 electoral votes, and the District of Columbia, with 3, went for McGovern.

In Jan. 1973, hints of a cover-up emerged at the trial of six men found guilty of the Watergate burglary. With a Senate investigation under way, Nixon announced on April 30 the resignations of his top aides, H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, and the dismissal of White House counsel John Dean III. Dean was the star witness at televised Senate hearings that exposed both a White House cover-up of Watergate and massive illegalities in Republican fund-raising in 1972.

The hearings also disclosed that Nixon had routinely tape-recorded his office meetings and telephone conversations.

On Oct. 10, 1973, Agnew resigned as vice president, then pleaded no-contest to a negotiated federal charge of evading income taxes on alleged bribes. Two days later, Nixon nominated the House minority leader, Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Michigan, as the new vice president. Congress confirmed Ford on Dec. 6, 1973.

In June 1974, Nixon visited Israel and four Arab nations. Then he met in Moscow with Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev and reached preliminary nuclear arms limitation agreements.

But, in the month after his return, Watergate ended the Nixon regime. On July 24 the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to surrender subpoenaed tapes. On July 30, the Judiciary Committee referred three impeachment articles to the full membership. On Aug. 5, Nixon bowed to the Supreme Court and released tapes showing he halted an FBI probe of the Watergate burglary six days after it occurred. It was in effect an admission of obstruction of justice, and impeachment appeared inevitable.

Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, the first president ever to do so. A month later, President Ford issued an unconditional pardon for any offenses Nixon might have committed as president, thus forestalling possible prosecution.

In 1940, Nixon married Thelma Catherine (Pat) Ryan. They had two daughters, Patricia (Tricia) and Julie, who married Dwight David Eisenhower II, grandson of the former president.

He died on April 22, 1994, in New York City of a massive stroke.

Gerald Rudolph Ford

Born: 7/14/1913
Birthplace: Omaha, Neb.

Gerald Rudolph Ford was born Leslie King Jr. in Omaha, Neb., on July 14, 1913, the only child of Leslie and Dorothy Gardner King. His parents were divorced in 1915. His mother moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., and married Gerald R. Ford. The boy was renamed for his stepfather.

Ford captained his high school football team in Grand Rapids, and a football scholarship took him to the University of Michigan, where he starred as varsity center before his graduation in 1935. A job as assistant football coach at Yale gave him an opportunity to attend Yale Law School, from which he graduated in the top third of his class in 1941.

He returned to Grand Rapids to practice law, but entered the Navy in April 1942. He saw wartime service in the Pacific on the light aircraft carrier Monterey and was a lieutenant commander when he returned to Grand Rapids early in 1946 to resume law practice and dabble in politics.

Ford was elected to Congress in 1948 for the first of his 13 terms in the House. He was soon assigned to the influential Appropriations Committee and rose to become the ranking Republican on the subcommittee on Defense Department appropriations.

As a legislator, Ford described himself as “a moderate on domestic issues, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist.” He carried the ball for Pentagon appropriations, was a hawk on the war in Vietnam, and kept a low profile on civil-rights issues.

Ford was also dependable and hard-working and popular with his colleagues. In 1963, he was elected chairman of the House Republican Conference. He served in 1963–1964 as a member of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A revolt by dissatisfied younger Republicans in 1965 made him minority leader.

On Oct. 12, 1973, Nixon nominated Ford to fill the vice presidency left vacant by Agnew's resignation under fire. It was the first use of the procedures for filling vacancies in the vice presidency laid down in the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which Ford had helped enact. Once in office, he said he did not believe Nixon had been involved in the Watergate scandals, but he criticized Nixon's stubborn court battle against releasing tape recordings of Watergate-related conversations for use as evidence. The scandals led to Nixon's unprecedented resignation on Aug. 9, 1974, and Ford was sworn in immediately as the 38th president, the first to enter the White House without winning a national election.

Ford assured the nation when he took office that “our long national nightmare is over” and pledged “openness and candor” in all his actions. He won a warm response from the Democratic 93rd Congress when he said he wanted “a good marriage” rather than a honeymoon with his former colleagues. In Dec. 1974 congressional majorities backed his choice of former New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller as his vice president.

The cordiality was chilled by Ford's announcement on Sept. 8, 1974, that he had granted an unconditional pardon to Nixon for any crimes he might have committed as president. Although no formal charges were pending, Ford said he feared “ugly passions” would be aroused if Nixon were brought to trial. The pardon was widely criticized.

