A pow­er­ful les­son as we re­mem­ber Pres­i­dent Bush

Texarkana Gazette - - OPINION 5A - Cal Thomas

The scene at the U.S. Capi­tol on Mon­day as for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush lay in state pre­sented a tableau and a les­son for those who seek earthly power and be­lieve it can change things.

As the TV cam­eras panned the crowd, I was struck by how many ag­ing “for­m­ers” there were, men (and they were mostly men) who once held high of­fice, but now live in the po­lit­i­cal shad­ows.

This fact should give us all pause and an op­por­tu­nity to con­sider what truly mat­ters in life. Wash­ing­ton and the me­dia ob­sess about earthly power, but if it were real power—that is, a force that could bring change for the bet­ter—would not change have been achieved by now? In­stead, we get politi­cians who lust for power and when they get it, squan­der it on fights with each other in­stead of us­ing it to solve im­por­tant problems that af­fect most Amer­i­cans.

While watch­ing the cov­er­age, I thought of some­thing First Lady Bar­bara Bush said in a 1990 com­mence­ment ad­dress at Welles­ley Col­lege in Mas­sachusetts: “Our suc­cess as a so­ci­ety de­pends not on what hap­pens in the White House, but on what hap­pens in­side your house.”

Ear­lier that same year, James Baker, Bush’s clos­est friend and at the time his sec­re­tary of state, de­liv­ered a re­mark­able ad­dress be­fore the Na­tional Prayer Break­fast in Wash­ing­ton. Baker said: “Power doesn’t re­ally bring the ful­fill­ment that many say it does. In­ner se­cu­rity and true, real ful­fill­ment comes by faith (in God). It doesn’t come by wield­ing power in a town where power is king.”

Baker, who later said he re­ceived more com­ments on that speech than any he has given, told a story to il­lus­trate his point. As The New York Times re­ported his re­marks: “He also de­scribed his sense of the fleet­ing na­ture of power, which he said was driven home to him one day when he was rid­ing to his job as chief of staff in his sleek black limou­sine. Near the White House he no­ticed a man walk­ing down the street alone. ‘He was some­one many of you would have rec­og­nized—a chief of staff in a pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion,’ said Mr. Baker. ‘There he was, alone—no re­porters, no se­cu­rity, no ador­ing pub­lic, no trap­pings of power—just one soli­tary man alone with his thoughts. That mental pic­ture con­tin­u­ally serves to re­mind me of the im­per­ma­nence of power and place. That man had it all, but only for a time.’”

There were many at the Capi­tol cer­e­mony who once had power, “but only for a time.” Their names now be­gin in print and on TV with the word “for­mer,” if they are in­ter­viewed or noted at all. Few seem to care what they think now, pre­fer­ring “cur­rents” in­stead.

In his ad­dress, Baker noted that “power can be in­tox­i­cat­ing” and can lead to cor­rup­tion. One doesn’t usu­ally hear such con­fes­sions in Wash­ing­ton where trans­parency by po­lit­i­cal lead­ers is rare.

Mo­ments like the cer­e­monies for Ge­orge H.W. Bush of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion. As Bar­bara Bush said in her Welles­ley speech: “At the end of your life, you will never re­gret not hav­ing passed one more test, not win­ning one more ver­dict or not closing one more deal. You will re­gret time not spent with a hus­band, a child, a friend or a par­ent.”

The num­ber of “for­m­ers” at the Capi­tol on Mon­day and the me­mo­rial ser­vice on Wed­nes­day and some “cur­rents” who will be for­m­ers soon enough of­fer a les­son worth pon­der­ing be­fore the en­gines of po­lit­i­cal power fire up again. If not in pol­i­tics, where does real power come from? The an­swer was sug­gested in the film, “Char­i­ots of Fire,” in which the char­ac­ter por­tray­ing Scot­tish run­ner Eric Lid­dell said, “It comes from within.”

It surely doesn’t come from Wash­ing­ton, which lacks the power to fix it­self.

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