Today is the 85th Birthday of our 41st President, George H. W. Bush. I believe he’s planning to celebrate with a skydive, weather and health permitting. (He did, Hot Air has the video.)
I am late to appreciation of him; I was a liberal Democrat who believed he was a silly man, while he was president. I know better, now.
His son, George W. Bush, the 43rd President, writes of the joy he takes in his father. One of the most striking notions in Dubya’s tribute is that, because of the constancy of his father’s unconditional love, “I feared neither failure nor success.”
I figured it is a good time to dust off this piece, which was originally posted in January of 2008:
GEORGE H.W. BUSH; AN APPRECIATION
Lt. George W. Bush. His wife recently said “he was the most beautiful creature I ever saw”.
Reuben F. Johnson has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard (Via); it ends up wondering when – between the recent temperamental campaign hijinks of Bill Clinton and the less emotional goings on in Russia – we can again expect to see some maturity on the world stage.
But gets to that question taking a route through the US presidential campaigns of 1992, and writes:
How soon the Clintons forget the despicable lows to which they themselves sank in casting aspersions on the honor of George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) in the 1992 presidential campaign.
During that campaign Clinton’s artful dodging of the Vietnam draft was contrasted with the fact that Bush 41 had served his nation as a naval aviator in the WWII Pacific Theater…The elder Bush flew 58 combat missions by the time he was 20, making him one of the youngest pilots in naval aviation. At about the same age Bill Clinton was writing letters about how he needed to preserve his future political viability, Lieutenant JG George H.W. Bush was dodging anti-aircraft fire in order to reach his assigned targets and drop a load of 500-pound bombs. [Emphasis mine - admin]
In a 1985 article written for Naval Aviation News one of Bush’s squadron mates, Jack Guy, was interviewed and told the author “I can’t say anything but good things about him. In WW II we all felt we could depend on George to do his job. We never had to say, ‘Where’s my wingman?’ because he was always there.”
This article was written three years before Bush became president and seven years before the 1992 campaign. In other words, at a time when there was little attention focused on Bush 41′s war record and quite some time before the controversy about Bill Clinton’s having avoided conscription gave cause for the Clinton campaign to try and denigrate Bush’s own war record to divert attention from the issue of how the Arkansas Governor had stayed out of the draft.
Maybe you remember what happened next. A poison-pen trashing of Bush 41′s wartime exploits appeared a month before the election in the New Republic. Did the Clinton apparatus have a hand in that? You make the call.
That the Clinton machine would cast aspersions on the service record of a true war hero (enlisting in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday, Bush earned the Distinguished Flying Cross by age 20) to win an election is unremarkable; the sun also rises. What is remarkable is that, in an age saturated with media, most Americans know little about President George H. W. Bush beyond the goofy caricatures; endless loops of the president taking ill during a diplomatic visit overseas, or of him marveling at a cashier scanner were presented by the press, but there was seldom a balancing profile to counter the punch, and that is a shame.
On 2 September 1944, Bush piloted one of four aircraft from VT-51 that attacked the Japanese installations on Chi Chi Jima. For this mission his crew included Radioman Second Class John Delaney, and Lieutenant Junior Grade William White, USNR, who substituted for Bush’s regular gunner. …Bush’s aircraft was hit and his engine caught on fire. He completed his attack and released the bombs over his target scoring several damaging hits. With his engine on fire, Bush flew several miles from the island, where he and one other crew member on the TBM Avenger bailed out of the aircraft. However, the other man’s chute did not open and he fell to his death. It was never determined which man bailed out with Bush. Both Delaney and White were killed in action. –Naval Historical Center
George H. W. Bush is 84 years old, now. Better to appreciate a man while he’s still alive, than when it’s too late. Johnson’s article triggered in me a desire to re-familiarize myself with what little I know (and appreciate) about this very good man. I liked this interview in which he talks of his admiration for Abraham Lincoln, his strong attachment to his family, the death of his daughter, Robin, at age 4. One quote:
Q: If you had a tip to share with young people, what would that be?
George H.W. Bush: …I’d have to say, don’t neglect your family. Politics is important, sitting at the head table is glamorous. Traveling around the world, trying to do something for world peace was wonderful. But…It’s family, and it’s faith, and it’s friends, and it’s not the glamor of the Presidency, or the wonder of going to receive the Nobel Prize. All those are important, of course. But maybe it’s just that I’m 71 years old now. It’s family, and it’s faith, and it’s friends. I would tell them that. Don’t forget that. In your brilliance, don’t turn your back on your friends. Don’t think you’re entitled to something, because you’re smarter than the next guy.
In 1999 President Bush published a collection of his letters entitled, All the Best, George Bush, and it is a wonderful biographical sharing of a man; his letters begin in 1941, with letters to his family from Naval Aviation Pre-Flight School and end in 1998, with a profound and loving letter written to his children. In reading them you see a man in full, growing from an enthusiastic, patriotic and idealistic young flyboy, gaining experience and wisdom, enjoying political successes and failures and suffering grievous loss – his letters concerning the death of his daughter, and his advice to his sons made me weep – this is no caricature, nor a burnished hagiography that skips over the messy parts. The president allows the reader to see him, warts-and-all, and it is quite remarkable. A few excerpts:
Sept 3, 1944: I will have to skip all the details of the attack as they would not pass the censorship but the fact remains that we got hit…There was no sign of Del or Ted anywhere around. I looked as I floated down and afterwards kept my eye open from the raft, but to no avail. The fact that our planes didn’t seem to be searching anymore showed me pretty clearly that they had not gotten out. I’m afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it cause I sat in my raft and sobbed for a while. It bothers me so very much. I did tell them and when I bailed out I felt that they must have gone, and yet now I fell so terribly responsible for their fate, oh, so much right now.
Summer 1958: (After the death of his and Barbara’s daughter) There is about our house a need. The running, pulsating restlessness of the four boys as they struggle to learn and grow; the world embraces them…all this wonder needs a counter-part. We need some starched crisp frocks to go with all our torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blonde hair to off-set those crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards…we need a legitimate Christmas angel – one who doesn’t have cuffs beneath the dress.
We need someone who is afraid of frogs.
We need someone to cry when I get mad – not argue.
We need a little one who can kiss without leaving eggs or jam or gum.
We need a girl…
To George & Jeb, 1998: Do not worry when you see the stories that compare you favorably to a Dad for whom English was a second language and for whom the word destiny meant nothing…I am content with how historians will judge my administration – even on the economy. I hope and think they will say we helped change the world in a positive sense…
Nothing that crowd can ever say or those journalists can ever write will diminish my pride in you both, so worry not. Those comparisons are inevitable and they will inevitably be hurtful to all of us, but not hurtful enough to dividek, not hurtful enough to really mean anything.
After reading his book in 2002, I wrote to President Bush telling him how much I admired the noble husband, father and public servant I met within the pages, and thanking him for sharing them, and for serving all of us so faithfully. I think what I was really thanking him for was his authenticity – something so sorely lacking in our culture, these days. I’m a nobody, but he actually responded with a lovely thank you (!) joking that he and “Barbara” were glad to still be here, and asking me to pray for his son, which I gladly did, and do.
Sometimes, when I really have nothing else to think about, I imagine what sort of man and president Bill Clinton would have been, had he had such a constant and loving father.
Thanks, President Bush, for everything. All the best, sir!
UPDATED: Newsbusters is, co-incidentally, remembering a Bush moment, this one with Dan Rather.