REMEMBERING BUSH, Post-Mortem Recollections

by | Dec 2, 2018 | Current Events, Government, News, Politics, Religion & Spirituality | 0 comments

As the years pass, we edit and compress our memories of presidents and other national figures until only a few salient impressions endure. Most of what we once knew recedes into our cerebral hard disk. That may be especially true for one-term presidents, often remembered more for what turned them out of office than for what got them there.

Would this apply to the one-term president who died Friday, George H.W. Bush? His name was attached to some of the nation’s top positions for more than two decades even before his namesake son won the White House twice.

This weekend’s outpouring of nostalgia, affection and grief for “George the First” surely makes the case for his significance.

But even with a public figure this durable, many facets of the story fade with time. That’s a pity, because the greater meaning of anyone’s life is often contained in the things others forget.

Take the example of Bush’s decision, at age 18, to forego college and join the Navy in the midst of World War II. (The White House got this wrong in their official statement, saying he had gone to war only after Yale.) Or the way he moved to Texas to start his business career, far from his well-established clan in New England.

Most Americans have long forgotten that Bush first ran for president way back in 1980 and actually won the Iowa caucuses over a field of better known current and former officeholders – including Ronald Reagan. That was the first of many times Bush would confound the experts, either by exceeding expectations or at times by falling woefully short. It sometimes seemed he did better when expected to lose and worse when expected to win.

Back in 1980, Bush was full of confidence about his resume and regional power bases in Texas and the Northeast. His TV ads spoke of “a president we won’t have to train.” That was a shot at the incumbent of the time, Democrat Jimmy Carter, often seen as at sea in the White House, lacking Washington experience and much of a political resume in general. (The ads were also a bank shot at Reagan, who was still thought of as an actor, primarily, and a foreign policy naif in particular).

The Bush Presidency

As president, of course, Bush is remembered for managing the global adjustment as the Soviet Union collapsed and the old Communist bloc ceased to exist. He has been praised for forming a coalition in the Persian Gulf War that lifted Iraq’s occupation of neighboring Kuwait in early 1991. The short, successful war lifted Bush to a peak of 90 percent approval in the Gallup Poll and seemingly made him a shoo-in for re-election.

He is also remembered for a budget deal in the summer of 1990 that raised some taxes, restrained some spending and helped to reduce the federal deficit over the next decade. This capitulation to higher taxes would cost him dearly among conservatives in 1992.

But Bush’s first big initiative as president was actually a tax cut. He tried hard in 1989 to lower taxes on capital gains (the profits on sale of stocks and bonds and other invested assets). The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House but fell short in the Senate, where it was opposed by Bush’s old Texas nemesis, Lloyd Bensten.

Bush also found the waters choppy when presented with two vacancies on the Supreme Court. His choice of New Hampshire’s David Souter (recommended by Sununu) sailed through but disappointed conservatives (who rightly suspected Souter might move to the left once confirmed). The other pick was Clarence Thomas, a steadfast conservative who remains on the court today, the longest serving of the current nine justices. Thomas was barely confirmed after a bruising battle over former aide Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment.

And finally, Bush failed to muster a convincing response to public dissatisfaction over the economy. A short recession in late 1991 and early 1992 was more severe in some locales, including Bush’s native Northeast. His administration’s reluctance to take this downturn more seriously made Bush appear out of touch.

The Democrats that year nominated Bill Clinton, then 46. The age gap between the two major party nominees was the widest since the 1850s, and Clinton’s empathetic charm was on full display in the debates.

Bush was also weakened throughout the year by crossfire from two other challengers. Former Reagan speechwriter Pat Buchanan ran against Bush and nearly won the first primary in New Hampshire (the bellwether state for Bush’s fortunes). Billionaire businessman H. Ross Perot also mounted a third-party bid that would eventually get 19-percent of the November vote, running against government debt and trade deals. He managed to reduce the vote for the two major parties enough so that Clinton could win with just 43 percent of the vote (Dukakis had received 45.6 percent four years earlier).

Bush, whose re-election had appeared unstoppable just a year earlier, dropped below 38 percent and carried only 18 states – losing the Electoral College 370-168.

The Final Days

George Bush had been fading in the last few days. He had not gotten out of bed, he had stopped eating and he was mostly sleeping. For a man who had defied death multiple times over the years, it seemed that the moment might finally be arriving.

His longtime friend and former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him.

Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open.

“Where are we going, Bake?” he asked.

“We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered.

“That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said.

Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead. The former president died in his home in a gated community in Houston, surrounded by several friends, members of his family, doctors and a minister. As the end neared on Friday night, his son George W. Bush, the former president, who was at his home in Dallas, was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye. He told him that he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.

“I love you, too,” Mr. Bush told his son.

Those were his last words.

George Bush had been fading in the last few days. He had not gotten out of bed, he had stopped eating and he was mostly sleeping. For a man who had defied death multiple times over the years, it seemed that the moment might finally be arriving.

His longtime friend and former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him.

Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open.

“Where are we going, Bake?” he asked.

“We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered.

“That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said.

Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead. The former president died in his home in a gated community in Houston, surrounded by several friends, members of his family, doctors and a minister. As the end neared on Friday night, his son George W. Bush, the former president, who was at his home in Dallas, was put on the speaker phone to say goodbye. He told him that he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.

Mr. Bush’s final days, as recounted on Saturday by Mr. Baker, who saw him repeatedly at the end and was in the room when he died, were remarkably peaceful after an eventful 94-year life that took him from the skies of the Pacific during World War II to the Oval Office at the end of the Cold War.

“I can’t even hardly talk about it without welling up,” Mr. Baker said in a telephone interview. “It was as gentle a passing as I think you could ever expect anyone to have. And he was ready.”

When Mr. Baker came to the house early on Friday morning, Mr. Bush seemed to rally a bit, and it appeared that he would defy death one more time. He began to eat again. He had three five-minute soft-boiled eggs, a favorite, as well as a bowl of yogurt and two fruit drinks. “Everybody thought this is going to be a great day and he’s back and he’s bounced back again,” Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Baker left around 9:15 a.m. but decided to return in the evening when he and Mrs. Baker were on the way to dinner with some friends. “He was sitting up in bed and was able to converse with people,” Mr. Baker said.

But in the car on the way home from dinner, the Bakers received a phone call urging them to come back to Mr. Bush’s house. They arrived about 8:15 p.m. “He had slipped considerably,” Mr. Baker said.

Ronan Tynan, the Irish tenor, had called earlier in the day to ask if he could drop by, and when he showed up, Ms. Becker asked him to sing to the president. Mr. Tynan sang two songs, the first “Silent Night” and the second a Gaelic song.

As he sang “Silent Night,” Mr. Baker said, “Believe it or not, the president was mouthing the words.”

Mr. Baker held Mr. Bush’s hand and rubbed his feet for nearly a half-hour. The other children, who live around the country, were called so they could tell their father goodbye.

Dr. Levenson, who arrived at 9:15 p.m., led those in the room in prayer. “We all knelt around him and placed our hands on him and prayed for him and it was a very graceful, gentle death,” he said. “It was very evident that that man was so deeply loved.”

There was no struggle, no prolonged period of labored breathing. At 10:10 p.m., the former president slipped away.

“If those things could be sweet,” Mr. Baker said, “it was sweet.”

Check out our sources:

Source #1

Source #2