Death Of A President: The passing of a president, no matter what his political party, is always sad. Sad because a life that meant so much to so many is suddenly gone. Sad, too, because it often marks the passing of an era and a different way of understanding the world. That’s certainly true of President George H. W. Bush, who died last Friday at 94.
In preparation for Wednesday’s funeral, the media did a fine job of going over Bush’s event-filled life and extensive resume in fine detail. We won’t do that here.
Instead, we’d like to celebrate Bush the man, who represented the best virtues of a generation in American history that is, sadly, fast disappearing.
In retrospect, he seems emblematic of the “Greatest Generation,” as it’s now called, which faced so many life-changing challenges. A Great Depression that devastated the economy. A World War that killed millions. A long military and diplomatic standoff with a dangerous foe, the Soviet Union. The task of keeping the peace.
Indeed, President Bush’s funeral seems to have tapped a vein of emotion in many Americans. Never wildly popular as a politician, Bush grew in stature during his retirement years, admired for facing his advancing years, illness and, finally, death with dignity and grace.
Family Man And Hero
After Bush’s death, the Daily Signal spoke to many regular people on the streets about what the nation’s 41st president would most be remembered for. One quote, from a woman, stands out: “First of all, he loved God, he loved his family, he loved this nation. Having served this nation as a man of decency and dignity…and a dad, dignity, decency, and a dad.”
Many Americans have similar warm feelings about the former president that they might not have had when he was president. Why?
For one, he was a true family man. He openly and unabashedly doted on his wife, Barbara, his children and grand children. He believed duty to one’s country and family went hand in hand. In this fragmented age of broken families, it was always a touching scene to see Bush surrounded by his loving family.
For another, as American politics have grown coarser, less civil and more divisive, the former-President Bush always stayed the same. During his long, distinguished career, he was always civil, always looking to find agreement with foes, and never coarse or rude. He believed in duty to one’s country and family. He openly and unabashedly doted on his wife, Barbara, his children and grand children. And his kindness and generosity were legendary. One of his nicknames as a young man was “have-half.” It came from his reflexive habit of saying “have half” whenever he had something that could be shared.
Kinder, Gentler Bush
These are the traits that many Americans find entirely missing in today’s far-less “kinder and gentler” society. These are the traits that Bush’s life embodied.
Yet, beneath the genteel veneer of the quintessential WASP gentleman, was a man who was hard as nails. The patrician Bush, people often forgot, was a decorated bomber pilot. He flew 53 missions in the Pacific during World War II and nearly died when Japanese troops shot his plane out of the sky. After the war, he was a successful businessman in the rough-and-tumble oil business of postwar Texas, a congressman, an ambassador to both the United Nations and China, director of the CIA and served two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
And in 1988, he won the presidency. Yes, it was only one term. He lost his chance at a second term for going back on his “no new taxes” pledge, which cost him conservative support.
But even those who didn’t like his budget deal with the Democrats, which led to his tax hike, acknowledge that he made the deal because he thought he would get spending cuts in return. He didn’t, and it politically wounded him so badly that columnist and former speechwriter Pat Buchanan and billionaire challenged him during the primary, and entrepreneur H. Ross Perot ran a third-party campaign in the main election during 1992. Buchanan took conservative votes, wounding Bush in the primaries, while Perot eventually won 19% of the total vote, costing Bush re-election.
Despite being the most popular president in history after the U.S. victory over Saddam Hussein in early 1991, the broken tax pledge cost Bush re-election against Bill Clinton, who received just 43% of the vote.
Dignity, Even In Defeat
If Bush was bitter, he didn’t show it. As Clinton later shared, Bush was as gracious in defeat as he was in victory. Upon leaving the White House, Bush left a note that read:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
That was Bush. That was the basic decency, generosity of spirit, humanity and class of the man. Even with his mixed success as president, he was a role model at a time when genuine role models are in seriously short supply.
“Dignity, decency, and a dad.” Words from an average woman on the street. But it sums him up as well as anything. Rest in peace, Mr. President.
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