George Herbert Walker Bush
When George Herbert Walker Bush addressed Americans for the first time as president of the most powerful nation on earth on Jan. 20, 1989, he called on “friends in the loyal opposition” to rise above partisan politics, saying that, “in crucial things, unity.”
I was fortunate to be invited to the inauguration of the 41st President of the United States, and had the opportunity to interact with now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the late Republican Party strategist and presidential adviser Lee Atwater, and “Bush 41’s” White House chief of staff John Sununu (see photos in This Week on PeopleAsia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today). The atmosphere during the inaugural was jubilant with Republicans in high spirits, but there was also that great hope of unity and respite from political rancor, the tone already set from the start by George H.W. Bush whose recent passing is mourned by many people all over the world who remember him as a leader who was imbued with grace, kindness and most of all, humility.
During the 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholars Program graduation ceremony with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as speakers, event moderator David Rubinstein asked both men what it takes to be president of the United States. Bush Jr. answered:“humility.”
While father and son – referred to as“41” and “43” respectively – may have had distinctive leadership styles, with the younger Bush determined to be his own man, they had many things in common. One of them is the conviction that America is the protector of peace, the bastion of freedom and democracy – a nation that takes its alliances seriously and stands by its word.
“I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn. Great nations of the world are moving toward democracy through the door to freedom…
“To the world, too, we offer new engagement and a renewed vow: We will stay strong to protect the peace… Great nations like great men must keep their word. When America says something, America means it, whether a treaty or an agreement or a vow made on marble steps,” the elder Bush said in his inaugural speech.
When George W. Bush addressed the Philippine Congress during his state visit to Manila in October 2003, he spoke of his belief in democracy as “the only form of government fully compatible with human dignity.”
He warned against terrorists who threaten the safety of the people by spreading fear and chaos, strongly exhorting Philippine security forces to protect local communities and defeat terrorism in every form. “In the war on terror, the US-Philippines military alliance is a rock of stability in the Pacific,” he said, praising the Philippines’ commitment to democracy and peace.
“The United States and the Philippines have a proud history. And we face the future bound by the strongest ties two nations can share. We stand for liberty, and we stand together,” ended the younger Bush, who was grateful to President Arroyo for supporting the United States’ war against terror especially in the aftermath of 9/11.
And this is one other thing that Bush 41 and Bush 43 share in common: There is a special spot in their hearts for the Philippines and Filipinos.
During World War II, then young Navy aviator George H.W. Bush flew several missions in support of American combat operations in the Philippines. When he was president, Bush 41 appointed a young Filipino-American doctor by the name of Eleanor “Connie” Mariano to become a junior member of the White House Medical Unit. Dr. Mariano went on to become the White House medical director – the first female to be appointed to the position – during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Not many also know that Bush Sr. had a personal Filipina nurse by the name of Julie Arsenio who took care of him, and she seemed to enjoy the warmth and affection of both father and son.
I joined President Gloria Arroyo on her visit to the United States in June 2008, where President George Bush Jr. said, “I want to tell you how proud I am to be president of a nation in which there are a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage… And I am reminded of the great talent of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. The chef is a great person and a really good cook.”
He was of course referring to Cristeta Pasia Comerford, a Filipina-American who was appointed as White House Executive Chef in August 2005 by first lady Laura Bush. Comerford, who was retained by Barack Obama and Donald Trump, is the first female and the first one of Asian descent to occupy the position. There have been many other Filipino-Americans who have worked in the White House over the years – jokingly referred to by Bush Jr. as Filipino “secret ambassadors” who provided him with useful insights about our unique Filipino culture.
Unfortunately, I missed the funeral services for the former president in Washington, D.C. I’m currently in Manila for the arrival of the Balangiga bells.
Senator Mitch McConnell best described George Herbert Walker Bush, patriarch of a great political family that produced two US presidents and two state governors: A humble servant and a principled leader who kept America on course.
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