The last of a lot of good things?
“If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t hit his tail on the ground. Too hypothetical.” — George H.W. Bush on the campaign trail in 1992.
All right, so eloquent he wasn’t and he’s not apt to be included on many peoples’ lists of great orators, but when the future historians get around to writing their tomes on the life and times of the now late President George Herbert Walker Bush, I have the suspicion that a great many of them are going to find themselves using the word “last” a lot.
As a now grieving nation mourns a great deal more than much of it ever thought it might, former President Bush, affectionately nicknamed “41,” to distinguish him from his son and lesser presidential namesake, passed away Friday at the ripe old age of 94.
But the number of his presidency is not all that distinguishes him from those who have succeeded him in that office.
“Bush 41” was, and almost certainly, will be the last of what Tom Brokaw so famously and appropriately termed “the Greatest Generation” to hold the highest elective office in this land.
Neither coincidentally nor insignificantly, he was also the last American who took up arms in defense of his country, the last who served in its military in time of war to then go on to serve as its commander-in-chief. You will never be able to convince me that either having a bullet fired in anger barely miss you or having one you fired hit its target, would not forever affect any later decision you might make regarding sending the son or daughter of another into combat.
I think that is just one of those “I guess you had to be there” things in this life that can never be fully understood by those who weren’t.
Had he never been elected anything, the man had his plane shot out from under him over the Pacific; he was a war hero.
And while I don’t think it likely that George H.W. Bush is destined to be included in that pantheon of “great” American presidents, I am beginning to believe it increasingly likely that he might one day be viewed as the last truly “good,” in the traditional definition of that word, man to hold that office.
Think of those who have followed: Clinton, his own boy, Obama, Trump. Would you want your son to grow up to be them? You might could make a case for Obama, were you so inclined, but the rest? Would you want your daughter to marry any of them?
Although he rather staunchly maintains that any historian should wait at least 30 years before evaluating any presidency or the character of the fellow who held the job, a pretty good one, Michael Beschloss, did make exception to have this to say when hearing the news of Bush’s death: “Especially after his presidency, Buch came to be seen as a real human being and, instinctively, Americans felt good about him.”
And I would not have bet that would be the case, because, among those other “lasts” that may end up applying to Bush, is “patrician.” The scion of old money and the class which often accompanies it, George H. W. Bush was an aristocrat, who pulled off the very difficult trick of while being every bit of that, neither acting like nor coming across to the average Joe as “a big shot.”
Back in 1991, in the wake of George Bush’s having assembled the international coalition and support needed for him to wage and win the first and only legitimate Iraq War, I wrote a column around a theme of his having “extracted Excalibur.”
I wrote that astride a symbolic white horse which in reality had taken the form of a massive array of airplanes and tanks and armored vehicles and the troops who manned them, “George Herbert Walker Bush today rides across the world’s stage in hero’s trappings.”
That, I thought the case because before taking the country to war to halt a tyrant’s aggression, Bush had looked the country dead in the eye and told it, “This will not be another Vietnam.” George Bush told mothers and fathers, wives and children to trust him and he refused to breech that trust.
He made a promise and he kept it. He did what he said he would do.
Think how few times since we have honestly been able to make that simple statement about an American president. Think of how many times since we have been embarrassed by either the actions or the inactions of one.
George Herbert Walker Bush, a genteel and gentle man of manner so mild as to his once having been labeled a “wimp,” is today receiving what in life he would have felt most embarrassing levels of praise for his wisdom, courage, integrity and the just plain, old-fashioned common decency rightly associated with one’s being “a good man.”
And as we are now reminded every day, there is nothing common, nothing to be taken lightly at all about any of that.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.