Editorial: Devotion to public service is Bush's lasting legacy

Posted December 5, 2018 5:08 a.m. EST
Updated December 5, 2018 2:21 p.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018; Editorial #8366
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

It is no small matter to live a life that, after 94 years, finds the good accomplished outshining the mistakes and wrong-headedness. The legacy of George H.W. Bush’s life is such a point of light.

He was born into a patrician New England family, but it was a strong sense of public service that he inherited as the son Prescott Bush, a Republican senator from Connecticut. It is that sense of service over self-serving that his children -- particularly sons George H. (the former president and Texas governor) and Jeb (former Florida governor) carried on. With the father, as well as the sons, there is plenty to debate in terms of policy choices and executive decisions.

Historians have plenty of material to make judgments about Bush’s public life that spanned service as a Navy fighter pilot in World War II; work in the oil exploration business; membership in the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas; U.N. ambassador; envoy to China; director of the CIA; vice president; and president.

He won and lost elections to congress and the presidency. There will be dissection of his statements, strategies and tactics:

  • The Willie Horton commercial and a hard-nosed 1988 presidential campaign;
  • “Read my lips” and the following reversal on the “no-new taxes” pledge;
  • An inaugural address where he promised to work “to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world;”
  • Navigation of the collapse of the Iron Curtain and a muted response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests while taking arms in Kuwait against Iraq.

He successfully pushed for the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act, tougher clean air regulations and creation of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. He embraced diversity in his cabinet and key presidential appointments – some of them controversial like the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

But most critical, the involvement in public life was NOT rooted in self-aggrandizement. It was not about an adoring public, White House minions scurrying at his beck-and-call or accumulation of greater personal wealth. Those who questioned his actions or criticized his decisions weren’t “enemies of the people.”

For the public good, he would join with foes, like President Bill Clinton who defeated him in the 1992 re-election effort, to help the disadvantaged and those suffering the ravages of epidemics or natural disasters.

George Bush embodied a uniquely American value: serving government is a public good. It is not done out of fealty to royalty; devotion to a political movement or subservience to dictators. It is not an opportunity to expand personal wealth or clout.

It is simply the way Americans serve each other. It is the right thing.

In sum, George H.W. Bush leaves a strong legacy not for living a perfect life. But for a life focused on purpose. It was one that was most worthwhile and mostly aimed to help other people live better lives.

He leaves a strong and affirmative example that those in public life would be wise to emulate today.

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