At a time when politics has become a blood sport, full of swords from the left and spears from the right, George H.W. Bush was a point of light, if you will, a bright shining point of light.
He was a good man, a decent man. The courtesy and respect he showed to others stand as an example of how we should treat each other. His death late Friday reminds us of how we long for the days when politics was an honorable profession, peopled by men and women of principle who, despite philosophical differences, worked for a better America. Boy how we miss those days.
President Bush’s death brought to an end a lifetime of service to America and Americans. It was a remarkable life, one that inspires awe and admiration. And it was a life that earned a great deal of thanks from all of us.
The son of Prescott Bush, a two-term U.S. senator, Bush was the father of another president, a governor and presidential candidate, and grandfather of Texas’ own land commissioner. President Bush’s legacy will live long and proudly.
The last president to serve in the active-duty military, Bush joined the Navy in 1942, on his 18th birthday, at the height of World War II. He became the Navy’s youngest aviator and was at the controls of a Grumman TBM Avenger making an attack on Chichijima on Sept. 2, 1944. His plane was hit and on fire, but Lt. (jg) Bush completed the mission. He parachuted into the ocean, the only survivor of his three-man crew, and was rescued by the submarine USS Finback. He later pondered why he was saved, but it was obvious God had plans for him — big plans.
After the war, Bush attended Yale, where he played baseball and graduated in 2 1/2 years. He then moved his family to West Texas — a long way from his native Connecticut — and entered the oil business. It wasn’t long before his interest in politics came to the fore. After moving to Houston, Bush was elected chairman of the Harris County Republican Party in 1963. It would be the first of many elected and appointed positions Bush would hold over the next three decades.
Three years later, Bush was elected to the U.S. House, the first Republican to represent Harris County. In the House, Bush showed his willingness to do what was right, even if it wasn’t popular back home; he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and supported birth control, issues unpopular with his constituents. In 1970, he decided to run against liberal lion Sen. Ralph Yarborough, but Yarborough lost to Lloyd Bentsen in the primary and Bush then lost to Bentsen in November.
President Richard Nixon appointed Bush as ambassador to the United Nations and he was confirmed unanimously — remember those days — by the Senate. After two years, Nixon asked Bush to chair the Republican National Committee. As Watergate swirled around Nixon, Bush worked hard to keep the party together and eventually he ask Nixon to resign for the good of the country.
In the wake of Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford — another good, decent man — named Bush envoy to China, where Bush fostered U.S.-China relations. In 1976, Ford named Bush to head the Central Intelligence Agency, which had been roiled by scandal. Bush spent his almost yearlong tenure as CIA chief restoring the agency morale and respect.
Bush ran for president in 1980, losing the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, who picked Bush as his running mate. For the next eight years, Bush was a loyal assistant to President Reagan, representing the U.S. around the world with grace, charm and the needed toughness.
In 1988, Bush ran for the presidency again and this time won. It was at his acceptance speech at that year’s Republican National Convention that Bush introduced his thousand points of light, starting a movement that continues today.
President Bush’s term faced a great global threat when Saddam Hussein sent his Iraqi forces into Kuwait. Bush could not let that stand, but patiently built a coalition of international nations that banded together to push Iraq out of Kuwait. When ground forces eventually invaded Iraq, the war was over in 100 hours.
The North American Free Trade Agreement was passed under President Bush, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down during his time in office. President signed the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 1992, President Bush was immensely popular — he had a record 91 percent approval rating at the end of the Gulf War — when he announced he would seek a second term, which seemed assured. But the economy soured and Bill Clinton was swept into office, a bitter moment for President Bush, to be sure.
As the gentleman that he always was, Bush remained low-key for the rest of his life, supporting the new president when possible and staying quiet when not. In more recent years, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton formed an unlikely friendship, uniting to support help for disaster victims. As President Bush said, “Politics doesn’t have to be mean and ugly.”
We followed the ups and downs of the Bushes, the increasingly frequent hospitalizations. When Barbara Bush died on April 17, many feared that President Bush soon would follow. Now, he has been reunited with his dearly loved wife of 73 years and Robin, their daughter who died of leukemia in 1950.
George H.W. Bush’s final words reportedly were “And I love you, too,” spoken over the telephone to his son, President George W. Bush
In the past White House years, President Bush and his beloved Barbara spent a lot of time in College Station and Bryan, working on projects important to them. Of course, the legacy here will live on through the Bush School at Texas A&M University and the truly wonderful Bush Presidential Library and Museum. What an amazing gift to this university and to this community.
As great as those are, though, George H.W. Bush’s greatest legacy will be the kindness, the compassion and the decency he showed throughout his life of service. May they serve to light the way for all of us as we move to the future. Let us set aside the divisiveness, the hostility, the hatred that divides us as a country.
Let’s follow the example of George H.W. Bush. We’ll all be the better for it.
Let a better us be George H.W. Bush’s legacy.
An editorial from The Eagle in Bryan, Texas.