To fight inflation, the new president first proposed fiscal restraints and spending curbs and a 5% tax surcharge that got nowhere in the Senate and House. Congress again rebuffed Ford in the spring of 1975 when he appealed for emergency military aid to help the governments of South Vietnam and Cambodia resist massive Communist offensives.

Politically, Ford's fortunes improved steadily in the first half of 1975. Badly divided Democrats in Congress were unable to muster votes to override his vetoes of spending bills that exceeded his budget. He faced some right-wing opposition in his own party, but moved to preempt it with an early announcement—on July 8, 1975—of his intention to be a candidate in 1976. During the election campaign, Ford was regarded as a caretaker president lacking in strength and vision. He was defeated in November by Jimmy Carter.

In 1948, Ford married Elizabeth Anne (Betty) Bloomer. They had four children, Michael Gerald, John Gardner, Steven Meigs, and Susan Elizabeth. He died on Dec. 26, 2006, at age 93.

James Earl Carter, Jr.

Born: 10/1/1924
Birthplace: Plains, Ga.

James Earl Carter, Jr., was born in the tiny village of Plains, Ga., Oct. 1, 1924, and grew up on the family farm at nearby Archery. Both parents were fifth-generation Georgians. His father, James Earl Carter, was known as a segregationist, but treated his black and white workers equally. Carter's mother, Lillian Gordy, was a matriarchal presence in home and community and opposed the then-prevailing code of racial inequality. The future president was baptized in 1935 in the conservative Southern Baptist Church and spoke often of being a “born again” Christian, although committed to the separation of church and state.

Carter married Rosalynn Smith, a neighbor, in 1946. Their first child, John William, was born a year later in Portsmouth, Va. Their other children are James Earl III, born in Honolulu in 1950; Donnel Jeffrey, born in New London, Conn., in 1952; and Amy Lynn, born in Plains in 1967.

In 1946 Carter was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and served in the nuclear-submarine program under Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. In 1954, after his father's death, he resigned from the Navy to take over the family's flourishing warehouse and cotton gin, with several thousand acres for growing seed peanuts.

Carter was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1962. In 1966 he lost the race for governor, but was elected in 1970. His term brought a state government reorganization, sharply reduced agencies, increased economy and efficiency, and new social programs, all with no general tax increase. In 1972 the peanut farmer–politician set his sights on the presidency and in 1974 built a base for himself as he criss-crossed the country as chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee, appealing for revival and reform. In 1975 he won the support of most of the old Southern civil-rights coalition after endorsement by Rep. Andrew Young, black Democrat from Atlanta, who had been the closest aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Having won 19 out of 31 primaries with a broad appeal to conservatives and liberals, black and white, poor and well-to-do, he defeated Gerald R. Ford in Nov. 1976.

In his one term, Carter fought hard for his programs against resistance from an independent-minded Democratic Congress that frustrated many pet projects although it overrode only two vetoes. Public dissatisfaction with the “stagflation” economy, staff problems, friction with Congress, long gasoline lines, and the months-long Iranian crisis, including the abortive sally in April 1980 to free the hostages also proved problematic for the administration. Yet, assessments of his record have noted many positive elements. There was, for one thing, peace throughout his term, with no American combat deaths and with a brake on the advocates of force. Regarded as perhaps his greatest personal achievements were the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt and the resulting treaty—the first between Israel and an Arab neighbor. The treaty with China and the Panama Canal treaties were also major achievements. Carter worked for nuclear-arms control. His concern for international human rights was credited with saving lives and reducing torture, and he supported the British policy that ended internecine warfare in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Domestically, his environmental record was a major accomplishment. His judicial appointments won acclaim, with 265 choices for the federal bench that included minority members and women.

In 1980 Carter was renominated on the first ballot after vanquishing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts in the primaries. In the election campaign, he attacked his rivals, Ronald Reagan and John B. Anderson, independent, with the warning that a Reagan Republican victory would heighten the risk of war and impede civil rights and economic opportunity. In November Carter lost to Reagan, who won 489 electoral college votes and 51% of the popular tally, to 49 electoral votes and 41% for Carter. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

Ronald Wilson Reagan

Born: 2/6/1911
Birthplace: Tampico, Ill.

