Editorial | George H.W. Bush (1924-2018)

Editorial | George H.W. Bush (1924-2018)

From a world war through the Cold War and beyond, President Bush met this country's challenges up close and personal.

All American presidents, no matter what their personal qualities, are extraordinary individuals. How else could they have climbed to the top of the political heap?

So, as Americans review the life and death of George H.W. Bush, this nation's 41st president, they'll see a long and well-lived life that is notable for successes that extend far beyond politics.

President Bush died Friday at age 94. Since he was in ill health the past couple years, his death did not come as a shock, but it does, nonetheless, represent a loss.

One of the ways Americans mark times in their lives is through the presidents who were in charge as they grew up, went to college, served in the military and got older. Presidents, whether Americans like them or not, are a part of the nation's fabric. That is why former commanders in chief are, for the most part, thought of warmly by the American people.

That affection will be on display through midmorning Wednesday, as President Bush's body lies in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and followed by a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral. Private services will be held Thursday followed by burial in his presidential library at Texas A&M in College Station.

Those are the traditional procedures when presidents die, ones that befit a great individual.

But they tell us little about the man.

George H.W. Bush was born into wealth in Connecticut, the son of a U.S. senator. But he was made of stern stuff, to the point that he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 18 and became the Navy's youngest bomber pilot.

He flew 58 missions in the Pacific, repeatedly braving enemy fire, and saw close friends die. During his years in politics, largely due to his gentlemanly demeanor and personal loyalty, some of his critics described him as a "wimp," a description that couldn't have been more wrong.

Ultimately, Bush moved to Texas to pursue the oil business, became involved in politics, lost a couple races (1964 and 1970) for the U.S. Senate, served briefly in the U.S. House from Houston and made positive impressions on powerful people looking for capable subordinates.

As a consequence, Bush served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China and head of the CIA.

His resume was one of the most impressive in Washington, D.C. — so impressive that comedians used to make jokes about it at political gatherings.

All Bush's resume showed, the comedians jibed, was that Bush couldn't hold a job.

But he could, and he did, running for president in 1980 and, after another defeat, getting the vice presidential nomination courtesy of Ronald Reagan.

After eight years as vice president, another four as president followed for Bush, who ran into a political juggernaut named Bill Clinton in 1992. Thus ended Bush 41's political career, but certainly not his life.

He continued to live to the fullest, forming an unlikely but sincere friendship with President Clinton, promoting charitable causes, golfing at a frenetic pace and even jumping out of airplanes to enjoy the thrill of skydiving.

Through it all, President Bush was both a gentleman and a man of character who tried to do the right things for the right reasons. He sometimes fell short of that admirable goal, but then, who among us bats 1,000?

In politics, President Bush provided a steady hand at the tiller. In life, he embodied the qualities of selflessness and general decency all Americans would do well to emulate.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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