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As the son of a Connecticut senator, George Herbert Walker Bush, referred to as “Poppy” to his family and friends, he was a “driven and pragmatic politician,” who struggled to inspire the nation with his policies. He has a stellar resume. He methodically rose through the ranks of elective and appointive offices, however, he never fully grasped “the vision thing,” as he put it.
As Bush developed his credentials by being at the right place at the right time, culminating in the election in 1988 for the 41st president.
After Pearl Harbor, when Bush was 18, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy as an aviator. Two years later, he was forced to parachute from a fighter place in 1944 when he was shot down by the Japanese.
Over the next 20 years, Bush focused on graduating from Yale University, getting married, having children, and making money in the oil business in Texas.
In 1964, he ran and lost a race to the U.S. Senate in Texas. However, two years later, Bush was back in politics with his election to the U.S. House of Representatives.
People believed that Bush was an up-and-comer, and President Richard Nixon convinced him to give up his congressional seat to run for the Senate in 1970. He lost.
Nixon valued the loyalty Bush had for the GOP, therefore, he appointed the two-term congressman as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. There, he gained two years of foreign policy experience.
After that, Nixon named Bush as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the Watergate years. This put him in touch with party loyalists who would later help his political career.
Next, Bush did two years at the U.S. Liaison Office in China, furthering his foreign affairs credentials.
He became a competent, moderate who became the director of the CIA for two years.
Along his political journey, Bush’s name was known as a serious contender for Nixon’s vice-presidential running mate in 1968 instead of Spiro Agnew. Additionally, he was almost chosen to be Gerald Ford’s running mate in the 1976 presidential campaign.
For years, Bush was close to power and politics. He was infected with the presidential bug and launched a bid for president in 1980. He lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan but was selected to be Reagan’s running mate. They were victorious and after Reagan’s two terms, Bush won the presidency becoming the first president since Martin Van Buren over 150 years earlier to move directly from the vice-presidency to the Oval Office. And just like Van Buren, he lost his re-election to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Bush entered the presidency with a stellar resumé: war hero, congressman, party chairman, foreign policy expert, and chief spymaster. He was not a natural politician or campaigner like Reagan, Clinton, or John F. Kennedy, whom he once met. He impatiently glanced at his watch in the middle of the presidential debate in 1992, revealing a man anxious to get back to work and not comfortable with the bruising banter of politics, according to The Hill.
Even though Bush had deep roots in the Republican Party, he was viewed with suspicion by the increasingly right-tilting party faithfuls who viewed Bush as too moderate. In an attempt to convince the party that he was a GOP hardcore, he declared in his 1988 nomination speech that he would not raise taxes, famously stating, “Read my lips. No new taxes.” They were words he would have to eat later.
In 2016, the former Republican president quietly bolted from the party that have give him his rise by voting for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for president over Donald Trump. Bush was a Republican, but he was an American first, and displayed his pragmatic and reasonable nature in that vote.
Former President George H.W. Bush lived to that age of 94 and claimed the record as the oldest former president, surpassing Gerald Ford’s record in November 2017. It seemed he tempted age and fear.
For years, his birthday tradition was to parachute out of an airplane. Despite wrestling with Parkinson’s disease, he did it on his 75th, 80th, and 90th birthday. According to The Hill, “he jumped, fully remembering that when he and a fellow aviator bailed out of a smoking Navy fighter in 1944, his colleague’s parachute failed to open.”
While Bush will be remembered for his bold and broken promise of “no new taxes” and he promoted to significant concepts of public life in America. He called for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his GOP acceptance speech and his inaugural address. It reflected the core of who Bush was as a person and his hope to promote a rational, moderate, and civic discourse.
Bush memorialized the notion of volunteerism in his 1988 acceptance speech and his inaugural address by recognizing the work done by volunteer organizations and calling for more with his imagery of “a thousand points of light.” He gave out “Point of Light” awards during his presidency and helped found the Points of Light Foundation to promote volunteerism to address issues in society.
Bush was the last Republican presidential stateman. He assembled an international coalition to address the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. He was also the last World War II veteran to serve as president.
According to The Hill, Bush was a “well-meaning but charismatically-challenged workhorse.” Despite his credentials, he would not have made it in today’s political vortex. “He was too reasonable, too moderate, too kind and gentle. He was a technocrat and an organization manager – not an inspiring visionary offering red mead to the disenchanted.”
Bush concluded his letters with “all the best,” and it is the title of his 1999 book that compiled his correspondence. And “all the best” is what this man gave to his nation over a lifetime of devoted service.
By Jeanette Smith
The Hill: George H.W. Bush: war hero, GOP workhorse and president who called for ‘kinder, gentler nation’
Image Courtesy of Marion Doss’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License