With the passing of former President George HW Bush, I’m reminded of 1 Peter 4:4: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” This is how George Herbert Walker Bush lived his life.
A lifetime of service, Mr. Bush was a pilot shot down during World War II, a Congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, head of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, CIA director, Vice President, and President.
During his Presidency, he successfully navigated the break-up of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, led a multinational coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, and secured bipartisan support for a number of domestic initiatives.
After the Iraq War, his popularity soared to nearly 90%. Yet, two years later, he lost his bid for reelection, garnering just 37% of the popular vote in a three-person race and 168 Electoral College votes. He described the loss to his “failure to click with the American people on values, duty, and country, service, honor, decency. All the things that I really believe.”
Considering today’s divisiveness and high rhetoric, we may have taken for granted a leader who tried to bridge political divides. While ambitious, driven, and confident, Mr. Bush was also deferential. He once told President Johnson: “I may not always agree with you but you can count on me to never attack you personally.”
He lived by a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote President Franklin Delano Roosevelt also liked: “The best way to have a friend is to be one.” He often reached across the aisle to seek compromise, which sometimes led to criticism by both parties.
The words of his Inaugural Address still ring true today in our divided country: “We have seen the hard looks and heard the statements in which not each other’s ideas are challenged, but each other’s motives. Some see leadership as high drama and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity – shared, and written together.”
President Bush tried to be bipartisan, inviting both parties, supporters and detractors, and advocates and opponents alike to the White House. He believed everyone deserved their “place in the sun.”
He quoted Mao to Soviet Premier Gorbachev: “Don’t worry about excessive bombast, look at deeds and actions instead.”
While President, many of George HW Bush’s deeds and actions were sometimes overlooked. After eight years of “The Great Communicator” President Reagan, Bush admitted he was not one “who flamboyantly believes in throwing a lot of words around” and “fluency in English is something that I’m often not accused of.”
So, many of his deeds and actions were overlooked and he was hounded in the press for lack of vision, being a wimp, and unable to connect with people. With the economy in recession, people just didn’t think he could “feel their pain” and he lost his bid for a second term.
After his loss, he promised himself to “be kind, generous of spirit, be understanding, let people know how grateful you are, don’t get even, comfort the ones I’ve hurt and let down, say your prayers and ask for God’s understanding and strength, finish with a smile and with some gusto, do what’s right, and finish strong.”
Rest in peace, Mr. President.