Fam­ily, friends and lead­ers pause to honor Bush


For­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush was eu­lo­giz­ing his fa­ther with a per­fect mix of se­ri­ous and funny, re­mem­ber­ing his brav­ery in com­bat and his dis­like of broc­coli, his pa­tri­o­tism and his lousy danc­ing.

Then a burst of raw emo­tion rose up, and a griev­ing son nearly dou­bled over as he re­called “the bless­ings of know­ing and lov­ing you, a great and noble man, the best fa­ther a son or daugh­ter could have.”

For­mer pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush was re­mem­bered Wed­nes­day as a stead­fast leader in tu­mul­tuous times and a de­cent and hum­ble hus­band, fa­ther and friend dur­ing a soar­ing and deeply per­sonal state funeral at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral.

“When Ge­orge Bush was pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica, ev­ery sin­gle head of gov­ern­ment in the world knew that they were deal­ing with a gen­tle­man,” said for­mer Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney, ad­dress­ing Pres­i­dent Trump, the four other liv­ing ex-pres­i­dents and 3,000 guests on a rare day of

mag­is­te­rial cer­e­mony in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Ge­orge W. Bush’s tribute was the emo­tional high point, and the cathe­dral filled with sus­tained ap­plause as he passed his fa­ther’s flag-wrapped cas­ket, rest­ing on a bier that once held the re­mains of Abra­ham Lincoln, re­turned to his seat and wiped away tears.

The themes he high­lighted — of ser­vice over self, co­op­er­a­tion over par­ti­san­ship, fam­ily and coun­try over po­lit­i­cal tribe — also suf­fused the trib­utes from the late pres­i­dent’s friends, who ad­dressed a crowd of U.S. and world lead­ers all strug­gling through an era of crip­pling po­lit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship.

For­mer sen­a­tor Alan Simp­son re­called Bush’s 1990 de­ci­sion to raise taxes af­ter his fa­mous pres­i­den­tial cam­paign slo­gan, “Read my lips: No new taxes,” a move that con­trib­uted to his bit­ter de­feat in 1992 and ush­ered in the rise of a more rev­o­lu­tion­ary Re­pub­li­can Party.

“He of­ten said, ‘When the re­ally tough choices come, it’s the coun­try, not me. It’s not about Democrats or Re­pub­li­cans, it’s for our coun­try that I fought for,’ ” Simp­son said. “He was a man of such great hu­mil­ity. Those who travel the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traf­fic.” The crowd loved that one. “You would have wanted him on your side,” Simp­son said. “He never hated any­one. He knew what his mother and my mother al­ways knew: Ha­tred cor­rodes the con­tainer it’s car­ried in. The most de­cent and honor­able man I ever met was my friend Ge­orge Bush.”

Bush’s death last week at age 94 co­in­cides with the end of the fiscally con­ser­va­tive and so­cially moder­ate Re­pub­li­can Party that his fam­ily had come to em­body. The “kinder, gen­tler” party Bush promised has now been sub­sumed by Trump’s party of na­tion­al­ist anger and anti-es­tab­lish­ment dis­rup­tion.

But on Wed­nes­day, in Wash­ing­ton’s grand stone cathe­dral, the day be­longed to tra­di­tion and bi­par­ti­san­ship — to the es­tab­lish­ment. The Bushes, like the Kennedys on the left, are U.S. po­lit­i­cal aris­toc­racy, fam­i­lies whose names con­note tra­di­tion, pub­lic ser­vice and a rec­og­nized set of val­ues — which are now largely un­der fire.

The day was Amer­i­can high cer­e­mony in all its fin­ery, with flags snap­ping in the cold wind, crisp mil­i­tary uni­forms and flow­ing re­li­gious gar­ments, can­non fire and soar­ing choirs, a 21-gun salute, tolling church bells and mo­tor­cades.

The cathe­dral’s rows of wooden seats sud­denly be­came the set­ting for por­traits cap­tur­ing a rare mo­ment in U.S. his­tory.

In the front row: Trump and for­mer pres­i­dents Barack Obama, Bill Clin­ton and Jimmy Carter, along with their wives. In the sec­ond row, Vice Pres­i­dent Pence and his pre­de­ces­sors Dan Quayle, Richard B. Cheney, Joseph Biden, ac­com­pa­nied by their wives, and Al Gore.

Trump and the Bush fam­ily had agreed to an in­for­mal truce in the feud that has dom­i­nated their re­la­tions, at least for this week, to al­low the fam­ily and the na­tion to mourn the pass­ing of the 41st pres­i­dent with­out toxic par­ti­san­ship.

But the ten­sion was still blind­ingly ob­vi­ous. When Trump and first lady Me­la­nia Trump en­tered the church, they ex­changed brief hand­shakes with the Oba­mas, who were seated next to them, as dic­tated by pro­to­col. Me­la­nia Trump shook hands with Bill Clin­ton, and Hil­lary Clin­ton gave her a smile. But the pres­i­dent made no ef­fort to greet the Clin­tons. Bill Clin­ton looked in Trump’s di­rec­tion briefly, as if will­ing to shake hands. But Hil­lary Clin­ton stared straight ahead and never glanced at the man who de­feated her for the White House.

