Goodbye, Poppy. You Were Never One of Us.

By Jamie Stiehm

December 5, 2018 5 min read

The late George H.W. Bush was the man's man of his blessed generation, a Connecticut Yankee who started out in life as a senator's son. He grew up in Greenwich, with great athletic gifts and a genial nature. (Genial, a man's man word.)

Let's recount: a young naval aviator in World War II. His preppy nickname at Yale was Poppy. You name the men's club — Skull and Bones, Congress, the CIA, the Republican Party — and he belonged. As president, foreign policy was his forte. We were lucky he presided with a sure hand over the Cold War's end and a multinational coalition Gulf War.

Alas, Poppy never was a man of the people — even as president. When he lost re-election in 1992, he was the biggest loser in the "Year of the Woman," and by his own hand. He was the catalyst who appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in late 1991, as "the best man for the job." Then his troubles began: the Thomas hearings, during which Professor Anita Hill's testimony on sexual harassment was pilloried by the Senate and scorned by the White House. American women were "woke" in that crucible, believe me.

Bush failed us utterly, but not because he broke his "no new taxes" pledge, as the usual suspects say. African-Americans were also burned to see the hallowed Thurgood Marshall's seat taken by the angry arch-conservative Thomas. He's still a stone cold presence on the bench. The bitter draught: The Bush White House cared not whether Hill's allegations were true. The president and his men just wanted to win a contentious Capitol Hill battle.

The 1992 election lay bare that the elite Bush could not communicate with vast swaths of the populace. Most blacks and women felt his opponent, Gov. Bill Clinton, showed a genuine grasp of their life experience. He could talk a blue streak on your porch, in Southern story-telling style. Bush could write a thousand thank-you notes, but lacked easy engagement with voters.

All those notes were a way to say things he couldn't speak aloud. WASP men of his generation seldom became "an emotional kind of guy," as Bush put it in the Oval Office while watching the Berlin Wall fall.

I witnessed the inexpressibly sad arrival ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda as the late President Bush's coffin was laid upon a catafalque. The U.S. Army Brass Quintet played the melodic "Lord of the Dance" and other floating pieces as members of the House, one by one, circled the catafalque and quietly bowed their heads. A stately rite of democracy, with no words and some teary eyes in the citadel.

Now the scene shifts to Washington National Cathedral, where presidential funerals take place. Sen. John McCain's sendoff was there in September, his nemesis, President Trump, pointedly uninvited. This time, Trump will be present, despite his rudeness to the Bush family. Former first lady Michelle Obama declared in her memoir that she could not forgive Trump for his birthing rants. Then there are the Clintons, who have a host of reasons to despise him. They will all have sit together. What an excruciating day of Trump's presidency, silently snubbed by the club.

From the pulpit, the eulogies will hold up traits like grace, heroism, steady kindness, restraint, competitive yet classy in public service — in sum, our gentlemanly patrician. Bush was those things most days. But he was not a classy campaigner. He insulted Clinton (a "bozo") on patriotism when the going got rough in 1992. He ran a racially loaded campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, on top of a poor civil rights record.

Winning came first. He was never one of us. He thrived on the world stage while neglecting the home front garden. These things are true, too. Yet, as bells toll, "Trump makes Bush look good," my father said.

The worst was yet to come: his son, President George W. Bush seized power in 2000 and enacted a Freudian family drama by starting his own war in Iraq. Telling the truth got left behind. In a way, he led us down the path to Trump's everyday assault on truth. So Trump belongs at Poppy's funeral, after all.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators website, creators.com.

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