For a while, let’s be the na­tion Bush wanted us to be

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS - Marc A. Thiessen

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush called on us to be a “kinder, gen­tler na­tion.” Sadly, we are far from that ideal. Our pol­i­tics has never been that kind and gen­tle, to be sure, even in

Bush’s day. Still, it has been un­seemly to watch how some on both the right and the left have pounced on Bush’s pass­ing as an op­por­tu­nity to get in a dig at the cur­rent oc­cu­pant of the Oval Of­fice. Bush is not even buried yet, and al­ready he is be­ing used as a po­lit­i­cal cud­gel.

No one would be more ap­palled by this than

Bush him­self. Dur­ing the 1992 cam­paign, he faced per­sonal at­tacks that he no doubt con­sid­ered un­fair.

Yet, on his last day as pres­i­dent, Bush left a note for the man who de­feated him that read, “You will be our Pres­i­dent when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your fam­ily well. Your suc­cess now is our coun­try’s suc­cess. I am root­ing hard for you.” It is a sen­ti­ment that the 41st pres­i­dent would surely have ap­plied not just to his im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sor but also to all those who suc­ceeded him as pres­i­dent. To­day, many are prais­ing Bush for this ges­ture, but too few seek to im­i­tate it.

This week of mourn­ing should be a time to hit the pause but­ton on the pol­i­tics of con­tempt. It should be a time, in­stead, to cel­e­brate Ge­orge H.W. Bush and ed­u­cate a new gen­er­a­tion about the world they in­her­ited from Amer­ica’s last leader from the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion. Like all pres­i­dents, Bush had his flaws. He made his share of mis­takes. But he was also a con­se­quen­tial pres­i­dent whose sin­gle term in of­fice pro­foundly shaped the world we in­habit to­day. We take the peace­ful col­lapse of the Soviet Union for granted now, but it didn’t have to end that way. The U.S.S.R. was the most heav­ily armed em­pire in hu­man his­tory. Yet it fell with­out a shot fired. Its blood­less demise was no easy task. The same is true of the uni­fi­ca­tion of Ger­many, the re­al­ity of a Europe whole, free and at peace, and a Pax Amer­i­cana that has pro­tected the ad­vance of free­dom in the post-Cold War world.

Yes, Bush set an ex­am­ple of ci­vil­ity in of­fice — and we should cel­e­brate that, too. But it is bet­ter for us to shine a light on his ex­am­ple than to use it as a tool in our cur­rent wars of in­ci­vil­ity. Bush was not naive. In his day, he was ac­cused of racism, ly­ing about his role in Iran-Con­tra, “cod­dling dic­ta­tors” in Bei­jing and war­mon­ger­ing in the Mid­dle East. And long be­fore there was the fiasco of the Brett Ka­vanaugh hear­ings, we had the fiasco of the Clarence Thomas hear­ings. Bush spent decades in the cor­ri­dors of power — from Capi­tol Hill to the United Nations, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency and fi­nally the Oval Of­fice — so he knew Wash­ing­ton too well to ex­pect us to be kind and gen­tle. What he asked of us was to strive to be kinder and gen­tler. We seem to have stopped even try­ing.

Per­haps, for just a few days, we can be the Amer­ica he wanted us to be. Per­haps we can spend just a few days with­out the par­ti­san bick­er­ing, the per­sonal in­sults, the non­stop out­rage and re­sis­tance — and cel­e­brate the grace, gen­eros­ity and gen­tle­ness of this good man. In his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, Bush de­clared, “This is a day when our na­tion is made whole, when our dif­fer­ences, for a mo­ment, are sus­pended.” The same should be true of the day when we lay him to rest.

With his pass­ing, Ge­orge H.W. Bush has given us an op­por­tu­nity to put aside our con­tempt and come to­gether as a na­tion. That is his part­ing gift to us. The best way we can honor him is by em­u­lat­ing him, if but for a few brief mo­ments.

May he rest in peace.

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