Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 4:21 PM

George H.W. Bush, Most Accomplished One-Term President, Is Dead

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

George Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd … steered the nation through a tumultuous period in world affairs. …

[He] was a skilled bureaucratic and diplomatic player who, as president, helped end four decades of Cold War and the threat of nuclear engagement with a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe. …

He liked to frame his public service as an answer to the call to duty, like the one that had sent him over the Pacific and into enemy fire as a 20-year-old.

(The New York Times, November 30, 2018)

Social norms constrain us to say only positive things about people when they die. Nothing demonstrates this quite like even the mean-spirited President Trump eulogizing Bush:

President George H.W. Bush led a long, successful and beautiful life. Whenever I was with him I saw his absolute joy for life and true pride in his family. His accomplishments were great from beginning to end. He was a truly wonderful man and will be missed by all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2018

Except that Bush might be the only politician in modern times who lived a life that makes every praise he receives in death entirely warranted. All the same, I am obliged to reiterate that

The last thing I wanted when I began commenting on the deaths of famous people four years ago was to contribute to our culture’s perverse fascination with celebrities. In fact, I only began commenting on them as a lark to propagate the superstition that the deaths of famous people come in threes.

Therefore, with sincere apologies, I hereby declare that henceforth I shall comment only on the deaths of famous people who have made pioneering or extraordinary contributions to mankind.

(“Post Mortem on Deaths of Famous People Commentaries,” The iPINIONS Journal, June 4, 2010)

As it happens, Bush’s contributions were neither pioneering nor extraordinary. What’s more, social norms notwithstanding, I cannot forgive him for the racial tokenism inherent in nominating Clarence Thomas to fill the huge seat Thurgood Marshall’s death left open on the Supreme Court. Thomas, after all, was/is an intellectual and political lackey, to say nothing of his infamy as the godfather of MeToo sexual predators. Nor can I forgive him for the patently racist Willie Horton ad he ran against liberal Michael Dukakis during the 1988 presidential campaign.

In any event, I highly recommend Adam Nagourney’s exhaustive obituary in The New York Times. But I’d be remiss not to at least hail Bush’s commendable character and commitment to public service.

The then president Barack Obama campaigned tirelessly for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. During his stump speeches, he invariably declared that she was more qualified to be president than any man in recent US history. It speaks volumes about the willful ignorance of the American electorate that, instead of her, they elected Trump, the least qualified man in all US history. But I digress …

The point is that George H.W. was a notable exception to Obama’s declaration, having apprenticed as a navy combat pilot, businessman, congressman, ambassador to the UN, special envoy to China, chairman of the National Republican Committee, director of the CIA, and vice president before being elected president in 1988. Topping it all off, he had the character to show strength and courage in the face of war (e.g., The Gulf War) and kindness and grace in the glow of victory (e.g., The Cold War). Yet, apropos of the willful ignorance of the American people, they kicked him out after just one term.

Beyond this, Bush’s “legacy thing” might be defined more by two fateful things he said than the many commendable things he did:

  1. Read my lips: No new taxes!” He said this at the 1988 Republican National Convention. It doomed his reelection prospects when a critical budget compromise forced him to raise new taxes, thereby sacrificing personal ambition for the general welfare. (I dare you to name one politician who would do the same today?)
  2. This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait!” He said this during a press conference on August 5, 1990. This, after Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering the aforementioned Gulf War.

Of course, all of that stands in damning contrast to the puerility, venality, and cupidity of the draft-dodging, pussy-grabbing, truth-defying current president of the United States. Which is why so many of us are feeling especially wistful today.

Hell, the cowardly lion now serving as commander in chief is too afraid to even visit US troops in war zones – as all of his immediate predecessors did, repeatedly. Yet Bush had so much courage, he was still skydiving at 90.

Not to mention that he had more common decency in his little pinky than Trump has in his whole body. Simply put, he was everything we all wish Trump could be as president.

This compels me to reiterate the following with respect to Bush’s pending funeral:

Trump seems determined to be the first to alienate his predecessors so much that they all shun him like the plague. Mind you, it would probably suit the congenitally insecure Trump well to complete his entire term without even a phone call, let alone personal contact, with any of them. His tweets give the impression that anything Obama related is like kryptonite to his presidency.

(“Trump’s First Year Ends with Government Shutdown,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 20, 2018)

Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the Bush family navigates Trump’s command attendance and participation. After all, this idiot tweeted just days ago that Obama and Hillary should be arrested and tried for treason. True to form, he offered no facts to support his tweet and showed no compunction about calling for them to be executed – the punishment for treason.

Closer to home, I suspect the rhetorical wounds he inflicted on Jeb, George W., and George H.W. during the 2016 presidential campaign are still fresh in the minds of every member of their family. I could find nothing on record, but it would not surprise me if Trump did not even spare family matriarch Barbara his Beavis-and-Butt-Head snark.

In fact, it’s an indication of their abiding disgust that Trump was the only former president who did not attend the de facto state funeral for Barbara last April. And only the McCain family’s abiding disgust explains him being the only one who did not attend the de facto state funeral for Senator John McCain last August.

But presidential protocol is such that the Bush family will be obliged to invite Trump, and he will be even more obliged to attend next week’s state funeral for George H.W. The occasion will mark the first time President Trump will come face to face with his predecessors. And anyone who knows anything about the enmity he has incited in all of them knows that his presence there will be as appreciated as that of a skunk at a garden party.

Lucky for him, though, all of his predecessors will avoid holding their noses as they interact with him. Indeed, each of them has already shown Trump far more grace than he seems even capable of showing. Still, with all due respect to Bush, watching this presidential dynamic play out will be my only reason for tuning in to his funeral.

Bush died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on Friday at his home in Houston, Texas. He was 94.

Farewell, George H.W.

Related commentaries:
post mortem
Clarence Thomas
John McCain

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