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Editorial Successes, and failures, defined Bush’s legacy

December 4, 2018

Imagine trying to contextualize George H.W. Bush’s life in the form of a resume.

Bush, who died Friday at 94, would certainly top his accomplishments with “Served as 41st president of the United States of America,” but his full biography is a singular mirror of the last century of America.

Consider ranking these benchmarks, any of which would be highlights on another resume:

He was the first sitting vice president to earn a promotion in 152 years. Though he is often criticized for failing to win a second term, he represents the last time either major party remained in the Oval Office after an eight-year residency.

He was the son of a U.S. senator and father of a president.

He survived a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean theater as a U.S. Naval aviator during World War II, during which he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He has been credited as the Navy’s youngest flying officer at that time.

He was appointed head of the Republican National Committee by President Richard M. Nixon, then led the GOP through Nixon’s downfall, capped off by his formal request that Nixon resign.

He was director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

He was captain of one of Yale University’s finest baseball teams, a time when he memorably met Babe Ruth in the Bambino’s final days.

His first claim of a national office was as the first Republican to represent Houston, Texas, in Congress.

You must read between the lines, though, to measure the depth of Bush’s rich character. He is being claimed — justifiably — by four states. He was born in Massachusetts, raised in Connecticut, summered in Maine and ultimately planted his flag in Texas as his adopted hometown. Claiming several stars on the flag broadened his public persona as an Everyman American.

Bush wasn’t perfect. He claimed his ultimate political victory via some disdainful campaign tactics. As a Congressman in the 1960s, he failed to support landmark civil rights legislation.

But educators in Connecticut classrooms would do well to demonstrate to students that this Greenwich blue blood, this cowboy, this athlete, this politician, this war hero — showed his fellow Americans that it is possible to fail with grace.

He might have ridden in his father’s political coattails by running for national office in Connecticut but opted instead to seek a U.S. Senate seat in Texas and lost. After earning his ticket to Washington, D.C., as a U.S. representative, he made another run for the Senate — and lost again.

He also came up short against Ronald Reagan in 1980, which led to his acceptance of the consolation prize on the eventual winning ticket.

No defeat could have hurt as deeply as his loss to Bill Clinton in 1992, yet Bush responded with a trademark handwritten note for his successor that read “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

He will be remembered as the man who yearned for a “kinder, gentler nation.” Decades ago, Donald Trump dismissed that vision by declaring “if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist.”

As we salute George H.W. Bush, we mourn nothing less than the age of decency.

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