Man of char­ac­ter

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

I first met the man who would be­come Amer­ica’s 41st pres­i­dent in 1968. He was a Hous­ton con­gress­man and I was a young re­porter for a lo­cal TV and ra­dio sta­tion. My first im­pres­sion was how kind he was to this “kid,” who had just moved to Texas from the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area and was just start­ing to learn the “lan­guage,” like “fix­ing to go” and “y’all.”

Every­one who worked for Ge­orge H.W. Bush, or knew him, has a story to tell. I have sev­eral.

Mr. Bush was a let­ter writer like none other. I think I have an al­most com­plete col­lec­tion of his notes and let­ters, some typed, some hand­writ­ten, from ev­ery po­si­tion he held in pub­lic life. These in­clude congress- man, Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, chief li­ai­son of­fi­cer to the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China, U.N. am­bas­sador, CIA di­rec­tor, vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent.

When he be­came pres­i­dent, I wrote him a con­grat­u­la­tory note and he re­sponded on White House sta­tionery. I later told him I was keep­ing the let­ter “just in case you amount to some­thing.” He laughed.

One time we were sched­uled to meet at Walker’s Point, the Bush fam­ily com­pound in Ken­neb­unkport, Maine, where they had va­ca­tioned for decades. Mr. Bush had to can­cel due to an un­ex­pected visit from an am­bas­sador. Ap­par­ently con­cerned that my feel­ings would be hurt, he in­structed an aid to get a phone num­ber where he could call me. I gave him a pay­phone num­ber at a lo­cal hard­ware store (this was be­fore cell­phones had be­come ubiq­ui­tous) and he called to apol­o­gize.

Our last meet­ing was two years ago at Walker’s Point and this time he didn’t can­cel. My youngest daugh­ter was with me. We were told that the pres­i­dent some­times ap­peared to doze off, but that he was lis­ten­ing. We had a won­der­ful visit, re­call­ing Hous­ton days. He asked ques­tions and seemed lu­cid and in­ter­ested in talk­ing pol­i­tics and world events.

On one visit to the Oval Of­fice when he was pres­i­dent, he sat be­hind the desk and I sat in a chair next to him. When I showed his son, the 43rd pres­i­dent, that pic­ture some years later, he mo­tioned me over to the same desk, we sat down and the pic­ture was repli­cated. I have both hang­ing in my of­fice.

Mr. Bush was not a fa­vorite of con­ser­va­tives, who be­lieved he would be the third term of his pre­de­ces­sor, Ron­ald Rea­gan. When he promised a “kinder, gen­tler na­tion,” some thought he was be­ing crit­i­cal of Rea­gan. In fact, a case could be made that it wasn’t Rea­gan who was un­kind and un­gen­tle, but his crit­ics.

Mr. Bush fal­tered when he broke his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge in ex­change for a prom­ise by con­gres­sional Democrats to cut spend­ing. The Democrats got their tax in­crease, but didn’t de­liver on spend­ing cuts. He also took heat for nom­i­nat­ing David Souter to the Supreme Court. Souter was sold to him as a con­ser­va­tive by Chief of Staff John Su­nunu, but he turned out to rule with the court’s lib­eral wing. Still, he gave con­ser­va­tives Clarence Thomas, a solid con­sti­tu­tional orig­i­nal­ist.

As pres­i­dent, Mr. Bush brought just the right at­ti­tude to the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, warn­ing Amer­i­cans they should not en­gage in tri­umphal­ism over the col­lapse of the com­mu­nist regime (many cel­e­brated any­way) and the end of the Cold War be­cause of the un­cer­tainty of what might fol­low. He also or­dered the mil­i­tary to oust Sad­dam Hus­sein’s forces after they had in­vaded Kuwait, a highly suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tion.

Any epi­taph on the life of Ge­orge H.W. Bush must in­clude at least three words: char­ac­ter, honor and in­tegrity. From his ser­vice in World War II, to his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer and post-pres­i­dency, not to men­tion his faith­ful­ness to Bar­bara, his wife of 73 years.

Per­haps one of the rea­sons he seems so at­trac­tive is his con­trast with the cur­rent bit­ter and cor­ro­sive po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. We are not likely to see his kind again, but we will have his mem­ory and ex­am­ple to re­call when con­sid­er­ing the def­i­ni­tion of the word gen­tle­man.

Cal Thomas, Amer­ica’s most-syn­di­cated colum­nist, is the au­thor of 10 books.

Cal Thomas

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