Presidential recruitment is a major issue in American politics. The president is considered to be the leader of the free world and the chance to become America’s president despite your background neatly fits in with this concept.
The last four American presidents have come from different backgrounds and would appear to fulfill the American dream that if you want to succeed, you can regardless of your origins.
Ronald Reagan was the oldest person to serve as American president. His father was a travelling salesman and an alcoholic and for most of his formative years, his mother was the dominant figure in his life. He got a scholarship to a Disciples of Christ College in Illinois. Here he did well in sport but was drawn towards acting.
On graduating in 1932, he became a sports broadcaster – the nearest he could get to show business. He started his acting career in 1937. Reagan appeared in more than 50 films, most of them so-called ‘B’ movies (shown before the main feature film).
In 1952, he married his second wife – an actress called Nancy Davis. In Hollywood, Reagan was a union president and he attempted to remove communists from the movie business. His first foray into politics came when in 1964 he made a speech supporting the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater – a speech that brought a great deal of praise from the Republican Party. In 1966, he was persuaded by wealthy Californians to run for governor. He won the election and thus lead one of the most influential and powerful states in America. Reagan was president form 1980 to 1988.
George Bush had an entirely different background. His father was wealthy; a partner in a leading Wall Street law firm. He was also a Republican Senator for Connecticut between 1952 and 1963. During World War Two, Bush served in the US Navy. In 1945, he joined Yale University – considered one of the leading American universities. After graduating in economics, he got involved in the oil industry and by the age of 41 he was a millionaire.
He first involved himself in politics in 1962 and he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1966 representing Houston, Texas. Bush was re-elected in 1968. He gained a reputation for being a moderate as he supported the extension of voting rights to 18 year olds and the end of the military draft.
Despite failing to get into the Senate, Bush was recognised by the Republicans as a man with business knowledge and during the presidencies of Nixon and Ford, Bush was given a number of high profile public offices; he served as the US ambassador to the UN, chairman of the Republican National Committee and Director of the CIA. With this background and the experience of gaining numerous contacts – both at home and abroad – Bush went for the presidential nomination in 1980.
George Bush was president from 1988 to 1992.
Bill Clinton never knew his father as he was killed in a car crash a few months before Clinton was born. His father had been a travelling salesman. Clinton’s step-father (his mother re-married in 1950) was an alcoholic and a heavy gambler who frequently lost the family’s money. Clinton was verbally abused by his step-father and his mother was beaten by him. Clinton was a popular student who did well in many subjects. He was one of just two people selected from the whole of Arkansas to attend the Boys Nation. This was a government sponsored study programme held in Washington DC for young people. It was at one of its meetings that he met JF Kennedy.
Clinton went to Georgetown University in Washington where he got a degree in International Affairs. To pay for his way through university, he got a job as an intern for the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs chaired by Senator Fulbright, an Arkansas senator. Clinton was greatly moved by the civil rights movement that was strong at this time. After the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Clinton volunteered to work for the Red Cross and took clothing and food to those who had lost their homes in the rioting.
At Yale University Law School he had to pay his way by doing as many as three jobs as well as studying. At Yale he met his future wife, Hilary Diane Rodham. In 1972 both worked for Senator George McGovern’s presidential campaign; Clinton was campaign co-ordinator. In 1974, Clinton entered his first political campaign to the House of Representatives. He was up against the incumbent Hammerschmidt – a popular figure. The holder kept his seat but it was his closest race in 26 years in Congress. The campaign by Clinton did a lot to raise his public profile and he was entered by the Democrats as their choice to be the Attorney-General for Arkansas.
Clinton won the ‘election’ – there was no Republican opposition and entered public office for the first time in January 1977. One year later he ran for state governor and easily won the election for this. He took the office in January 1979 aged 32, one of the youngest governors in America’s history.
Clinton was president from 1992 to 2000.
George W Bush did come from a privileged background in that his father had already been president and he would have had access to money that is essential to make progress in American politics.
However, unlike his father, controversy surrounded his early years in politics. At university, Bush Junior was considered to be too interested in the good life rather than studying. Allegations of a drink problem at a younger age marred his 2000 presidential campaign. Bush has also had to endure allegations of cocaine abuse when he was younger. After Harvard, Bush went into business but his career in the oil business was far from successful. Moving into politics, Bush was to become governor of Texas – a senior political position in American politics before challenging for the Republican’s presidential candidature in 2000.