George Bush, the 41st U.S. president, was a man of sweetness and decency, an old-fashioned aristocrat who spent more than 40 years in public service and who knew the value of compromise.
He was also a middleman when he needed to be.
He helped transition the world from the Cold War and fear of nuclear war with the collapsing Soviet Union to a time of rebuilding in Eastern Europe. He also pulled together an international coalition to push Iraq from Kuwait in 1991.
He did all this before any of us were born.
Bush, a one-term Republican, died on Friday at age 94, years after being diagnosed with a form of Parkinson’s disease and being relegated to a wheelchair since 2012.
Yet, looking back on him and his politics, we are struck with his manners, his bipartisanship and his genuine feeling for the underserved. He’s quite a contrast to current Republicans –– and even Democrats –– few of whom seem to value compromise or courtesy.
Born wealthy, Bush was the last U.S. president to serve in World War II. He was a Navy pilot and shot down in the Pacific in 1944.
He famously wrote hand-written cards to his staff, world leaders and even his grandchildren. His idea of cursing was to shout “Golly!” or “Jeepers!”
Bill Clinton, who beat Bush in the 1993 presidential election even saw Bush as a father figure.
He disliked President Donald Trump from the start. He reportedly called President Trump a “blowhard” after the president eliminated his son Jeb Bush from the 2016 Republican primary race. He confirmed in a book that he voted for Hillary Clinton.
One of his greatest accomplishments was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which forced employers to make "reasonable accommodations" for the disabled.
He was an NRA member but in 1989 approved a temporary ban on the import of some semi-automatic rifles. The NRA retaliated against him, causing him to publicly resign his lifetime membership.
Such a clear repudiation is unthinkable by many Republicans today. They cower and fawn over each other and over the interest groups that support the president, including the NRA.
But our generation doesn’t discuss 41st President Bush as much as we do his son.
But Bush was not without controversy.
Bush’s supporters created a 1988 campaign ad, known as the “Willie Horton” ad, which used a mugshot of a black man to attack democrats. Many considered the ad to play on racism at the time, which Bush denied.
Bush was also a man who didn’t always regard women with as much respect as he gave men. Columnist Maureen Dowd, who was a newly-minted New York Times White House correspondent under Bush, recalls that he referred to her as a “reporterette.”
Recently, eight women have come forward accusing Bush of making inappropriate remarks or groping them, even during his time in office. One woman says she was 16 when Bush grabbed her inappropriately during a photo-op in 2003.
Bush supporters and family members insist the touching was not meant sexually and only occurred as he aged and that he “patted women’s rears in what was intended to be a good-natured manner.”
If true, the allegations shift Bush’s legacy.
We’re in the era of #MeToo, a post-Bill Cosby world where public figures are being called out for their despicable behavior.
The allegations against Bush didn’t stick when women came forward last year. Maybe that’s because so many prominent figures fell from grace that the public forgot about the Bush allegations. Or maybe it’s because, compared to Stormy Daniels and the Access Hollywood tape and Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and Les Moonves and so many others, we’ve grown numb. Their behavior was so much worse than that of the former president, his barely registers.
But it has to.
That’s what our generation needs to make sure happens.
He was a decent man, yes. He loved his family and had a storybook marriage to his wife Barbara, who he married in 1945. He was an astute politician and worked to be a president who reached across the aisle.
George Bush was a respectable man, but we shouldn’t forget his entire history.
The editorial board can be reached at email@example.com