Supreme Court Jus­tices Clarence Thomas, the court’s most con­ser­va­tive mem­ber, ap­pointed by Ge­orge H.W. Bush, and Ruth Bader Gins­burg, the court’s lib­eral lion, sat side by side. Ivanka Trump sat next to Chelsea Clin­ton. Dozens of con­gres­sional lead­ers from both par­ties sat close by mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures fac­ing their own pop­ulist re­volts came from around the world to salute Bush. Prince Charles of Bri­tain paid his re­spects, while his gov­ern­ment at home was de­bat­ing its nasty Brexit divorce from Europe. Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel was there, too, rep­re­sent­ing a solidly cen­trist Ger­man es­tab­lish­ment that has also been buf­feted by fu­ri­ous na­tion­al­ism.

Other guests seemed lifted from the pages of Bush’s ré­sumé: Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, all deeply af­fected by the 1991 Gulf War, were there. So was King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan, a staunch U.S. ally whose fa­ther, King Hus­sein, while a long­time CIA as­set, was pub­licly skep­ti­cal of Bush’s coali­tion ef­forts against Iraqi leader Sad­dam Hus­sein.

For­mer Pol­ish pres­i­dent Lech Walesa joined the mourn­ers, as both a Bush con­tem­po­rary in power and a sym­bol of the post-Soviet or­der that Bush helped nur­ture dur­ing his pres­i­dency from 1988 to 1992.

Wed­nes­day’s read­ings be­gan with the younger gen­er­a­tion of the Bush fam­ily as three grand­daugh­ters, Lau­ren Bush Lau­ren, Ash­ley Walker Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, de­liv­ered Gospel read­ings from the or­nate stone pul­pit.

His­to­rian and Bush bi­og­ra­pher Jon Meacham, who also gave a eu­logy at Bar­bara Bush’s funeral in April, light­ened the mood when he re­called the for­mer pres­i­dent’s dif­fi­cul­ties with the English lan­guage, in­clud­ing his ob­ser­va­tion be­fore the 1988 elec­tion that “it’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the un­de­cid­eds could go one way or the other.”

He also noted that an ea­ger can­di­date Bush once ac­ci­den­tally shook the hand of a de­part­ment store man­nequin in New Hamp­shire. When he re­al­ized his mis­take, Meacham said, he ex­claimed: “Never know. Gotta ask.”

Bush had the per­fect es­tab­lish­ment ré­sumé: son of a U.S. sen­a­tor, Phillips Academy, U.S. Navy fighter pi­lot, Yale Univer­sity, am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, en­voy to China, U.S. con­gress­man, CIA di­rec­tor, vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent of the United States.

He was as elite as an as­cot, but his strug­gles with spo­ken English boosted the ca­reer of Satur­day Night Live comic and Bush im­per­son­ator Dana Car­vey — who later be­came a friend of Bush. Meacham said Car­vey joked that Bush’s speak­ing voice was “Mr. Rogers try­ing to be John Wayne.”

But Meacham said that while Bush’s tongue might have “run amok,” “his heart was stead­fast.”

“Abra­ham Lincoln’s ‘ bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture’ and Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s ‘ thou­sand points of light’ are com­pan­ion verses in Amer­ica’s na­tional hymn,” Meacham said. “For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the con­ve­nient, to hope rather than to fear, to heed not our worst im­pulses but our best instincts.”

Bush flew 58 com­bat mis­sions in World War II and sky-dived to cel­e­brate his 75th, 80th, 85th and 90th birth­days. Yet he lived longer than any other pres­i­dent: 94 years and just over five months. Jimmy Carter is sec­ond at 94 years and two months.

Ad­dress­ing the crowd, Meacham de­scribed an in­ci­dent when Bush, the last U.S. pres­i­dent to serve in World War II, was pi­lot­ing a fighter jet that crashed into the Pa­cific in 1944, killing his two crew­men.

“Why him? Why was he spared?” Meacham said. “The work­ings of prov­i­dence are mys­te­ri­ous, but this much is clear: The Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush who sur­vived that fiery fall into the wa­ters of the Pa­cific three quar­ters of a cen­tury ago made our lives, and the lives of na­tions, freer, bet­ter, warmer and no­bler.

“That was his mis­sion. That was his heart­beat,” Meacham said. “And if we lis­ten closely enough, we can hear that heart­beat even now, for it’s the heart­beat of a lion — a lion who not only led us, but who loved us.

“That’s why him. That’s why he was spared.”

“To us, his was the bright­est of the thou­sand points of light.” Ge­orge W. Bush

“There’s a word for this. It’s called ‘lead­er­ship.’ Lead­er­ship. And let me tell you that when Ge­orge Bush was pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica, ev­ery sin­gle head of gov­ern­ment in the world knew that they were deal­ing with a gen­tle­man, a gen­uine leader — one who was dis­tin­guished, res­o­lute and brave.” Brian Mul­roney

“Those who travel the high road of hu­mil­ity in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., are not both­ered by heavy traf­fic.” Alan Simp­son

“Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush was Amer­ica’s last great sol­dier-states­man, a 20th-cen­tury Found­ing Fa­ther. ... An im­per­fect man, he left us a more per­fect union.” Jon Meacham


Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s fam­ily watches as his cas­ket ar­rives at Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral on Wed­nes­day. He will be buried at the site of his pres­i­den­tial li­brary in Col­lege Sta­tion, Tex.

For­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Biden ar­rives with his wife, Jill, be­fore tak­ing a seat be­hind all the liv­ing pres­i­dents and their wives.

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