I had another topic in mind for this month’s column. Then George Herbert Walker Bush, my former boss, died.
I cannot help but feel that his death marks the end of an important historic era. The passing of this principled, humble, but courageous and decisive servant leader brings recent societal changes into stark relief.
There is an entire generation that has no memory of what made George H.W. Bush a great man or the momentous, dangerous period during which he served our country so ably as commander-in-chief.
The 41st president was likely better prepared to serve as president of the United States than any president before or after his tenure. His understanding of the delicate balance of world power and what it takes to avoid global chaos was unparalleled, serving us well at a critical time in history.
Think about it: In a single term, this president presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and his subsequent forced retreat, and the reunification of Germany.
None of these events was as easy or as much of a foregone conclusion as they now seem in retrospect. There was a real possibility that a triumphant, “we won” reaction to the end of the Cold War would lead to a reactionary response by the Soviet old guard and a return to repression. President Bush exercised restraint, and the world remained peaceful. He drove the reunification of Germany and kept it out of the Soviet sphere.
To respond to Hussein’s Kuwait invasion, he had to persuade a reluctant Congress and organize and maintain an unprecedented coalition of nations from throughout the world. It was both a diplomatic and military masterstroke.
Domestically, he had the courage, and empathy, as a Texas Republican congressman, to vote for the Fair Housing Act in 1968 over objections of his conservative base. As president, he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But some of the choices that made him a brave, empathetic, humble, servant leader also led to his demise.
Last month, I wrote that my own mentors believed doing the right thing for the public good is its own reward. George H.W. Bush shared that belief. So when he realized that the right thing for the country’s economy was to agree to a tax increase in exchange for spending restraints, he entered into the deal—despite knowing the decision could ruin his political career.
That decision set in motion the economic boom of the 1990s, which began, but was not recognized by the voters, in his final year in office. Far-right Republicans and independent Ross Perot campaigned against him based in significant part on the violation of his, “Read my lips: No new taxes” pledge made during the 1988 campaign.
His humility, unwillingness to crow about his achievements and acknowledgement that no one accomplishes great things absent the contributions of others also contributed to his loss in 1992. In politics, one has to be willing and able to articulate one’s successes, and perhaps even to take some credit for the good works of others, in order to catch the attention of voters. Bush 41 believed in doing his job and not bragging about it.
His example positively influenced a number of now-prominent Hoosiers, several of whom wrote grateful opinion pieces immediately after his passing. It is gratifying to see that the verdict of history has led many more people throughout the country to appreciate him.
Rest in peace, Mr. President.•
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Daniels, a partner at Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to email@example.com.