Ronald Wilson Reagan rode to the presidency in 1980 on a tide of resurgent right-wing sentiment among an electorate longing for a distant, simpler era. He left office in Jan. 1989 with two-thirds of the American people approving his performance during his two terms. It was the highest rating for any retiring president since World War II.

Reagan, an actor turned politician, a New Dealer turned conservative, came to films and politics from a thoroughly Middle-American background—middle class, Middle West, and small town. He was born in Tampico, Ill., Feb. 6, 1911, the second son of John Edward Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan; the family later moved to Dixon, Ill. His father was a shop clerk and merchant with Democratic sympathies. It was an impoverished family; young Ronald sold homemade popcorn at high school games and worked as a lifeguard to earn money for his college tuition. When his father got a New Deal WPA job, the future president became an ardent Roosevelt Democrat.

Reagan earned a BA degree in 1932 from Eureka (Ill.) College, where a photographic memory aided in his studies and in debating and college theatricals. During the Depression, he made $100 a week as a sports announcer for radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. His career as a film and TV actor stretched from 1937 to 1966, and his salary climbed to $3,500 a week. As a World War II captain in army film studios, Reagan recoiled from what he saw as the laziness of civil service workers, and moved to the Right. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, he resisted what he considered a Communist plot to subvert the film industry. With advancing age, Reagan left leading-man roles and became a television spokesman for the General Electric Company.

With oratorical skill as his trademark, Reagan became an active Republican. In 1966, at the behest of a small group of conservative businessmen, he ran for governor of California with a pledge to cut spending; he was elected by almost a million votes over the political veteran, Democratic governor Edmund G. Brown. Reelected to a second term, he served as governor until 1975.

In the 1980 election battle against Jimmy Carter, Reagan broadened his appeal by espousing moderate policies, gaining much of his support from disaffected Democrats and blue-collar workers. The incoming administration immediately set out to “turn the government around” with a new economic program. Over strenuous congressional opposition, Reagan pushed through his “supply side” economic program to stimulate production and control inflation through tax cuts and sharp reductions in government spending. However, in 1982, as the economy declined into the worst recession in 40 years, the president's popularity slipped and support for supply-side economics faded.

Barely three months into his first term, Reagan was the target of an assassin's bullet; his courageous comeback won public admiration. The president also won high acclaim for his nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman on the Supreme Court. His later nominations met increasing opposition and did much to tilt the Court's orientation to the Right.

Internationally, Reagan confronted numerous problems in his first term. In an effort to establish order on the Caribbean island of Grenada and eliminate the Cuban military presence there, Reagan ordered an invasion of the tiny nation on Oct. 25, 1983. The troops met strong resistance from Cuban military personnel on the island but soon occupied it. Another military effort, in Lebanon, ended in failure, however. U.S. Marines engaged as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Beirut were forced to withdraw in 1984 after a disastrous terrorist attack left 241 marines dead.

With the economy improving and inflation under control, the popular president won reelection in a landslide in 1984. Domestically, a tax reform bill that Reagan backed became law. But the constantly growing budget deficit remained an irritant, with the president and Congress persistently at odds over priorities in spending for defense and domestic programs. Congress was also increasingly reluctant to increase spending for the Nicaraguan “Contras.” But even severe critics praised Reagan's restrained but decisive handling of the crisis following the hijacking of an American plane in Beirut by Muslim extremists. The attack on Libya in April 1986 galvanized the nation, although it drew scathing disapproval from the NATO alliance.

Reagan's popularity with the public dipped sharply in 1986 when the Iran-Contra scandal broke, shortly after the Democrats gained control of the Senate. The weeks-long congressional hearings in the summer of 1987 heard an array of administration officials, present and former, reveal a web of deceit and undercover maneuvering in the White House. Yet the president's personal reputation remained untouched; on Aug. 12, 1987, he told the nation that he had not known of questionable activities but agreed that he was ultimately accountable.

Reagan's place in history will rest, perhaps, on the short- and intermediate-range missile treaty consummated on a cordial visit to the Soviet Union that he had once reviled as an “evil empire.” Its provisions, including a ground-breaking agreement on verification inspection, were formulated in four days of summit talks in Moscow in May 1988 with the Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Reagan could point to numerous domestic achievements as well: sharp cuts in income tax rates, creating economic growth without inflation, and reducing the unemployment rate, among others. He failed, however, to win the “Reagan Revolution” on such issues as abortion and school prayer.

