When we mourn the passing of former President George H. W. Bush, we are mourning the passing of an era, a time when public service was an honor, military service was an important component, when politicians would reverse their positions if they deemed it important for the country despite its impact on their own careers. We honor the 41st President’s civility, humility, self-deprecating humor and authenticity as a devoted family man. We bemoan the absence of such characteristics in the current resident of the White House.
But these admirable qualities are not all there is to say about George Herbert Walker Bush. His resume probably made him one of the best prepared men ever to serve as President. Following distinguished military service during WW II, “41” ran an oil company, served in Congress, ran the Central Intelligence Agency, was ambassador to China and vice president under Ronald Reagan. He was at the center of a powerful network cutting across the banking, oil and intelligence worlds.
He presided with a steady hand over the transition to a post-Cold War World, helped shape the reunification of Germany and, in Desert Storm, showed how to build an international alliance to stop aggressor nations. He signed the Americans with Disability Act and created his Thousand Points of Light Foundation to encourage volunteerism. But whenever I think of the 41st President, I am also reminded that he named Clarence Thomas to the U. S. Supreme Court. And his 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis succeeded with the blatantly racist and infamous Willie Horton ad. Even sinister Bush strategist Lee Atwater, as he neared death, apologized for that. As far as I know, Bush never did.
My principal personal contact with him was on the Judy Jarvis television show in 1980, when Bush was running in the GOP presidential primary against Ronald Reagan. Bush had been pro-choice prior to his run and supported Planned Parenthood, but did a 180 to keep pace with Reagan. I pressed him on his reversal; he danced around it, then got hot under the collar. Eight years later, he was his party’s standard bearer and, I was told, was still angry with me. His abortion reversal was not unlike his later politically expedient willingness to support President Reagan’s tax cut, which he had earlier correctly decried as “voodoo economics.” By contrast, when he reversed the “Read my lips; no new taxes” pledge he ran on in 1988, he did it for the good of the country even though it hurt his reelection bid in 1992. In that reversal , he was a statesman.
All these contradictions underline that George H.W. Bush was, like most of us, an imperfect nuanced human being, and today we remember and revere his better angels, those “kinder and gentler” characteristics so sorely missed on the national scene today. RIP George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States.