The epit­ome of pub­lic ser­vice

The Progress-Index - - OPINION - Bloomberg News Ser­vice

The death of the 41st pres­i­dent will be much mourned this week, his pass­ing serv­ing as a me­mo­rial to a seem­ingly van­ished era of tem­per­ance and ci­vil­ity in Wash­ing­ton. His “kinder and gen­tler” style of pol­i­tics stands in un­avoid­able con­trast to that of the cur­rent oc­cu­pant of the White House. But this should not oc­clude the main rea­son to cel­e­brate the life of Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush - namely that he was both a pa­triot and a politi­cian, and un­der­stood those roles as in­ti­mately con­nected and com­ple­men­tary.

He sought power for him­self, but tried to ex­er­cise it for the ben­e­fit of oth­ers.

Bush en­listed in the Navy at age 18 to fight in World War II. He was soon fly­ing com­bat mis­sions over the Pa­cific. In 1944 his plane was shot out of the sky. Bush ejected into the ocean and was even­tu­ally res­cued by a sub­ma­rine.

His po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was ex­tra­or­di­nary. He served in Congress, the United Na­tions, and as chair­man of the Repub­li­can Party un­der Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon. He was the na­tion’s chief diplo­mat in China and the head of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency. Af­ter eight years as vice pres­i­dent to Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan, he ran for pres­i­dent in 1988 as ar­guably the most well-pre­pared can­di­date in the na­tion’s his­tory.

As pres­i­dent he launched and won the Gulf War but re­frained from march­ing on Sad­dam Hus­sein’s gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad - an ex­er­cise of cau­tion that was crit­i­cized at the time but looks wise at this dis­tance. He promised not to raise taxes then ap­proved a budget deal that did, for which many in his party never for­gave him. The mea­sure was es­sen­tial to re­store fis­cal con­trol. His suc­ces­sor reaped the ben­e­fit.

Af­ter los­ing a dif­fi­cult re­elec­tion race to Bill Clin­ton, Bush’s com­mit­ment to pub­lic ser­vice didn’t wa­ver. He grew grace­fully into the role of wise man, and over time he and Clin­ton be­came close part­ners in many notable hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts.

Mod­esty and ded­i­ca­tion of the kind Bush ex­em­pli­fied haven’t in fact van­ished from Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. De­cency, pur­pose and pa­tri­otic com­mit­ment can be found all across the coun­try. But those qual­i­ties have re­ceded from the spot­light, be­cause Amer­i­cans have al­lowed them to. The best way to honor the legacy of a brave and de­cent man is to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of those virtues, and to de­mand no less of can­di­dates for pub­lic of­fice, high or low.

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