There have been more conspicuous former presidents in the past half-century, but none more admirable than George H.W. Bush.
And while the country is always diminished by an ex-president’s death, this one feels more diminishing than most.
The reason is simple, yet powerful: George H.W. Bush, the patriarch of a political dynasty that gave us two presidents and the governors of two of our most populous states, was every inch and in every way a patriot and a gentleman. He was an all-American in every sense, even aside from his having captained his Yale baseball team into the first two College World Series in 1947-48.
Has there ever been a president who served his nation in more ways over a longer period of time? Bush was a World War II aviator who was shot down and rescued in the Pacific, a congressman, ambassador, CIA director, vice president and president. And as an elder statesman, he exhibited the grace, dignity and decorum of a consummate gentleman.
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The longest-wedded of any of our presidents, he served his family every bit as well as his country.
In such ways, we have not only lost a leader but also a leading link to a bygone era, so epitomized by the Greatest Generation, in which combatants could still be comrades. Bush and Bill Clinton, who beat him in the 1992 election, not only were great friends but also honorary chairs of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
We’ll never know the full impact Bush’s stable hand had in the turbulent days of the Soviet Union’s fall, when he steadfastly refused to gloat in victory. But as evidenced by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s tribute upon Bush’s death at 94 this weekend, Bush no doubt was instrumental in bringing about an astonishingly peaceful end to the taut and jittery Cold War.
While President Bush will be forever remembered in these parts as a Houston oil man and entrepreneur, congressman and father to former governor, president and Texas Rangers co-owner George W. Bush, the elder Bush’s legacy is bigger than all of Texas. It’s a life of duty to God, family and country, and a model of statesmanship that sadly seems nearly extinct today.
The tidal outpouring of grief and esteem at his passing briefly drowns out today’s total-war politics. It’s a moment of blessed relief to clutch and carry forward. But will we?
Mourning is always a reminder of life’s impermanence, and therefore its most essential elements. Our goodbye to George H.W. Bush can be a call to the kind of comity and camaraderie that once graced our national stage.
There have been more fashionable, more feted families to inhabit the White House. There has never been one with a firmer foundation in faith, family and duty to country. It’s the Bush family business, serving their country.
And no one did it better than the patriarch.