Oh, cut it out, some leftist critics have said of the adulation now being visited on the late President George H.W. Bush.
But what they might want to do is learn from him. They might want to reflect on his courtesy, his kindness, his honesty, his forgiving nature, his courage, his strength of personality, his sense of what is right and wrong at a given time, his love of country, his overall character.
We could most of us take a lesson or two or maybe a hundred from him, and then there’s his presidency. Disabled folks, listen, he made life a lot better for you with a law addressing all kinds of ways in which you could be aided when necessary and made equal with everyone else when applying for jobs. He took on economic mishaps and got the better of them. He helped reunite East and West Germany.
The list goes on and on, but a real biggie is the way he followed up on his predecessor’s work on ending the Cold War and facilitating the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. While rearrangements were tough and perilous, Bush pulled it off with calm, cool decorum that avoided the worst possibilities and abetted the best. Critics often say Bush and President Ronald Reagan were not prime players in what happened, and obviously, as in any major historic event, myriad forces were at play. But these two took charge and made choices in a manner crucial to things unfolding the way they did, and to say otherwise is just politics.
So why didn’t he win re-election? Well, he had said no new taxes in his campaign and he helped produce new taxes and this was a killer, as he knew it would be even though he had decided to put his view of what was right over his political future. Then there was Ross Perot taking votes from him as a third-party candidate — he would almost surely have won otherwise — and a politically brilliant opponent in Bill Clinton, someone happily indulging in trash talk for the sake of victory.
The interesting thing here, of course, is that the endlessly, recklessly bashed Bush was as good-hearted and helpful to Clinton after the votes were counted as anyone could be. Clinton grew to love him. The two were like father and son. This says so much about the man, as does his graduating from Yale in two and a half years, his 73-year marriage to the great Barbara Bush, the way he raised his sons, his heroism as a Navy aviator, his enormous success as a businessman and his respected service as a member of the House, as CIA chief and as an ambassador.
As a journalist for more than a half century, I’ve known lots of politicians on the local, state and national level. There are those I admire and too many who have done damage to my hopes and expectations. A chief fault is ego and self-interest, of putting one’s own political success above the common good, if with a ready means of justification. What is sometimes said behind closed doors is that they have to do this to win, but that their victory will produce more good than a trivial misstep. No, not if it becomes a way of things.
I only met Bush once. He was vice president then, and it was just a brief press conference in which he outlined his precise, detailed understanding of an issue. I was impressed but I have been far more impressed by all the testimony about his exceptionalism, private as well as public. Obviously, he made mistakes as president and he’s as vulnerable as any leader to questions about decisions interpreted by some as dreadful or worse. But his overriding decency, his focus on serving his country above any personal consideration, make me salute him with all my heart.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.