Re­mem­ber­ing Ge­orge H.W. Bush

He was savvy, de­cent and tough

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Don­ald Lam­bro Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated columnist and con­trib­u­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Honor, de­cency, prin­ci­pled, char­ac­ter, grace, loy­alty, op­ti­mistic, in­tegrity, dig­nity, hon­esty, hum­ble. Those were just some of the char­ac­ter traits, among many oth­ers, used this week to de­scribe for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Her­bert Walker Bush — words that you do not hear much nowa­days from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal about its lead­ers.

Yet that’s how his long­time friends, al­lies, col­leagues, fam­ily, and even some of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, de­scribed Mr. Bush dur­ing two days of trib­utes as he lay in state in the U.S. Capi­tol’s Ro­tunda, fol­lowed by a mov­ing, ser­vice at the Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Cathe­dral on Wed­nes­day.

It is hard to re­mem­ber a for­mer pres­i­dent who has had more po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and held more pres­ti­gious posts be­fore climb­ing to the pres­i­dency in his own right:

Two-term con­gress­man from Texas, en­voy to China, head of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, then the vice pres­i­dency un­der Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan for eight years, un­til he won the pres­i­dency in his own right by de­feat­ing Gov. Michael Dukakis of Mas­sachusetts.

Per­haps the most emo­tional mo­ment at the me­mo­rial ser­vice in the Na­tional Cathe­dral came when his eldest son, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, spoke mov­ingly about how his fa­ther showed him how to be pres­i­dent, be­com­ing the only sec­ond fa­ther-son pres­i­dents in U.S. his­tory since John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams.

“Of course, dad taught me an­other spe­cial les­son,” the younger Bush said.

“He 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 younger Bush had some­times talked about how the Bushes can be­come emo­tional to the point of tears, or as what he calls them, a fam­ily of “weep­ers.”

True to form, Ge­orge W. Bush briefly broke down near the end of his eu­logy as he re­called when his par­ents lost their daugh­ter Robin at age 3, say­ing that his fa­ther is now “hug­ging Robin and hold­ing mom’s hand.”

Over the course of a nearly 50-year ca­reer in the news busi­ness, I had the plea­sure of in­ter­view­ing Ge­orge

H.W. Bush two or three times in Wash­ing­ton.

The first, when he was in the House and I was work­ing on a piece about the House gym­na­sium for United Press In­ter­na­tional. He was help­ful, af­fa­ble and hu­mor­ous, giv­ing me, as I re­call, a few anec­dotes about what goes on in the con­gres­sional gym, and how he used it to keep fit.

Some years later, when he was vice pres­i­dent and I was a young po­lit­i­cal re­porter for UPI, who had cov­ered the Rea­gan pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, he agreed to an in­ter­view about the Rea­gan-Bush leg­isla­tive agenda.

I had also done a lot of re­port­ing about waste­ful fed­eral spend­ing pro­grams, a sub­ject that was one of Rea­gan’s fa­vorite tar­gets dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

So much so, that the pres­i­dent be­gan quot­ing from my book, “Fat City: How Wash­ing­ton Wastes Your Taxes, in his 1980 cam­paign, and af­ter tak­ing of­fice, handed out a copy of my book to each and ev­ery­one in his Cab­i­net at its first meet­ing.

My ex­poses were es­pe­cially pop­u­lar among UPI’s news­pa­per clients across the coun­try, and UPI nom­i­nated them for a Pulitzer Prize twice dur­ing my ca­reer there.

So I queried Mr. Bush dur­ing the in­ter­view about waste­ful gov­ern­ment spend­ing, men­tion­ing some of my find­ings, ask­ing what he thought about this and that is­sue.

As I re­call, he did not seem to warm to the is­sues I had raised, and didn’t ap­pear to be as en­thu­si­as­tic as Pres­i­dent Rea­gan — whom I had in­ter­viewed nu­mer­ous times, in­clud­ing two, one-on-one Oval Of­fice meet­ings — was about cut­ting gov­ern­ment down to size.

Then a strange thing hap­pened soon af­ter my in­ter­view with Mr. Bush went out over UPI’s wires. I got a phone call from his press sec­re­tary, say­ing the vice pres­i­dent was very dis­pleased with the story. And told me he was send­ing a gov­ern­ment agent over to get a copy of the in­ter­view tape.

They got their tape, but I never heard a word more from the vice pres­i­dent’s of­fice af­ter that.

But that’s all wa­ter over the dam, as they say. Later, I wrote many columns about his pres­i­dency, sup­port­ing his ac­tions in the Gulf War and other poli­cies, with dif­fer­ences here and there.

But through it all, I re­spected his ba­sic de­cency, in­tegrity, dig­nity, tough moral fiber and hu­mil­ity, which seems to be lack­ing nowa­days in our na­tion’s lead­er­ship.

For my money, Mr. Bush was truly a class act.


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