Reagan married his wife, Nancy, four years after his divorce from the screen actress Jane Wyman. The children from his first marriage are Maureen, his daughter by Wyman, and Michael, an adopted son. He had two children by Nancy: Patricia and Ron. Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease, which he developed around 1994, and died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2004.

George Herbert Walker Bush

Born: 6/12/1924
Birthplace: Milton, Mass.

George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Mass., to Prescott and Dorothy Bush. The family later moved to Connecticut. The youth studied at the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

The future president joined the Navy after war broke out and at 18 became the Navy's youngest commissioned pilot, serving from 1942 to 1945, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He fought the Japanese on 58 missions and was shot down once.

After the war, Bush earned an economics degree and a Phi Beta Kappa key in two and a half years at Yale University.

In 1945 Bush married Barbara Pierce of Rye, N.Y., daughter of a magazine publisher. With his bride, Bush moved to Texas instead of entering his father's investment banking business. There he founded his oil company and by 1980 reported an estimated wealth of $1.4 million.

Throughout his whole career, Bush had the backing of an established family, headed by his father, Prescott Bush, who was elected to the Senate from Connecticut in 1952. The family helped the young patrician become established in his early business ventures, a rich uncle raising most of the capital required for founding the oil company.

In the 1960s, Bush won two contests for a Texas Republican seat in the House of Representatives, but lost two bids for a Senate seat. After Bush's second race for the Senate, President Nixon appointed him U.S. delegate to the United Nations and he later became Republican National Committee chairman. He headed the U.S. liaison office in Beijing before becoming Director of Central Intelligence. In 1980 Bush became Reagan's running mate despite earlier criticism of Reagan “voodoo economics” and by the 1984 election had won acclaim for his devotion to Reagan's conservative agenda.

The vice president entered the 1988 presidential campaign and easily defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis. Bush's choice of Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana as a running mate provoked criticism and ridicule that continued even after the administration was in office. Nonetheless Bush strongly defended his choice. George Herbert Walker Bush became president on Jan. 20, 1989, with his theme harmony and conciliation after the often-turbulent Reagan years.

Bush's early Cabinet choices reflected a pragmatic desire for an efficient, nonideological government. And with his usual cautious instinct, in 1990 he nominated to the Supreme Court the scholarly David H. Souter, with broadly conservative views.

In his first year, Bush was confronted with the Lebanese hostage crisis, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and the ongoing war against drug trafficking. His public approval soared following the invasion of Panama in late 1989. But a staggering budget deficit and the savings and loan crisis caused the president's popularity to dip sharply in his second year. This plunge followed Bush's recantation of his campaign “no new taxes” pledge as he sat down with congressional leaders to tame the budget deficit and deal with a faltering economy.

In 1991, the president emerged as the leader of an international coalition of Western democracies, Japan, and even some Arab states that came together to free Kuwait following an invasion of the country by Iraq in Aug. 1990. The coalition forces defeated Iraq in only a little more than a month after Operation Desert Storm was launched on Jan. 16–17, 1991, and a nation grateful at feeling the end of the “Vietnam syndrome” gave the president an 89% approval rating. However, the high rating fell as the year went on, as doubts persisted about the war's outcome—Iraqi president Saddam Hussein remained in power and persistently avoided complying with the terms of the peace treaty—and as concerns began to grow about the faltering U.S. economy and other domestic problems.

A major Bush accomplishment in 1991 was the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed in July with Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev at their fourth summit conference, marking the end of the long weapons buildup.

In the 1992 presidential election, Bush was defeated by Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas.

The Bushes have four sons, George, Jeb, Neil, and Marvin, and a daughter, Dorothy. Another daughter, Robin, died at age three from leukemia. Son George served as governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000, when he was elected the 43rd U.S. president. Jeb Bush was elected governor of Florida in 1998.

William Jefferson Clinton

Born: 8/19/1946
Birthplace: Hope, Ark.

William Jefferson Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Ark., on Aug. 19, 1946. He was named for his father, who was killed in an automobile accident before Clinton's birth. Virginia Kelley, his mother, eventually married Roger Clinton, a car dealer, whose surname the future president later adopted.

