Bush’s gra­cious­ness showed us how to be

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - DAHLEEN GLAN­TON

His­tory is of­ten kind to for­mer pres­i­dents, some­times kinder than they de­serve.

And when a pres­i­dent dies, we are com­pelled to re­mem­ber the good that he did and ig­nore the things that once made us rife with anger. That’s how it should be, for the mo­ment, at least.

I don’t of­ten think of Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s sin­gle term as the 41st pres­i­dent. When I looked at him, I saw a frail man in whim­si­cal socks who in his lat­ter years had taken to a wheel­chair be­cause of vas­cu­lar Parkin­son­ism.

The im­age that most likely will re­main with me now is of his flag-draped cas­ket and his loyal ser­vice dog, Sully, rest­ing on the floor in front of it, as if he were wait­ing for the pres­i­dent to awaken.

I know that isn’t fair.

In some ways, though, his frailty at age 94 made him seem more hu­man — and vul­ner­a­ble — like the rest of us. When a man sits in Wash­ing­ton, at the helm of the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world, there can be no vis­i­ble com­mon­al­i­ties with reg­u­lar peo­ple. Amer­i­cans tend to pre­fer it that way.

We can­not af­ford to see the pres­i­dent as some­one just like us. If we did, we would be so afraid. The pres­i­dent has to ap­pear much more pow­er­ful, mighty, smart and coura­geous than the av­er­age per­son.

And though we might not agree with all of his de­ci­sions, we want to trust that they are made with good in­ten­tions on our be­half. We did not al­ways feel that way of Bush.

For many Repub­li­cans, he paled in com­par­i­son with his pre­de­ces­sor, Ron­ald Rea­gan, for whom he had served as vice pres­i­dent. For oth­ers, he may have seemed in­con­se­quen­tial. And for those who voted him out of of­fice, in­com­pe­tent when it came to jobs and the econ­omy.

Im­por­tant vic­to­ries came un­der his watch — the fall of the Ber­lin Wall and the end of the Cold War — but it was Rea­gan who earned most of the credit for lay­ing the ground­work.

What we re­mem­ber about Bush is that he gave us the Gulf War, which in 1991 may have been the only way to thwart Sad­dam Hus­sein’s at­tempted takeover of Kuwait. But in the eyes of some, he pulled Amer­i­can troops out too soon and left the job un­fin­ished, al­low­ing the dic­ta­tor to rise up even stronger in the af­ter­math of the war.

We also are re­minded of his par­dons of six for­mer of­fi­cials in the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion’s big­gest scan­dal — the Iran-Con­tra af­fair. Some still won­der whether par­don­ing for­mer De­fense Sec­re­tary Cas­par Wein­berger be­fore he could be tried for ly­ing to Congress about the se­cret arms­for-hostages deal was more about pro­tect­ing him­self than the rest of us.

For African-Amer­i­cans, Bush’s legacy is par­tic­u­larly com­pli­cated. Dur­ing his suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, he gave us Wil­lie Hor­ton, a car­i­ca­ture of the dan­ger­ous black man stereo­type that con­tin­ues to drive Amer­i­can ju­di­cial poli­cies.

Then he ap­pointed Clarence Thomas, an African-Amer­i­can jurist whom the NAACP said would be “in­im­i­cal to the best in­ter­ests of African-Amer­i­cans,” to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And while he signed the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act, pro­tect­ing dis­abled peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion in em­ploy­ment and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, he ve­toed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, la­bel­ing it a de­struc­tive ve­hi­cle for quo­tas in the work­place.

But later, he signed the less com­pre­hen­sive Civil Rights Act of 1991, mak­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suits eas­ier to file in the work­place.

In the 25 years since he lost re-elec­tion, we came to know Bush more as a man, and per­haps to un­der­stand him a lit­tle bet­ter.

As a for­mer pres­i­dent who be­came more hu­man to us after leav­ing of­fice, we be­gan to see him as a com­pli­cated man who tried to bal­ance the pres­sure of par­ti­san pol­i­tics with what he be­lieved was right. He was a man who most likely was a very de­cent hu­man be­ing but a con­flicted politi­cian, as most pres­i­dents are.

When I think of Bush in the fu­ture, I will re­mem­ber him as a man who ul­ti­mately gained the re­spect of many. For­mer first lady Michelle Obama in­ter­rupted her book tour to at­tend his fu­neral on Wed­nes­day. Bill Clin­ton, the Demo­crat who de­feated him and later be­came a close friend, re­vealed how gra­cious Bush had been after los­ing.

In a let­ter left in the Oval Of­fice prior to his de­par­ture, Bush wrote: “Your suc­cess now is our coun­try’s suc­cess. I am root­ing hard for you.”

And in a fi­nal act of gra­cious­ness be­fore dy­ing, he re­port­edly wanted Don­ald Trump, whom he and his fam­ily of­ten clashed with po­lit­i­cally, to at­tend his fu­neral. And Trump has ac­cepted.

No doubt Bush knew it would be con­tro­ver­sial. But in­clu­sion is what Amer­ica needs right now.

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush will mostly be judged through the lens of his­tory by his sin­gle term in of­fice. But some will look upon him fondly as a man, who in death tried to bring the coun­try to­gether.

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