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A Profile of President Bush Upon His Second Inauguration

As he takes the oath of office for a second term, George W. Bush contemplates his final years in elective office, and the many tasks ahead. White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson has this look at the life and times of the 43rd President of the United States.

George Bush has often said that he has made a career out of defying expectations.

He was born into a family of wealth, the grandson of a Senator, and the son of a man who would be president. He went to the best schools -- including Harvard and Yale -- but his performance was lackluster, and his early attempts at starting a business did not go well.

It was the youngest Bush brother, Jeb, now governor of Florida, who was said to have the gift for politics. But to the surprise of many, George was the first to attain high political office.

He came to the attention of Republican activists in Texas in the early 1990s as the part owner of a baseball team. They thought his style folksy, yet determined and self-assured, would attract voters. They were right.

In 1994, George W. Bush stunned parts of the political establishment when he defeated the incumbent Democratic Party governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Six years later, he sought the office once held by his father -- President of the United States.

It seemed like an uphill battle for an opposition party candidate running at a time of peace and prosperity. There were problems along the way, including the revelation that Mr. Bush once had a big problem with alcohol. Mr. Bush said, "Somebody discovered I stopped drinking. And somebody said, ‘Why did you quit drinking?’ I said, ‘Because I was drinking too much.’ "

A personal failing that could have been a liability turned into an asset. After the scandals of the Clinton administration, voters seemed to respect Mr. Bush's honesty about his drinking.

Promising to return morality to the White House, he attracted support by taking the focus away from the growing economy and putting it on personal ethics.

During his party’s acceptance speech, Mr. Bush said, "And so, when I put my hand on the Bible, I swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."

He won one of the most controversial elections in American history, narrowly defeating Democratic Party nominee Al Gore. Early in his first term, his popularity ratings were low, and he failed to energize the public with his proposals.

But all that changed with the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

The war on terrorism gave his presidency a focus and a direction. A few days after the biggest terrorist attack ever on America, he stood amidst the twisted steel and crumbled concrete that was all that was left of New York's World Trade towers. He took a megaphone from a relief worker and with a few phrases, rallied the nation: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

There would be war... and it would be war on his terms... first in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq.

“I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer,” said the president during a speech to Congress.

John Fortier is a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute. He told VOA, "Bush was not a foreign policy president, not somebody with lots of experience in that. Coming from Texas, even in the campaign there was very little talk about foreign policy. But the initial responses, the gut response at the site of the World Trade Center, the initial responses to Congress, the addresses to Congress, showed a certain sort of strength."

Some saw a lack of tact, unwillingness to compromise. Others found a man of stark, strong beliefs who went by his own instincts and stood by his decisions.

Ask the president to describe his character and he responds with images of his beloved home state. "On the open plains of Texas, I first learned the character of our country: sturdy and honest, and as hopeful as the break of day."

Stephen Hess, of the Brookings Institution, has spent decades studying and writing about the American presidency. He says George W. Bush's style has roots both in the wild, open spaces of Texas, and the corporate offices of its cities. "It was a style strongly based on giving precise assignments, holding people responsible, delegating responsibility, having a rather clear objective -- some would say vision -- of what he wants to do."

The president will speak to that vision in his inaugural address. While his father won only one term, George W. Bush will have two to carry out that vision and leave his imprint on America.