George H.W. Bush brought to his presidency an old-school idealism rooted in his core belief that politics and public service should be about inspiring Americans to do their best.
His "thousand points of light" campaign encouraged the nation to pull together to improve our communities through volunteerism and civic engagement, and to set aside our differences to strive for the common good.
Bush, who served one term as president from 1988 to 1992, died Saturday at age 94.
While only a quarter-century has passed since he left office, his tenure seems light-years away from where we are today in America. Bush will be remembered as an honorable man, willing to give all he had for his country. He proved that as a mere teenager, when the plane he was piloting was shot out from under him during World War II.
He was perhaps the nation's last true statesman president. He came to the White House after stints as an entrepreneur in the oil fields of Texas, and service as a congressman, ambassador to China, director of the CIA and vice president. There was no on-the-job training needed; he was as prepared for the job as any president before him. Good thing, because his presidency spanned one of the most challenging and momentous periods of American history.
It fell on Bush to manage the day-by-day unraveling of the Soviet Union, a dramatic and towering accomplishment that required both strategic and diplomatic deftness. Working with our allies, Bush helped guide the relatively peaceful transition of Eastern Europe from brutal communism and into the community of free nations. It stands as one of modern history's most glorious moments, and was achieved, incredibly, with very little bloodshed.
Beyond the box score of accomplishments, Bush today is appreciated — and missed — because his confident, dignified, quiet style of leadership stands in such contrast to the coarseness and chaos of our times.
Bush was not a man of bluster or bravado. Nor was he a president who found it necessary to constantly remind the nation of his great deeds. He was of a class that valued humility and honor. He exemplified the spirit of noblesse oblige, the now quaint notion that to whom much is given, much is expected.
He was a consensus builder who, as a Republican, worked in Congress to forge friendships and alliances with Democrats, many of whom became lifelong friends, and were valuable allies in Bush's later roles. He also was imbued with deep compassion, wistfully envisioning America as a "kinder, gentler nation" and presenting the country as such on the foreign stage.
He did not pick public fights. He did not humiliate his opponents. He did not whine. He bore the slings and arrows that come with the office with Kiplingesque reserve and resolve.
Just as his father, Prescott Bush, a former U.S. senator, inspired him to service, Bush set an example for his own children. One of his sons, George W., became president, and another, Jeb, served as governor of Florida, marking the Bushes as among America's most patriotic families.
After his re-election defeat, Bush became a model ex-president. He kept to his own business, avoiding partisan fights and refusing to second-guess his successor. When called on, he willingly served. He became close to the man who vanquished him, Bill Clinton, and the two ex-presidents paired up on hurricane relief missions and other assignments.
George H.W. Bush was, above all else, a gentleman. A man of grace who served the American people for their sake, and not his own. May he rest in the peace he so richly deserves.
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