Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I was working on another article last night and called it quits because I was tired. I’ll finish and post it tomorrow. But as I was settling in for the night my iPhone and iPad lit up with notifications that former President George H. W. Bush had died.
Many others from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to him far better than Incan ever hope to do. I had a lot of admiration for him. He brought a wealth of experience into the White House which paid huge dividends for the nation and the world as the Cold War ended and the world that we had known for forty years changed overnight.
It was a time fraught with real danger. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact brought freedom to much of Eastern Europe, but also unleashed a storm of long suppressed, but ancient ethnic and religious hatreds, especially in the Balkans. Likewise, the system by which the United States and the Soviet Union kept client States in line collapsed. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was but one of these nations.
Likewise, China responded to calls for democracy by crushing the peaceful demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Some leaders of Warsaw Pact nations whose people began to push for democracy and freedom were tempted to use force to crush their protestors, but none did. Credit has to be given to President Bush for how he used his knowledge, influence, and diplomatic skills to help bring down the Berlin Wall as Communist regimes collapsed all across Eastern Europe.
When Saddam Hussein brazenly invaded Kuwait, it was Bush who worked with the United Nations to build a true international coalition against Hussein and to ensure that Iraq was unable to split that coalition, which included many Arab nations, when it began shooting SCUD missiles at Israel.
At home he wanted a kinder and gentler country, something that we could sure use today. He was despised by Right Wing Republicans and Conservatives for not being “conservative enough.” Of course, the kind of conservatives they wanted in government were the uncompromising, yet morally bankrupt men like Newt Gingrich, and ultimately Donald Trump.
Bush’s political problem was one of hs greatest strengths. He was a decent man who brought humility to his office and did not make the Presidency about himself. He was gracious in defeat and went on work with the man who defeated him in 1992, Bill Clinton, on a number of humanitarian projects.
He was the last member of what has been termed “the Greatest Generation” serve as President. As a nineteen year old he put college on hold and became the second youngest man commissioned as a Naval Aviator. While serving with VT-51 (Torpedo Squadron 51) based on the USS San Jacinto, his TBM Avenger torpedo bomber was shot down over Chuchi Jima. With his aircraft’s engine on fire from hits from Japanese anti aircraft fire, Bush piloted his aircraft away from land to enable his crew to bail out. One went down with the aircraft, the other’s parachute failed to open. Bush landed in the ocean. U.S. fighter aircraft circled overhead and four hours later he was fished from the sea by the crew of the submarine USS Finback. Upon his return to the San Jacinto, Bush rejoined his squadron and flew until the squadron was rotated out of combat. He flew 58 combat missions and was received the Distinguished Flying Cross and three awards of the Air Medal.
Of the Presidents that served in the Second World War, only Bush and John F. Kennedy came so close to death serving in the Pacific. Gerald Ford served in combat operations about the Light Carrier USS Monterrey, a sister ship of San Jacinto for a year and a half. Richard Nixon volunteered for service even though being a Quaker he could have claimed consciousness objector status. He applied for sea duty but was assigned to various logistics and administrative assignments in the Pacific throughout the war. Lyndon Johnson served in the South Pacific, interrupting his congressional term to personally report on the situation to President Franklin Roosevelt. During his tour he got himself aboard an Army Air Force B-26 Marauder which was on a combat mission. There are differences in what happened during the mission, but alone among the crew Johnson, was recommended by Douglas MacArthur for, and awarded the Silver Star. Of course, Ronald Reagan, who had become a Reserve Officer in 1937, never left the Continental United States and was engaged in making training and recruitment films. Jimmy Carter entered the Naval Academy in 1943 but was commissioned too late to see service in the war.
Bush epitomized public service as an elected and appointed official, serving as a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Envoy to the People’s Republic of China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, before becoming Ronald Reagan’s Vice President.
As President he surrounded himself with competent professionals who were up to the challenges that his Presidency had to deal with. Unlike his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, there was no shady Iran Contra scandal, or Bill Clinton’s descent into extramarital forced fellatio with White House Intern Monica Lewinski and his lies about it. Neither can his response to Saddam Hussein’s Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 be compared to the criminal invasion launched by his son against Iraq in 2003.
Unlike many of his predecessors and successors he could not only take a jokes and parodies, but became a friend with one of his most successful imitators, Dana Carvey, from Saturday Night Live. Carvey’s parody of the President inspired me to learn to imitate him, Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, Bob Dole and others. Most people who have heard me think that I do Clinton the best, some say that my impersonation of him is scary, but I digress. At his final White House holiday party before he left office, Bush secretly invited Carvey. They became lifelong friends. But that is who George H. W. Bush was, and why I can appreciate him so much.
He was a devoted husband and father. He was preceded in death by his wife Barbara and daughter Robin.
May he Rest In Peace.
2 responses to “Unassuming, Competent, and Honorable: George H. W. Bush 1924-2018”
Unassuming and honorable, Bush surely was. Competent? Not so much, and really only in comparison to how much worse his son and Trump were. Back in 1991 I remember thinking that Bush would probably go down as the worst president of all time. Certainly his malfeasance on climate change, and entrenching climate change denial as official policy, is an enduring blight on his legacy. His indifference toward the AIDS crisis is also pretty shocking. I view Bush largely as a tragedy. He was a good man with so much experience and so many talents; he could have been a great president but he chose instead to squander his time in office. He had no vision for America. As Clinton observed in his 1992 nomination speech, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Nonetheless my heart goes out to his family.
You are correct that he had no vision, and that his climate polices and policies towards people with AIDS were real strikes against him. I would also have to knock him on his health care stance. I came to believe in climate change when I read Al Gore’s book on it in seminary. I had already become an advocate for AIDS victims and LGBTQ people early in the AIDS crisis when I read Randy Shilts’ book “And the Band Played On.” I found both his and Reagan’s response to be devoid of real humanity.
He did try to right the Reagan recession and deficits by raising taxes, which conservatives condemned him for, and tried to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. His foreign policy was very competent, and he tried to be responsible on the economy.