My mom came to pick me up from school early on January 20, 1989. George H. W. Bush was set to be inaugurated that afternoon. Mother believed it was important for her kids to understand the political process. The first lesson would come by watching the transition of power between President Ronald Reagan to President Bush. That memory came back this week, now 30 years later, watching the news of former President Bush’s passing. This time of national remembrance matters to me because it is also a remembrance of my childhood, a simpler time marked by personal decency and shared national values.
I caught a glimpse of President Bush once as a kid, at a campaign rally at when his son Jeb was running for governor of Florida. I thought it was so cool to see a president, even from afar. A couple of years earlier I ran outside hoping to catch a glimpse of Air Force One after a news crew showed it taking off from a nearby airport. It was many years later before I finally saw the jet in person during my first military assignment in Colorado.
Usually the passing of a statesman does not touch my life. This week is different. We are now accustomed to a very ugly politics that would have seemed foreign to our parents in the 1990s. President Bush was a guard of dignity in the White House. He did not demean people. All politicians inevitably have political opponents. President Bush chose not to have political enemies. As a military officer, I tell my subordinates that we are entrusted with power for one reason: to serve others. I think Mr. Bush would have agreed.
Earlier this week military author Steve Leonard remarked on Twitter that presidents typically have the opportunity to make a handful of strategic decisions that shape the world. Bush passed them all: liberating Kuwait, showing strategic restraint in the first Gulf war, and using American power to spread freedom across east Europe as the Soviet Union collapsed. News personalities who conspired to discredit Bush in the 1992 reelection campaign now praise his accomplishments. As many of us already knew, Bush was better than the pundits all along.
Thinking back on 30 years ago, I recall that Bush held the presidency during a time when leaders could be discussed with a basic sense of honor, even by citizens who disagreed with their policies. That is not to say that all politicians were indeed honorable; we know otherwise. We were better as people, willing to talk about politics without a default belief that those who disagree are inherently evil. I miss that time and hope for leadership that inspires and unites the country once again. George H. W. Bush was a leader who rallied people and governments to unite behind causes that benefited the United States. It is appropriate that our nation unites in his honor to observe a formal period of mourning now.
Bush was not a political showman, a sentiment echoed Monday by Albert Mohler. In the television age, that sincerity was a liability that Bill Clinton exploited during the 1992 presidential election. Just nine years later, the nation again witnessed Bush’s authenticity in the moment he comforted his son, President George W. Bush, at the national 9/11 memorial service just days after the terrorist attacks. The presidents were father and son, bound by love rather than having both held the presidency.
Family friend James Baker reported that the elder Bush’s final words were to his children, expressing his love. May we all seek to be remembered that way, loving up to the very last moment.
Copyright 2018 Chase Spears All Rights Reserved
Chase Spears is a military officer and student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. His opinions are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.
Photo by AJ Guel, via Wikipedia Commons