My phone buzzed yesterday morning at @2:30 AM. Since I now have college aged kids in my life (and in my occasional charge) I put on my glasses so I could better see the name of the Regional Detention Center that had awakened me.
It was not a jail. It was the New York Times service I subscribe to informing me of the passing of George H. W. Bush. He was the 41st President of the United States and the father of the 43rd. He was 94 and had been in poor health for some time.
I was a young lawyer in my thirties when Bush was sworn in. This being prior to the Internet (as I recall) I had a small TV that I brought to the office so we could watch the inauguration in the conference room. I had no particular use for his predecessor in office who he served as VP and so I had very little use for him.
Further, Bush (or his minions such as Lee Atwater) had run an absolutely filthy and racist campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. About whom, it occurs to me, little has been heard about since. I do not know if he is still alive even. Has anyone ever slipped into irrelevance as quickly as he?
OK. Maybe Ross Perot. But I digress.
I did not hold out much hope for the presidency of a man who sold out like that. Even one who spoke of "a thousand points of light" in that inaugural address that we watched in the conference room.
And in retrospect I was mostly wrong. Indeed, 41 is positively Lincolnesque in comparison to the historical aberration that currently infects the Oval Office.
As I reflect on his life and career, the words "decency, humility and devotion to duty" came to mind and I wrote them on my scratch pad. He was a decorated Navy flier, the last President who actually served in combat. He understood war. And he resisted those who urged him to chase Saddam into Iraq after the coalition of 35 countries he put together expelled Iraq from Kuwait.
His bone-headed son would have done well to ask his father why he stopped at the border. But I'm guessing here that 43 didn't want to know. Or that Dick Cheney wouldn't let him ask the question.
Bush should have been able to ride his wartime popularity into a second term. But a skilled young governor from Arkansas hung Ronald Reagan's economy around his neck. And George Herbert Walker Bush was turned out by the voters.
Our presidents tend to look better to us over time and in the rear view mirror. Even Nixon is credited with opening the door to China and in creating the Environmental Protection Agency. I think Bush will be remembered for those attributes that I scraped on the paper. Even if for no other reason than he was not trying to build a hotel in Kuwait City when he went after Saddam.
Here's another reason that I came to like George Bush. SNL's Dana Carvey spent the 4 years of the Bush Administration doing a spot-on impression of 41 as a high church patrician goofball. Bush thought it was hilarious. So much so, he invited Carvey to perform at the White House. You can tell a lot about a man if he can laugh at himself.
Could you imagine President Heel Spurs inviting Alec Baldwin over?
Rest in Peace Mr. Bush. And thank you.