Some thoughts on the passing of a decent President

I’ll be honest, I was distraught when George H W Bush won the 1988 presidential election. I had so been hoping for an end to Republicans in the White House after 8 years of Reagan. I didn’t think his Vice President was going to be much of an improvement. I was annoyed that hard-hitting negative advertising combined with poor strategy and misjudgement of what constituted a good photo opportunity had cost Mike Dukakis.

Four years later, I stayed up all night watching the results, elated as Bill Clinton won a commanding victory. By that time, it wasn’t that I couldn’t stand Bush. In fact, I’d grown to respect his ability to form international alliances and show restraint and generally be a safe pair of hands at a time fo the most amazing global transformation. I was saddened how he had been pushed to the evangelical right by a bruising primary contest in a party which was then showing that it was capable of going to some very dark places.

Of course, as America’s economy suffered and people got poorer, he didn’t respond with the sort of social democrat policies that I would have liked. Then again, neither did Clinton. America just never has been in that place. I have never been able to understand why the provision of health care that’s free at the point of use by the state is such a controversial idea.

But Bush’s presidency had been a force for international good. I was glad that his Secretary of State James Baker was at least prepared to try to curb the excesses of the Israeli Government and to get people round the negotiating table, laying the groundwork for the Oslo Accord. 

He could have retreated into bitterness after going from a post Gulf War approval rating of 90% to a comprehensive defeat 18 months later. He could have spent the rest of his life ostentatiously ignoring Bill Clinton whenever they met. Instead, he left the most incredibly gracious note for Clinton in the Oval Office. The two men and their families actually ended up as friends.  He also earned the admiration of the Obamas. It is telling when political opponents end up not just respecting you but having real affection for you.

I can’t overlook the revelation last year, as the Me Too campaign took off, that he had behaved in an inexcusable manner to some women. I was genuinely disappointed in him. At least his expression of regret was of better quality than the non-apologies often issued in these circumstances.

But he will overwhelmingly be remembered for being a human being who had kindness, compassion and grace and a politician who was collaborative and had enough restraint to stop with the foreign intervention when it was sensible to do so. He was without doubt the best Republican President of my life.

I do feel for his family. Even when your parents are in their nineties and you know it’s coming, losing both of them within 7 months is really tough.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • How times have changed that now Bush is considered a great statesman.

  • George Bush senior was among the last of the WW2 generation that served in high office and had a deep appreciation of what war meant. I was living and working in the US during his presidency. A

    He was a bit too frank in his public statements for the liking of his advisors. What sticks in my mind was his statement on the eve of the 1st gulf war to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. When explaining to the American public why the US had to send its soldiers to a foreign wars and reacting to criticism that it was all about oil – he said oil prices were important, they determined the status of American jobs and employment.
    That was a little to much realpolitik for his West Wing advisors and the message soon changed to America’s role in leading the west in the defence of democracy and liberty.
    A good president who understood the meaning of duty.

  • I’m not old enough to remember his presidency but enjoyed reading this article. It sounds like he was a good man.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Dec '18 - 1:17pm

    Caron, these comments too, excellent.

    I was at Democrats Abroad, 1988, London primary caucus results gathering, a student, with great interest in and a love for, American politics, and American culture, not realising the possible inevitability that Ia few years later, would marry an American!

    I really appreciate these kinds of poignant words spoken as a truly objective reappraisal of someone. I have interaction online with Senator Hart, who , but for the media fray, and intrusion into his private life, would have more than likely been president, that year, he is a fine man, brilliant thinker, and gracious about his opponents, as are the commentators here about a good man.

  • John Marriott 1st Dec '18 - 2:03pm

    What I most remember about George Bush Senior are his throwing up at an official dinner in Japan and what he said at his inaugural address. At the time we over here were into ‘Care in the Community’ in a big way, one of the most disastrous policies that the Thatcher government forced through and for which we are still paying today. Like many ‘bright ideas’ it originated across the pond and, like things like PCCs and open classrooms in schools, to give just two examples, was slavishly copied over here.

    I distinctly remember President Bush promising to “build more mental hospitals” and thinking that here we were trying to close them at a rate of knots without making adequate provision for those, many of whom were there for their own safety as much as anything else, in the world outside.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention his Vice President, one James Danford Quayle, he of the ‘potatoe (sic)’ and the ‘Latin America’ quote. There was a joke going the rounds at the time, which went something like this: ‘What are the words the West does not want to hear? Answer “Hi, Dan, it’s George here. I don’t feel well.” ‘

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '18 - 4:20pm

    Ronald Reagan had changed parties. He became Republican nominee for President in a brokered convention. He could offer the vice-presidential slot, and surprisingly to many observers it was George Bush who took it, promising to follow Reagan’s policies precisely. After 8 years as VP he continued to do so. His phrase “voodoo economics” resonated widely.
    The USA has what in practice is a two party system, but when Bush came up for re-election there was a third candidate who managed to get on the ballot in all 50 states, effectively founding a new party for his personal support. He was a businessman who had become a dollar billionaire based on federal government computer contracts. Bill Clinton has written that he feared that the Democrat vote would be affected more than the Republican. President Bush had extended a deal with Canada to Mexico, but found both opponents disliking it. In office Bill Clinton reversed this policy, and a promise on tax, consequentially suffering at the polls in the mid term elections for the House of Representatives.
    Saddam Hussein had disliked some rather vague British maps of the Iraq-Kuwait border and therefore invaded the entire country and announced an intention to invade Saudi Arabia. Bush sent Baker to offer to help the Saudis if they were willing to pay. The military coalition set up included Syria, who entered Kuwait but not Iraq. It was Bush who called off the “turkey shoot” in Iraq, leaving Saddam in power in Iraq.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '18 - 4:31pm

    Canon Lindsay: “America just never has been in that place.”
    This ignores one of the UK’s best friends Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
    When he died America wept.

  • UK Liberals are unlikely to find themselves applauding US Republicans or their policies most of the time. That does not stop us recognising that as people and political animals they are not “all the same”. For all his flaws and policy errors Bush Senior did display a belief in serious politics. Sometimes people coming into politics from a background of wealth and privilege recognise the limitations of both and a sense of duty can overcome excessive cynicism and a ludicrous sense of entitlement. I think that may be the context for the grace that Caron refers to. I can remember having some respect for UK Conservative cabinet ministers who I thought were profoundly wrong and bad for the country. They had a mature understanding of political process and actually some of them were very intelligent. I suspect that George W H Bush had a similar political literacy.

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