Bush funeral a moment for reflection on the greatness of America
George Herbert Walker Bush was elected president in 1988, and the 30-year gap between his victory and his funeral Wednesday means many Americans don’t remember his single presidential term well. Some were not yet born or were too young to pay much heed. Others had not yet reached our shores.
Among those who lived through Bush’s time in the White House and remember it well, there remain sharp political divides over the 41st president’s leadership.
But in the messages from eulogists and the unifying and nonpartisan camaraderie of those at Bush’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, there were unique pageantry, protocols and history. And at a time when our nation’s body politic is torn asunder by rage and disunity, it was a reminder that we have a common tradition.
When the frail former senator and fellow World War II veteran Bob Dole delivered a stirring, standing salute to Bush’s casket Tuesday, his action cemented a feeling that the nation was saying goodbye to more than a former president. We mourn the passing of a generation of men and women who, while imperfect, endured fantastic hardship to safeguard and build the world we enjoy. We fear that the ethos they championed, of courage and generosity and humility and community, is disappearing, too.
But Bush, his eulogists said, felt no such pessimism for the future. They told the story of a student and a warrior, a friend and a family man, an athlete and prankster, and a supporting actor on the national political scene who captured the lead role, only to lose it. Bush’s eldest son, former President George W. Bush, recalled an optimistic, loving father who “showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.”
The U.S. is far from the only free nation, and it is not the only land where four former leaders and a current one, representing vastly different political and personal beliefs, could gather in solidarity to send off another leader. But it is the nation where the idea of democratically elected leaders with opposing views replacing each other peacefully was invented and embraced. Every other nation that celebrates such a tradition is trying to live up to the example that was on display at Bush’s funeral.
So, increasingly, is the United States.