1552 The Burning Bush
We give an old man some breathing space as he approaches the age of death. If we like him, we start thinking of him as better than he is. If we dislike him, nostalgia crowds it either down or out.
So when George Herbert Walker Bush, 91 and ailing, spends long hours over long years with a biographer and says things that surprise, the nostalgia is joined by warmth.
Jon Meacham’s biography of the 41st President is out and it’s making waves. Meacham is a big time editor (Newsweek, Random House;) commentator (PBS) and a patient and thorough researcher.
He spent years listening to Bush and was given access to years of presidential diaries. From this, he wrote almost 900 pages as one of the era’s most famous figures gives it one last try at shaping history in his favor. Trial and -- to an extent -- success.
Unlike President Bush 43, HW served with honor in WWII, admitted his mistakes and tried to lead rather than exclude large swaths of the public.
If he had one flaw that was more “fatal” than others it was loyalty. In seeking a second term, he chose to stick with vice presidential running mate Dan Quayle, who probably was the second worst veep of the late 20th century, the worst being Spiro Agnew.
Up until recently, the vice presidency was a job of low demand. And even at that Quayle didn’t measure up. Goofy is okay if one also is likeable. Dan had the former attribute but not the latter. His picture is in the dictionary next to “dolt.”
Male members of the Bush clan have trouble expressing themselves understandably and in complete sentences. They speak in bumper stickers. That hurt “W” more than HW and brother JEB! of the wilting exclamation point -- thank you Gail Collins for that -- is right up there with his brother.
Ah, his brother. HW tears into a couple of W’s top guns. Cheney and Rumsfeld. He says (translated from the bumper sticker) they are dogmatic, rigid and doctrinaire. While “Poppy” as he’s called in the family started the gruesome Iraq nonsense, W turned it into high art and HW didn’t much like that, either.
Bush 43 defended his choices of advisers, most of whom had worked for Poppy earlier. And the advisers themselves are wearing the senior Bush’s pejoratives as badges of honor.
In the diaries, HW admits to something few politicians would, self doubt. He paints himself as far more human than the present generation.
So, we give the old fella a break because he kept silent when to speak up would have undercut his son (there’s that loyalty thing again.) We forgive him at least some of his many trespasses.
And we give him a break because he is a throwback to the days before the republican party had been completely co-opted by the crazies.
George Herbert Walker Bush, senior skydiver, lifelong public servant admitter of having to change course after “read my lips, no new taxes” will not save us from the abyss his older son opened and newer members of his party are pushing us to leap into. But by today’s standards, he’s sane and reasonable.
And you can’t ask much more of a politician.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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