In high school in Hot Springs, Ark., Clinton considered becoming a doctor, but politics beckoned after a meeting with President John F. Kennedy in Washington, DC, on a Boys' Nation trip. He earned a BS in international affairs in 1968 at Georgetown University, having spent his junior year working for Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford between 1968 and 1970. He then attended Yale Law School, where he met his future wife, Hillary Rodham, a Wellesley graduate. The couple has one child, Chelsea.

Clinton taught at the University of Arkansas (1974–1976), was elected state attorney general (1976), and in 1979 became the nation's youngest governor. But he was defeated for reelection in 1980 by voters irate at a rise in the state's automobile license fees. In 1982 he was elected again. This time he reined in liberal tendencies to accommodate the conservative bent of the voters.

Clinton became the 42nd U.S. president following a turbulent political campaign. He overcame vigorous personal attacks on his character and on his actions during the Vietnam War, which he actively opposed. The “character issue” stemmed from allegations of infidelity, which Clinton refuted in a television interview in which he and Hillary avowed their relationship was solid. Throughout his term in office, Clinton was dogged by allegations relating to the Whitewater real estate deal in which he and Hillary were involved prior to the 1992 election. Though the Clintons were never accused of any wrongdoing, partners in the venture were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in a trial in 1996.

The problems faced by the new president were as daunting as they were varied. In Jan. 1993 he became embroiled with the military leadership over his campaign pledge to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the armed services. He ultimately agreed to a compromise, dubbed the “don't ask, don't tell” policy. Clinton's first year also saw him wrangling with Congress over the federal budget and economic policy.

In his second year, Clinton was faced with acrimonious battles over health care, welfare reform, and crime prevention. A health care reform package crafted by his wife failed to gain sufficient support. Clinton had to reduce his objective from massive overhaul to incremental reform.

Clinton won major victories with the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect Jan. 1, 1994, and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which led to the establishment in 1995 of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Congress also approved a deficit reduction bill, rules allowing abortion counseling in federally funded clinics, a waiting period for handgun purchases (the Brady Bill), and a national service program.

Foreign affairs became a proving ground for Clinton, since he has been elected primarily on a domestic economic agenda. He improved his international image when the Israel–Jordan peace agreement was signed at the White House in the summer of 1994 by Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein. In the fall of that year, the administration succeeded in restoring Haiti's ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power. Clinton scored again by bolstering Russian president Boris Yeltsin's popularity with promises of economic aid.

The problems in Eastern Europe were Clinton's next big challenge. Though he wanted desperately to end the brutal ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, he did not want to commit American ground troops to do so. A peace accord involving American peacekeeping troops was ultimately signed in Dayton, Ohio, in Nov. 1995.

The 1994 elections resulted in a Republican-controlled Congress, and 1995 was largely a tug-of-war between the White House and Capitol Hill over budget-balancing and other key points of the GOP's “Contract with America,” crafted by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

In 1996, aided by a booming economy, Clinton won reelection to a second term, becoming the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to do so. The country's general prosperity also made it possible in 1997 for Clinton and the Republicans to reach an agreement to balance the federal budget in three decades.

However, the character issues that had followed Clinton for years soon began to emerge once again. A series of investigations was begun to determine whether Clinton and Vice President Gore had participated in questionable fund-raising practices in their 1996 campaign.

As his tenure wore on, Clinton came under increasing pressure from Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who in 1994 took over the investigation of the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater land deal. Over time, Starr's brief was expanded to include other matters, such as the suicide of White House lawyer Vincent Foster, the handling of firings in the White House travel office, and allegations of sexual misconduct by Clinton.

In Jan. 1998, Clinton was called to testify in a long-pending sexual harassment suit brought against him by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. The hearing also addressed another scandalous relationship, and in his testimony, Clinton denied that he had had a sexual relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and that he had attempted to cover it up. Although a federal judge in Arkansas threw out the Jones sexual harassment suit in April 1998, by this time the Lewinsky affair had become the focus of Kenneth Starr's investigation as well as a national obsession.

Finally, on Aug. 17, 1998, after relentless media attention, leaks, and news of Lewinsky's upcoming testimony, Clinton made history by becoming the first U.S. president to testify in front of a grand jury in an investigation of his own possibly criminal conduct. In an address to the nation that evening, he admitted to having had an “inappropriate relationship” with Lewinsky, but reaffirmed that he had not asked anyone to lie about or cover up the affair.

