(Updated) When a political leader dies, especially when the death is not a surprise, reaction arrives in predictable waves. Straight news reports give way to biographical assessments, which are almost always laudatory. Overwhelming praise is soon replaced by reassessment and, inevitably, by disparagement.
So it is with George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, who died November 30 at 94.
In addition to a recounting of Bush 41 accomplishments, it’s been rightly pointed out that, as President, GHW Bush made some bad decisions or allowed terrible things to be done on his watch.
He made the reckless decision to put the uniquely unqualified Dan Quayle a “heartbeat away from the presidency. ”
His 1988 presidential campaign was extremely divisive.
Under the tutelage of hardballers Roger Ailes, James Baker and Lee Atwater, Bush impugned the Americanism of his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, and pandered to prejudice in making hay of Dukakis’ honorable decision to accept a Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment that deemed mandatory pledge-of-allegiance recitals in public schools to be unconstitutional. “What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?” Bush taunted. Then came the Willie Horton ads that hyped the scare-story of an African-American criminal, released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, who raped a woman and assaulted her husband. Never mind that Reagan, as governor of California, had signed a similar furlough bill.
Perhaps nothing Bush did as president was as indefensible as naming Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall on the US Supreme Court when there were much better qualified African American judges or legal scholars he could have chosen.
Yet, GHW Bush deserves our respect for his military service, for the many posts he held in government and, yes, for his single term as President.
If you have strong opinions about politics and policies, and you pay close attention to both, every President will disappoint you.
Imagine if we had a president who cared nothing about uniting the country after a divisive election? A president who encouraged division?
Imagine if our Chief Executive was the kind of person who would take actions counter to American interests because he wanted to personally profit, or because he feared alienating his core constituency?
No patriotic American wants that.
Bush 41 was not that man. He foolishly took a “No new taxes” pledge but did what was best for the country by reneging on it.
When former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke won the Republican nomination for Governor of Louisiana, Bush got involved:
“When someone has a long record, an ugly record of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign,” Bush said of Duke. “So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he’s attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”
He had a memorable presidency. There was good and bad. Some presidents are better than others and 41 was probably somewhere near the middle.
He represents a time when we could have a president who you might not have voted for, and who held distinctly different political views from your own, but who was not an embarrassment and who did not represent a threat to the Constitution and the rule of law.
We’re hearing now from people who think those who are speaking respectfully of George H. W. Bush have developed amnesia. They seem to think we don’t remember or don’t care about mistakes he made or that were made in his name.
That’s not true.
We’re just very aware of the present as well as the past.
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