Hadley Free­man

So now Ge­orge Bush Sr is cel­e­brated as a ti­tan of unity. How on earth did we get here?

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

Ge­orge HW Bush was no one’s idea of a great pres­i­dent. His 1988 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was the first I fol­lowed as a child in the US – sup­port­ing, un­der my mother’s in­struc­tion, his hap­less ri­val, Michael Dukakis – and even then he seemed strangely un­quan­tifi­able, a blank. His pres­i­dency bore this im­pres­sion out, in which his credit sheet was can­celled out by enough debit that the bal­ance ul­ti­mately came to noth­ing.

A war hero and fa­mously po­lite, Bush Sr signed the Clean Air Act and the Amer­i­cans With Dis­abil­i­ties Act (pro­tect­ing, among oth­ers, peo­ple with HIV, from dis­crim­i­na­tion), and even­tu­ally spoke out against the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. But he was also ar­ro­gant, care­less and self­serv­ing. He ex­ploited racial pol­i­tics and par­doned the de­fen­dants in the Iran-Con­tra hear­ings to pro­tect him­self from in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He kow­towed to Amer­ica’s evan­gel­i­cal right, and un­der his watch, Aids rav­aged the US more than any other de­vel­oped coun­try. He left a mess in the Mid­dle East and his vice-pres­i­den­tial choice of Dan Quayle – a pro-life hawk – set the Repub­li­can party on a course that even­tu­ally led to Sarah Palin and Don­ald Trump.

Af­ter Bush’s death was an­nounced last week­end, the pre­dictable schism opened in the re­ac­tions be­tween two ex­tremes: on the one side, the cap-doff­ing ha­giogra­phies, and on the other, a hip­ster-es­que “burn the el­ders down” con­dem­na­tion. And yet the anec­dotes about the now late pres­i­dent that seemed to tickle peo­ple the most, even some of the cyn­ics on­line, were ones about his rel­a­tive lack of par­ti­san­ship.

Ref­er­ences to Bush’s sup­port for Hil­lary Clin­ton were rev­er­ently re­peated on the news, as was his un­likely friend­ship with Barack Obama. Most of all, his gra­cious let­ter to the then-in­com­ing pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, wel­com­ing him to the White House af­ter los­ing his bid for re-elec­tion against him, pinged ec­stat­i­cally across the in­ter­net. Ah, for the days when politi­cians could put aside their po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences for the good of the coun­try, went the col­lec­tive sigh across half my so­cial me­dia feed. And across the other half, some­thing very dif­fer­ent was go­ing on.

At the same mo­ment peo­ple were coo­ing over Bush’s let­ter, Kate Osamor, the shadow in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary, an­nounced she was re­sign­ing from the Labour front­bench af­ter it was re­ported that she had mis­led the pub­lic. Pre­vi­ously the Labour party had said Osamor was un­aware of the le­gal case against her 29-year-old son, Ish­mael, who was caught with £2,500 worth of drugs at Bes­ti­val last year and charged with in­tent to sup­ply. This, it was orig­i­nally claimed, was why she con­tin­ued to em­ploy him as her chief of staff.

In fact Osamor had writ­ten to the judge ask­ing for le­niency and, given that her son was caught with a haul of 250 ec­stasy pills, plus co­caine, ke­tamine and cannabis, but was not given a cus­to­dial sen­tence, her re­quest was ar­guably granted (the judge men­tioned the strong let­ters of sup­port, as well as ac­cept­ing that Osamor had been look­ing af­ter the drugs for friends. His – judg­ing from the amount of drugs – many, many friends). When asked about this by a re­porter last week, who went to Osamor’s home for a re­sponse, she re­port­edly replied, “I should have come down here with a bat and smashed your face in” and threw a bucket of wa­ter af­ter him.

Osamor has now re­signed, and quite right, too. But it was gen­uinely dispir­it­ing to see so many on the left ve­he­mently de­fend her, us­ing frankly spu­ri­ous ar­gu­ments about the fu­til­ity of drug laws, the hypocrisy of jour­nal­ists moral­is­ing about drugs when many of them take them, and the me­dia’s racial bias. All those points are surely true but ir­rel­e­vant in this cir­cum­stance, given that Osamor re­signed fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions that she lied to the pub­lic, not be­cause her son was caught with drugs.

If jour­nal­ists re­ally can­not see the im­moral­ity in de­fend­ing a politi­cian who has abused an­other jour­nal­ist, just be­cause the politi­cian is a mem­ber of the party you sup­port, it’s hard to know where to go from here. Af­ter all, even Fox News sup­ported CNN’s Jim Acosta when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion went af­ter him. This kind of bla­tant par­ti­san­ship is as com­mon on the right as on the left, as the Trump fa­nat­ics and die-hard Tories prove, and it’s hard to fathom how any­one thinks this sim­plis­tic non­sense helps – or fools – any­one. It’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to sup­port a politi­cian and still have crit­i­cisms; or, in­versely, not to sup­port them but also ac­knowl­edge their strengths. Other­wise, you’re just a pro­pa­gan­dist.

Ge­orge HW Bush, of all peo­ple, knew that, which is why he went against his own by-then-ra­bidly par­ti­san party to sup­port Hil­lary Clin­ton. Many oth­ers, on the left and the right, don’t, and it’s do­ing the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate no favours. As a re­sult, ev­ery­one else looks back sen­ti­men­tally to the days when Bush – now, amaz­ingly, a com­par­a­tive ti­tan of com­mon­sense – was in charge. We need to be bet­ter than this

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