Bush 41: An un­der­rated pres­i­dent?

The Week (US) - - News -

“Some pres­i­den­tial rep­u­ta­tions are like great red wines: They get bet­ter with time,” said Tim Naf­tali in Slate.com. That’s truer of Ge­orge H.W. Bush than of any mod­ern pres­i­dent. A one-ter­mer whom the Amer­i­can peo­ple soundly re­jected in 1992, Bush was sad­dled with an im­age as a hap­less, awk­ward, and out-of-touch pa­tri­cian. “How wrong that im­pres­sion was.” While he dis­dained po­lit­i­cal the­ater and was uniquely un­suited to self-pro­mo­tion, dur­ing crit­i­cal times Bush was “not just good at his job—he was great at it.” He brought “the per­fect mix of prag­ma­tism, re­al­ism, and good sense to three huge chal­lenges”: the fall of the Soviet Em­pire, the col­lapse of Reaganomics, and or­ga­niz­ing a truly in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to beat back Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion of Kuwait. Suc­cess­fully nav­i­gat­ing the end of the Cold War is where Bush made his “his­toric con­tri­bu­tion,” said The Wall Street Jour­nal in an ed­i­to­rial. His deep for­eign-pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence and skill­ful diplo­macy with Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev were key to ne­go­ti­at­ing a peace­ful tran­si­tion. That pe­riod ce­mented his legacy as a “con­se­quen­tial oneterm pres­i­dent who set an ex­am­ple with his in­tegrity and sense of pa­tri­otic duty.”

In eval­u­at­ing Bush, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be re­minded of how dif­fer­ent he was from the White House’s cur­rent oc­cu­pant, said The New York Times in an ed­i­to­rial. In tem­per­a­ment and char­ac­ter, Bush and Don­ald Trump have “al­most noth­ing in com­mon: the one gra­cious and mod­est, the other rude and vain; the one pru­dent, the other brash; the one steady, the other un­moored.” Imag­ine a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent to­day sign­ing the Clean Air Act, as Bush did, or be­ing “coura­geous” enough to re­verse his “no new taxes” pledge when deficits rose and the coun­try’s fis­cal health de­manded it. Bush was a mod­est, de­cent man who lived a life of ser­vice, said Jonah Gold­berg in Na­tional Re­view. He was not “a trans­for­ma­tive pres­i­dent” like Ron­ald Rea­gan, but a “stew­ard of sta­bil­ity” who en­cour­aged “Amer­i­cans to be their best selves in ser­vice to each other.”

Can­on­iz­ing Bush as the anti-Trump “re­quires se­lec­tive vi­sion,” said Jeet Heer in The New Re­pub­lic. In many ways Bush was a “fore­run­ner” of Trump and to­day’s GOP. Let’s not for­get Bush’s op­po­si­tion to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, his “wretched record” on pro­vid­ing re­search fund­ing dur­ing the AIDS cri­sis (he said “be­hav­ioral change” was the best way to fight it), or his self-serv­ing par­don­ing of the Iran-Con­tra de­fen­dants. Let’s all not for­get that he stuck with Supreme Court nom­i­nee Clarence Thomas de­spite cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. (Brett Ka­vanaugh, any­one?) And then there was Wil­lie Hor­ton, said Will Bunch in The Philadel­phia In­quirer. Bush’s most shame­ful legacy was the way he un­leashed “the pol­i­tics of per­sonal de­struc­tion” in his 1988 cam­paign against Michael Dukakis, us­ing men­ac­ing pho­tos of a black mur­derer to frighten white vot­ers. That “openly racist cam­paign” paved the way for the GOP’s scorched-earth pol­i­tick­ing and gives the lie to the myth of Bush as a paragon of ci­vil­ity.

Like all lead­ers and in­deed all hu­man be­ings, Bush was a com­plex char­ac­ter, said Yascha Mounk in Slate.com. Yet his con­ser­va­tive ad­mir­ers and lib­eral de­trac­tors have sought to por­tray him in “mono­chrome”—as a war hero of un­matched virtue and honor or as “an old, white male pa­tri­cian who en­joyed race-bait­ing and see­ing gay men die of AIDS.” In­stead of “strug­gling to make sense of this mul­ti­faceted legacy,” too many par­ti­san com­men­ta­tors “im­me­di­ately pressed his death into the ser­vice of our re­lent­less cul­ture war.” Bush, and our na­tional dis­course, de­serve bet­ter.

A com­plex legacy

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