In spite of the scandalous outcome of events, Clinton's overall popularity among Americans remained high. The country seemed willing to ignore his weaknesses in character, much as they had in the 1992 elections, as long as the economy was good, his policies were popular, and the United States remained strong abroad.

On Sept. 9, Starr—a conservative Republican whose investigation was seen by Clinton supporters as a politically inspired vendetta—delivered his report to the House of Representatives. While the report outlined 11 possible grounds for impeachment, none stemmed from the initial subjects of the investigation, including the Whitewater real estate deal. The real focus of the accusations seemed to be Clinton's moral conduct, and the “Starr Report” graphically detailed his sexual affair.

Despite the American population's general disapproval of a trial, reflected in poll after poll, Congress moved forward with impeachment proceedings and on Dec. 19, Clinton became the second president in American history to be impeached. Two of the four articles of impeachment—Article I, grand jury perjury, and Article III, obstruction of justice—passed, the votes drawn along party lines. After a Senate trial in Jan.–Feb. 1999, Clinton was acquitted on both counts.

While the impeachment trial overshadowed all other activity in Washington for a good portion of 1998, Clinton was forced to respond to continued problems with Iraq at the end of the year. In December, Saddam Hussein blocked a weapons inspection by the United Nations. The UN responded with airstrikes that would continue on a nearly daily basis for the next three months, and then off and on through the spring and summer, as Iraq taunted the U.S. and its allies further by shooting at jets patrolling the no-fly zones set up after the Persian Gulf war.

In the spring of 1999, reports grew of continued ethnic cleansing in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Clinton and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, led the push for NATO intervention, which resulted in a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia beginning in March. Although Clinton received some sharp criticism for holding back on the deployment of NATO ground troops, he was vindicated when Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic signed a peace treaty on June 9.

In his final year of office, the president maintained a relatively low profile but took several major trips overseas, to South Asia, Europe, and Africa. He also prepared for the 2000 elections, lending his support not only to presidential hopeful Al Gore, but also to his wife, Hillary Clinton, who successfully ran for U.S. senator from New York.

On Jan. 19, 2001, the day before he left office, Clinton agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license and his paying of a $25,000 fine to the Arkansas Bar Association. In exchange, Kenneth Starr's successor, Robert Ray, agreed to close the Whitewater probe, ending the threat of criminal liability for Mr. Clinton after he left office.

George Walker Bush

Born: 7/6/1946
Birthplace: New Haven, Conn.

George Walker Bush was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Conn., the first child of future president George H. W. Bush. In 1948, the family moved to Odessa, Tex., where the senior Bush went to work in the oil business. George W. grew up mainly in Midland, Tex., and Houston, and later attended two of his father's alma maters, Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and Yale.

After graduating from Yale with a history degree in 1968, Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard, where he served as a part-time fighter pilot until 1973. After receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1975, he returned to Texas, where he established his own oil and gas business. In 1977 he met and married his wife, Laura Welch, a librarian. The couple has twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, born in 1981.

Coming from a prominent political family—his grandfather Prescott Bush had been a senator from Connecticut and his father a U.S. congressman and political appointee—George W. had been immersed in politics since childhood. In 1977 he entered the fray himself, unsuccessfully running for U.S. Congress from the West Texas district that included his hometown of Midland.

Following his defeat, Bush returned to the oil business. In 1985, however, oil prices fell sharply, and Bush's company verged on collapse until it was acquired by a Dallas firm. Bush then headed to Washington to become a paid adviser to his father's successful 1988 presidential campaign. After the election, Bush returned to Texas and assembled a group of investors to buy the Texas Rangers.

Bush again entered politics in 1993, running for the Texas governorship. Although he had a tough opponent in the immensely popular incumbent Ann Richards, he created a clear agenda focused on issues such as education and juvenile justice and won with 53% of the vote. He was reelected in 1998, not long before he announced plans to run for president.

During the 2000 campaign, Bush adhered closely to the traditional conservative line, favoring small government, tax cuts, a strong military, and opposing gun control and abortion. His choice of running mate, Dick Cheney, secretary of defense during his father's administration, provided his campaign with seasoned Washington political experience.

