Puro S.A.: Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter had much in com­mon.

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - GIL­BERT GAR­CIA ¡Puro San An­to­nio! ggar­[email protected]­press-news.net @gil­gamesh470

This coun­try’s two long­est-liv­ing pres­i­dents, Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, have a lot in com­mon.

That fact came into sharper focus Fri­day when Bush passed away at the age of 94.

Bush and Carter were both born in 1924. They both served in the Navy, with Bush the Navy’s youngest World War II pi­lot and Carter a par­tic­i­pant in the na­tion’s fledg­ling nu­clear sub­ma­rine pro­gram. They both had stel­lar en­tre­pre­neur­ial ca­reers be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, with Bush build­ing a lu­cra­tive oil busi­ness in West Texas dur­ing the 1950s and Carter tak­ing over his fa­ther’s peanut farm dur­ing the same pe­riod.

They were also, not so coin­ci­den­tally, this na­tion’s two most re­cent one-term pres­i­dents. As the only two elected Amer­i­can pres­i­dents to get voted out of of­fice in the past 80 years, they be­long to an elite club whose mem­ber­ship dues they would have pre­ferred not to pay.

Some of the same el­e­ments that made Bush and Carter one-termers also made them highly ad­mired ex-pres­i­dents: They are echoes of a dis­tant, lamented time when pub­lic ser­vice trumped par­ti­san­ship and diplo­macy mat­tered more than dogma.

Worst ten­den­cies

It’s al­ways tempt­ing, in the sen­ti­men­tal glow of a po­lit­i­cal leader’s death, to can­on­ize that leader or iron out the con­tra­dic­tory wrin- kles of their per­son­al­ity.

With that in mind, it’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that Bush’s soft-spo­ken man­ner, like that of Carter, cam­ou­flaged a fierce am­bi­tious streak and an oc­ca­sional will­ing­ness to go to ex­treme lengths to get elected.

Bush ran as a Gold­wa­ter con­ser­va­tive for the U.S. Se­nate in 1964, when he faced a lib­eral op­po­nent, Demo­cratic in­cum­bent Ralph Yar­bor­ough. When he faced a more con­ser­va­tive foe, Lloyd Bentsen, six years later, he ran as a union-court­ing mod­er­ate.

He con­structed a 1988 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign on wedge is­sues — flag burn­ing, school prayer — that had noth­ing to do with the press­ing prob­lems of the time.

He also ben­e­fited from an in­fa­mous TV ad, by the Bush-sup­port­ing Na­tional Se­cu­rity Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, fea­tur­ing an African-Amer­i­can con­vict named Wil­lie Horton, who com­mit­ted vi­o­lent crimes while on week­end fur­loughs in Mas­sachusetts dur­ing the gu­ber­na­to­rial ten­ure of Bush’s 1988 op­po­nent, Michael Dukakis.

As for Carter, he put aside his nat­u­ral civil rights lean­ings dur­ing his 1970 gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign in Ge­or­gia and tried to win fa­vor with old-South seg­re­ga­tion­ists. He ben­e­fited from the mys­te­ri­ous cir­cu­la­tion of a leaflet show­ing his op­po­nent, Carl San­ders, be­ing doused with cel­e­bra­tory cham­pagne by an AfricanAmer­i­can mem­ber of the At­lanta Hawks.

If their cam­paigns some­times demon­strated their worst ten­den­cies, Bush and Carter found their bet­ter an­gels as pub­lic ser­vants. Nei­ther of them seemed con­sis­tently fo­cused on eco­nomic is­sues, and both of them paid ma­jor po­lit­i­cal prices for that. But that’s be­cause they were oc­cu­pied with mon­u­men­tal in­ter­na­tional events.

Bush steered the United States through the fall of the Soviet em­pire, al­ways rec­og­niz­ing — much to the ir­ri­ta­tion of the GOP’s con­ser­va­tive base — the value of build­ing and main­tain­ing multi­na­tional coali­tions. Carter worked his ob­ses­sive magic over 13 days at Camp David in 1978 with Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent An­war Sa­dat and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin and brought peace to those chron­i­cally war­ring na­tions.

Ap­pre­ci­at­ing de­cency

For all their sim­i­lar­i­ties, how­ever, Bush and Carter dif­fered in one cru­cial re­spect: Carter was an in­tro­spec­tive loner, while Bush thrived on so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. Richard Ben Cramer, the au­thor of “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” the de­fin­i­tive ac­count of the 1988 pres­i­den­tial race, de­scribed Bush’s “ge­nius for friend­ship,” the re­mark­able thought­ful­ness he showed — via hand­writ­ten let­ters — to prac­ti­cally ev­ery­one he en­coun­tered.

In 2012, I spoke with Shirley Green, a for­mer leader in the Bexar County Re­pub­li­can Party, who served as deputy press sec­re­tary to Bush dur­ing his first term as vice pres­i­dent and held a va­ri­ety of po­si­tions dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

Green re­called that Bush “kept up with his friends from school, from uni­ver­sity, from the Navy, from the United Na­tions, and this was not just a ca­sual thing.”

To il­lus­trate Bush’s per­sonal grace, his gift for bring­ing peo­ple into his world, Green told the story of a 1990 meet­ing be­tween Bush and ten­nis cham­pion Pete Sam­pras.

“When Sam­pras be­came the youngest (male) player ever to win the U.S. Open, Pres­i­dent Bush in­vited him to the White House,” Green said. “But in­stead of just meet­ing him, he put to­gether a ten­nis game, with Con­gress­man Bill Archer from Hous­ton and one of Pres­i­dent Bush’s sons, and then in­vited a whole bunch of us to come over to the White House ten­nis court to see Pete Sam­pras.”

There are thou­sands of stories like that about Bush. It didn’t trans­late to the TV screen, the same way his mil­i­tary hero­ism didn’t save him from be­ing un­fairly ma­ligned as a wimp.

As with Carter, it took the slow pas­sage of time for Bush’s es­sen­tial de­cency to be fully ap­pre­ci­ated.

Ron Ed­monds / As­so­ci­ated Press

For­mer Pres­i­dents Jimmy Carter and Ge­orge H.W. Bush ap­pear at the White House in 1993. Among the pair’s sim­i­lar­i­ties were be­ing born in the same year, serv­ing in the Navy and serv­ing just one term as pres­i­dent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.