Bush was a remarkable president in remarkable times.
He was humble and surprisingly self-effacing for a man who had held so many powerful positions – congressman, liaison to China (essentially the ambassador before we had official ties), Director of the CIA, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Vice President of the United States and President. It was only because of an election defeat in 1970 that he did not also serve in the Senate.
Despite his privileged upbringing – the son of United States Senator Prescott Bush – “41” had a common touch and a gracious sensitivity to the common person. He would spend all important holidays at the White House so that his travels would not require hundreds, perhaps thousands, of workers – from Secret Service to local police and reporters to be called away from their families to support the needs of a traveling president.
Considering he only had one term, Bush was one of the most accomplished presidents in American history. Having worked side-by-side with President Reagan to strategically bring down the Soviet Union, it was on Bush’s watch that what Reagan dubbed the “evil empire” collapsed — and the Cold War ended in a bloodless victory. More than a dozen nations held in hegemony by the Soviets were again free and independent. The most iconic image of that amazing accomplishment was the tearing down of the Berlin Wall that divided Germany for almost 50 years.
When Iraq madman Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bush quickly assembled a coalition of nations and deployed 400,000 U.S. troop to the Middle East to drive the Iraqi forces out of their neighboring country. It was a war that was almost concluded in hours. Following the swift victory, Bush had a favorable rating of 91 percent — the highest of any president.
He was denied a second term by a conflation of many events – none of which on their own would have blocked his re-election. He had broken his “read my lips” campaign promise not to raise taxes. The economy had gone into a decline – and some blamed the tax increase. Independent candidate Ross Perot was cutting into the conservative base. In Bill Clinton, he was up against one of the most effective campaigners presidential elections had ever experienced – and conversely, Bush was floundering on the platform, even to the point that some suggested he was not in the best of health.
He and the also 94-year-old Jimmy Carter are the last presidents of what is often called America’s “greatest generation” – at least since the Founders. Whether that is a bit overstated, it can be said that Bush ended an era of civic pride and national unity that has not been seen to this day. His successor, Bill Clinton, kicked off the current era or division and acrimony from the grassroots to the Oval Office.
In fact, he came from a generation of men who did the right thing even if it was unpopular. H.W. wasn’t perfect, but he knew it and didn’t pretend otherwise.
George Herbert Walker Bush, you will be missed.