With the country in a state of general prosperity, the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was perceived to be one of the least dynamic on issues. As it turned out, the race was one of the closest in the country's history. By early evening on election night, it was apparent that whoever won Florida would win the election. Bush's razor-thin margin of about 1,200 votes prompted an automatic recount. The case ultimately ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush officially became the president-elect on Dec. 13, after the Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Florida Supreme Court to allow manual recounts of ballots in some Florida counties, contending that such a partial recount violated the Constitution's equal protection and due process guarantees. With Florida in his column, Bush won the presidency with 271 electoral votes, just one more than he needed, although he lost the popular vote by half a million. The divided 5–4 Supreme Court decision generated enormous controversy, with critics asserting that the Supreme Court, and not the electorate, had effectively determined the outcome of the presidential election.

The top item on Bush's domestic agenda—a $1.35 trillion tax cut over 11 years—was swiftly enacted in June 2001. In his first year in office, President Bush also championed an antimissile defense system, meant to intercept long-range missiles lobbed at U.S. shores. Opponents of the plan argued that it was technologically unfeasible and astronomically expensive. Bush's early foreign policy was defined by the rejection of a number of international treaties that the White House felt were detrimental to American interests, including the Kyoto treaty on global warming, the biological weapons convention banning germ warfare, and a treaty to establish an international war-crimes court. Bush also withdrew from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the basis for three decades of nuclear stability with the Soviet Union, but at the same time succeeded in persuading Russia to agree to a landmark treaty that would cut U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles by two-thirds over the next decade.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, irrevocably altered the direction of the Bush presidency; his primary focus became the war on international terrorism. Bush shored up enormous support from the international community to fight terrorism worldwide. On Oct. 7, the U.S. and Britain began air strikes against Afghanistan, after the Taliban government repeatedly refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Taliban collapsed on Dec. 9, but despite this outstanding military success, bin Laden remained at large.

National security efforts included creating the Department of Homeland Security, a domestic security cabinet agency that consolidated 20 federal agencies in a massive government reorganization. More controversial was the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, antiterrorism legislation that presented law enforcement officials with sweeping new powers to conduct searches without warrants, and to detain and deport individuals in secret.

President Bush's broad characterizations of the terrorist threat led him to expand the focus of his foreign policy from al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to other regimes hostile to the United States, regardless of their connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Following the war in Afghanistan, Bush designated Iraq as the primary new threat to American security. He famously labeled Iraq, along with North Korea and Iran, as part of an “axis of evil.” Over the course of 2002, President Bush announced that the U.S. foreign strategy of containment and deterrence was an outdated cold war policy, and introduced the Bush doctrine, which asserted that in an age of terrorism, the U.S. could no longer wait by defensively until a potential threat to its security grew into an actual one—a preemptive strike was called for. In Sept. 2002, Bush addressed the UN, challenging the organization to swiftly enforce its own resolutions against Iraq, or else the U.S. would have no choice but to act on its own. Many world leaders expressed alarm at this shift in U.S. policy, which stressed unilateralism rather than international consensus. The alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's links to terrorism, and Saddam Hussein's despotism and human rights abuses were cited as the casus belli for “regime change.” The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution imposing tough new arms inspections on Iraq, but after three months of inspections that resulted in only modest Iraqi cooperation, U.S. patience ran out: on March 19, President Bush declared war on Iraq and U.S. troops, along with their British allies, began bombing Baghdad. By April 9, Baghdad had fallen, and by May 1, combat was officially declared over.

The official phase of the war was swift, but the post-war reconstruction period proved far more difficult. The country was enveloped in violence and chaos and its infrastructure was in ruins. While the Bush administration successfully turned over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, within months pockets of Iraq were essentially under the control of insurgents. President Bush assured the country that despite these difficulties, the United States would stay the course until Iraq emerged as a free and democratic country. More than a year-and-a-half of searching for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction—one of the prime reasons Bush cited for launching the war—yielded no hard evidence, and the administration and its intelligence agencies came under fire. There were also mounting allegations that the existence of these weapons and their imminent threat to American security was exaggerated or distorted as a pretext to justify the war. The Senate Intelligence Committee's unanimous, bipartisan “Report on Pre-War Intelligence on Iraq,” harshly criticized the CIA: “most of the major key judgments” on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report.” The report disputed the CIA's assertions that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program and that it had chemical and biological weapons, and also concluded that there was no relationship between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. With the justifications for the war evaporating, the Bush administration began emphasizing that the removal of dictator Saddam Hussein had been grounds enough for waging war, and that the United States was more secure as a result of it.

