Skip to main content

"American Experience" Focuses on Elder Bush

Of the 42 U.S. Presidents, the PBS documentary series American Experience has now profiled 15 of them. Tonight and tomorrow night, the series presents a two-part, four-hour biographical study of, and titled, George H.W. Bush.

Viewed in the context of 2008, the one-term Bush presidency of 1989-93 hits a lot of eerily familiar touchstones: a Gulf War, a recession, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, concerns about global oil reserves and availability. But there’s also a lot here that’s viewed through a less familiar prism, including how Bush, no less than Ronald Reagan, deserves credit for ending the Cold War.

Part one covers cradle to White House, and tomorrow’s part two begins with the onset of the (first) Gulf War. Writer-director Austin Hoyt suggests that the core of George H.W. Bush’s character, and the key to understanding his motivations and relationships, is built upon family. Not surprisingly, then, many of the best insights here come from loved ones interviewed freshly for this program – especially wife Barbara Bush and one of their sons, Florida governor Jeb Bush.

The current President, George Bush, does not take part. He’s seen in plenty of family photos, home movies and news footage – but the focus, quite rightly, is upon the father. It’s a biography, like its predecessors in this ambitious and fascinating presidential biography series, that selects its images as thoughtfully and fairly as it does its words.  That’s 15 down, and only 27 to go.

Or, before the year is out, 28…