Now that the funeral is over, and a little time is passed, I think this look back at the presidency of George H.W. Bush is worth reading. I totally understand that when someone has just died, we like to remember their better qualities.
But Bush was not a great, or even good president and he was not some paragon of virtuous behavior. I was an adult during the 1988 presidential campaign, and it was nasty, and not because of Mike Dukakis.
His single term was marred by a significant scandal (Iran-Contra) and he pardoned the guys who might have testified about his knowledge of it. He talked about a “thousand points of light” while cutting funding for important social services. He had Lee Atwater run his campaign, a man whose biggest contribution to the world was exiting it promptly. He was comfortable cozying up to the religious right and ignoring AIDS and the rights of LGBT citizens. While he was president we kept propping up Latin American dictators – including training their death squads on American soil.
Worst of all, he was very quick to jettison his principles for political power, something that is worthy of no admiration whatsoever.
He was a terrible, terrible president, and I was thrilled by his defeat in 1992. Bush’s exit from the White House marked the beginning of a better and more optimistic period for the US. I remember it well, and it was like a long bad dream ending.
Now, in his later life he was a better version of himself. I don’t think he was a monster, although he was responsible for some monstrous things. By all accounts there was a lot of good in the man, however buried it was while he had power. I’m sorry for his family’s loss, and I appreciate his philanthropic efforts, specifically his contributions to Houston.
It’s tempting to look very kindly on him because now we have a human septic tank in the presidency, and we know how much worse than George H.W. Bush a president can be. But we shouldn’t lose ourselves in sentimental delusions. His presidency was by and large a failure, and it was good for the country that it failed.
I hope he took some solace from being a better private citizen than he was commander-in-chief.