09 Dec 18
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
They came to praise and bury Caesar.
Well, not exactly Caesar, but for a few years, like Caesar, the most powerful man in the world. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, is dead and now buried in the soil of his adopted home state of Texas.
A political man was given a political funeral, no big surprise. When a musician dies there’s music. A comic’s last rights includes some laughs. So, inevitably, there were politics underscoring Poppa Bush’s funeral. But 41’s sendoff wasn’t the pre-midterm sports arena get-out-the-vote pep-rally that dispatched Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, or the Trump-bashing final rites for Arizona’s John McCain last September. GHWB’s service was as low key in tone and messaging as the man himself — and that was exactly the point.
Last week’s Bush sendoff was a subtle but orchestrated rebuke of our current president. No names mentioned. No names necessary. It was classic Bush.
The elder Bush was a famously humble man. Maybe even sincerely so. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is not a humble address. A modest man does not toss his hat into that ring or commission a locomotive to transport his casket 70 miles. Still, we have generally preferred our presidents to at least pretend they were being called to serve as a tribune of the people rather than power-hungry egotists. George Bush Sr. found the sweet spot. Either from breeding or self-discipline or both, our 41st president was not a braggart or showoff; he was gracious in defeat and even more so in victory, perhaps the ultimate expression of humility.
Unlike a certain someone.
While the 45th wholesales hyperbole and self-aggrandizement, the 41st president deflected praise and shared the credit. George Herbert Walker Bush talked about “a thousand points of light.” There is only one point of light in Donald Trump’s world, the sun that rises and sets for him alone.
So, everyone played their part; Democrats and the dying embers of the Old Guard Republican Party sang 41’s praises, establishing him as the ultimate Never Trumper — brave in battle, selfless in public service, a genuine dealmaker willing to work with everyone, and in death immune to Twitter-snark from the Tweeter-in-Chief.
It was right to invite President Trump to Bush’s funeral and it was right that President Trump accepted. Donald Trump is frequently criticized for trashing presidential traditions, so we can’t then bash him for honoring Mr. Bush.
But hypocrisy is particularly fashionable these days.
Democrats and media stars who had nothing good to say about our “kinder and gentler” president when he was in office spent last week dabbing tears at his passing. Many of the Republicans making the chat-show rounds praising GHWB forget they are singularly responsible not only for his defeat in 1992 but the Clinton dynasty that followed him.
President Bush acknowledged his infamous “Read my lips, no new taxes!” pledge was a blunder. When Bush saw the fiscal cliff we were about to plunge off, he committed political suicide by doing right by the country, breaking his tax pledge, an act that infuriated his base. Millions of Bush voters flocked to Ross Perot — the first draft of Donald J. Trump — a billionaire who “can’t be bought” and hated NAFTA. Anti-Bush Republicans in ’92 opened the door for Bill (and Hillary) Clinton, just as Theodore Roosevelt bolting the GOP in 1912 elected Woodrow Wilson, a man Roosevelt called “that old gray skunk in the White House.”
President George H.W. Bush was disparaged by Republicans as a “wimp” and a RINO — Republican in Name Only — despite 60-years of service to the party, including a stint as the Republican National Committee chairman. Today, the few Bush Sr. types left in the GOP require endangered species protection. The Republican Party is now Trump’s party and Trump is about as far removed from Bush Sr. as I am from LeBron James.
Granted, nearly all of our presidents look better once they’re safely in their graves. Harry Truman left office with dismal approval ratings, Herbert Hoover was hated despite a lifetime of astonishing good works. Ulysses Grant’s reputation is just now rising courtesy of historian Ron Chernow’s masterful new biography. Jimmy Carter, another humble man, has lived long enough for even his critics to appreciate his sincerity and good heart if not his effectiveness as commander-in-chief.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]George Bush Sr.’s stock is on the rise. Taken as a whole — Willie Horton ad and Iran-Contra included — his accomplishments, years of public service, bravery in uniform, love of life, family and self-effacing humor, should only improve his chances to rank high among his presidential peers.
Conversely, Andrew Jackson, once an icon on par with Thomas Jefferson, is now the ultimate non-PC president.
At least he used to be.
It’s far too early to place Donald Trump in the pantheon of presidents. And frankly, for all the fuss we make over him, good or ill, we don’t get the final say. Some history geek as yet unborn will eventually write a book embraced by future generations as the last word on the Age of Trump.
We should all keep that in mind before we send our next Tweet.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays, 5-10, on AM 790 KABC. He can be reached at Doug@KABC.com.