Like everyone, George H.W. Bush is a complex mix of good and bad. I never liked most of his policies, but I always liked Bush as a person. My biggest beef against Bush was in allowing Lee Atwater run a racist campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988. And in reading some of my friends’ Facebook pages, they remind me that Bush had an abysmal record when it came to LGBTQ issues and dealing with the AIDS epidemic.
On the positive side, Bush was willing to reach across the aisle and find common ground with Democrats on such issues as disability rights and taking a political risk in raising taxes to keep the federal budget from ballooning out of control. What I most admire about Bush was his care for friendships and his willingness to be friends with even those that he disagreed with. He struck up close friendships with Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, for instance.
In spite of my disagreements with Bush’s policies, I never had the antipathy towards him that I have towards Republicans like Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump. I always thought of Bush as a Republican from a different generation that were willing to compromise and work with Democrats to try to resolve the country’s problems in spite of their political differences.
That seemed to be a time when the Republican Party was healthier and more sane. The party once had moderates and even liberal Republicans like Pete McCloskey and John Anderson. During the 1980s Republican Senator Barry Goldwater opposed Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority in their efforts to impose their fundamentalist Christian worldview on the American political scene. Goldwater saw how the Christian Right would have a bad long term effect on the Republican Party. I think that was beginning of the problems with the GOP. That started the evolution of the Republican Party as the more extreme Right began chipping away at the more moderate segments of the GOP: the homophobic campaign of Pat Buchanan in the 1992 Republican primaries; the ideological purity of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Republican leadership; the Far Right Tea Party; and the nativist and racist 2016 Trump campaign.
I don’t really include Bush to be that kind of Republican. A great article by Frank Bruni of the New York Times titled George Bush and the Obituary Wars summarizes my mixed feelings towards Bush senior. Bruni wrote:
Bush has indelible stains on his record. He also has points of light. At times he failed the responsibilities of leadership. At times he did right by them. He showed folly and he showed wisdom, cowardice and courage, aloofness and kindness.
Accentuating the positive, especially in the hours after his death, didn’t eliminate the negative…
…But too many of us tend to interpret events, political figures and issues in all-or-nothing, allies-or-enemies, black-and-white terms, blind to shades of gray…
…We like our villains without redemption and our heroes without blemish, and we frequently assign those roles in overly strict alignment with our ideology…
…we do seem to be getting worse at complexity. At nuance. At allowing for the degree to which virtue and vice commingle in most people, including our leaders, and at understanding that it’s not a sign of softness to summon some respect for someone with a contrary viewpoint and a history of mistakes.
Here is a video of the friendship of Bill Clinton and George Bush.
Former First Lady Barbara Bush talked about her and President Bush’s relationship with former President Bill Clinton in an exclusive interview with C-SPAN for its First Ladies series.