This past week our country’s 41st president George Herbert Walker Bush passed away. If you look on the bookshelf in my office you would find that one of my treasured possessions is a book that he signed. While reading and watching the last few days as people memorialize him, share old letters he had written or interviews and speeches he had made, I was struck with a great sense of sadness. Some of it has to do with the current political climate that has been developing for a number of years and a longing for a more stately time among our leadership across both parties.
I turned 18 and earned the right to vote in 1985. The first presidential election I had the opportunity to vote in was in 1988; George Bush vs. Michael Dukakis. I remember first having an interest in the presidency in 1979 while in the 7th grade when Ronald Reagan and George Bush were vying for the Republican nomination to face against Jimmy Carter. I suspect that his early presence in my political memories has some impact, but there are also a few other things that stick out to me that make him such an important figure in my life.
He Loved His Family (especially his wife)
It was clear that President Bush loved his family and especially his wife Barbara. The joy that was present when he was with any of them made you want to be with your own family. The love was reciprocated as well. One of his granddaughters chose to get married this year so that he could be present as they knew his health was failing. Many stories have been told of the love affair he and Barbara had. I recently watched an interview that was several years old where he was reading some of the letters that he had written to Barbara early in their relationship. He would tear up talking about how much he loved her. Her letters to him were lost when the plane he was flying was shot down in WWII. He had all of her letters with him and they were lost at sea. They were married for 73 years. We have plenty examples of strained and broken families. It is encouraging to see a family with such love in the most pressure-filled positions in the world.
He Was the Leader of the Country Not Just His Party
He made a pledge when running for election that he would not raise taxes. Politically, it became his Achilles’ heel. However, he made choices that probably cost him the opportunity to be re-elected but allowed the country to later balance a budget. He could have pandered to his party but he did what he felt was best for the country. There could be a debate over whether it was the right move or not, but he did not allow his party to dictate what he felt was best for the country. We have created an environment where leaders play to a base to stay elected and often sacrifice what is best for the country to keep themselves in office. Leadership willing to make choices for the betterment of the whole and not just the betterment of themselves is what great leaders do.
People Were More Important Than Politics
Bill Clinton defeated George Bush in 1992 in the presidential election. It would have been easy to be bitter and talk about all of the things that affected the election. It would have been easy to throw stones at Clinton for some of his own struggles later. He could have chosen to only associate with Clinton when he had to, but when the world was in need, he came together with Bill Clinton to first help raise money for victims of a tsunami that devastated Indonesia. They began to tour and raise money together and spend time together just being friends. Bush would later say that he was the father that Clinton never had. Clinton did not dispute that statement. They raised money to benefit millions of people around the world and had a genuine friendship that was an example to all of us to overlook our political differences and have relationships with people. When we understand that people are more important than politics, our political climate will improve immediately.
As our nation grieves and many of us reflect on a life lived so publicly, may we be encouraged to live our own life better and understand that people are watching and we may have more impact than we know.