Critics of the administration's policy in Iraq described it as a distraction from the war on terror, preventing the United States from effectively battling the war on its genuine fronts. Since the start of the U.S. war in Iraq, the two remaining countries in the “axis of evil,” North Korea and Iran, had grown into alarming nuclear threats. The Bush administration's diplomatic efforts made little headway against Iran and North Korea's defiance and evasion.

On the domestic front, President Bush promoted an “ownership society” that would give Americans more control over health care, education, and retirement. In Jan. 2002, he passed the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal program dedicated to improving schools across the country. In June 2003 he signed into law the largest expansion of Medicare since its creation. The law provided prescription drug coverage under Medicare for the first time.

In early 2003, President Bush unveiled a sweeping economic stimulus plan that characteristically centered around tax cuts. The plan, in its original form, would have cut taxes by $670 billion over ten years; Congress approved a $350 billion version. Although all workers were to benefit from the tax plan, it strongly favored two groups: two-parent households with several children and the wealthy—nearly half the proposed tax benefits were reserved for the richest 10% of American taxpayers. Critics of the plan, including fiscally conservative Republicans, argued that it was unsound to offer tax cuts while the country was involved in an expensive war and in the midst of a jobless recovery. The federal budget deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, reached a record $412 billion in 2004. The White House countered that the Bush tax cuts had in fact kept the recession remarkably shallow and brief.

The 2004 presidential campaign between the president and Democratic senator John Kerry was one of the most closely followed and heated races in recent history. Terrorism, the war in Iraq, tax cuts, health care, the economy, and the deficit were the major issues. Kerry accused the president of mismanaging the war on Iraq and the fight against terrorism and promised to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The president accused his opponent of being a “flip-flopper” on issues and of not having the leadership to fight the war on terror. On Nov. 3, President Bush won reelection with 286 electoral votes and 51% of the popular vote. Moral values and fighting terrorism were cited as the two main issues that won the president his second term.

In the first year of his second term, Bush's priority was the restructuring of Social Security, but despite months of campaigning, the president failed to convince the electorate that the program was in need of a major overhaul. Legislative accomplishments included the passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), an energy bill, which did not, however, address Americans' growing concern over high fuel prices.

Iraq's continued insurgency, lack of political stability, and the acknowledgment that only a small number of Iraqi forces were capable of replacing American troops stationed in the country led to increased domestic discontent. In the face of growing American casualties and the absence of a clear strategy for winning the protracted war beyond “staying the course,” the president's approval ratings plummeted in 2005. In early September, the delayed and inept handling of Hurricane Katrina's emergency relief efforts led to widespread criticism of the Bush administration, even among its Republican base. Trust in the president's ability to lead the country during a crisis had been a central factor in his reelection, but two-thirds of Americans considered his response to Katrina inadequate. In 2005 and 2006, Bush appointed two solid conservatives to the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.

In 2005 it was disclosed that President Bush had secretly authorized the National Security Agency to wiretap domestic calls without obtaining legally required warrants. Controversy concerning the expansion of presidential powers also arose when it was revealed that Bush has used “signing statements” to indicate that he would not comply with more than 800 provisions of 100-plus signed laws. The most publicized of these signing statements was Bush's exception to a provision banning “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” of prisoners in American custody. In June 2006, the Supreme Court issued the most significant ruling on the limitations of presidential powers in decades, stating in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the Bush administration's failure to obtain Congressional approval for special military tribunals to try terrorist detainees rendered the tribunals unconstitutional, and that they also violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.

As security in Iraq deteriorated in 2006 and reconstruction efforts foundered, the increasingly unpopular war became the president's greatest liability. November 2006 mid-term elections led to a seismic shift in the political landscape, with Democrats gaining control over the House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in twelve years. A day after the election, President Bush, acknowledging that his party had taken a “thumping,” announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose intransigent Iraq policies had made him the bete noir of Democrats and many Republicans. In December, the bipartisan report by the Iraq Study Group, led by former secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, concluded that “the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating” and “U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.” The report's 79 recommendations included reaching out diplomatically to Iran and Syria and having the U.S. military intensify its efforts to train Iraqi troops. The report heightened the debate over the U.S. role in Iraq, but President Bush kept his distance from it, indicating that he would wait until Jan. 2007 before announcing a new Iraq strategy.
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