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A memory of George H.W. Bush

As the nation morns President George H. W. Bush, lots of us old newspaper folks have reflected back on any encounters we may have had with the forty-first President during our careers. My reflection is one that is a bit different than most in that I never interviewed him or actually shook his hand but I did see him a couple of times.

My connection with George Bush was less indirect and actually was through his opponent in 1988 – Michael Dukakis. You see, some say I have an uncanny resemblance to the former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate – especially in a dark suit. Although I felt it was he who had the uncanny resemblance to me. But I digress. We have a similar build, same height; meaning neither of us played college basketball or high school for that matter. Our looks? Well, we both have a similar size proboscis! The big difference between us however was our politics. Me being the more conservative one.

In fact one good friend in town suggested that I consider hiring out as a Dukakis double suggesting that the Secret Service might want me to sit in for the Democratic presidential candidate in situations that he might be subject to bodily harm! I could ride in the decoy limousine he said! Yes, when you have friends like these who needs enemies.

The Republican National Convention was in New Orleans during the summer of 1988 so the necessary press passes were secured and plans made. Oh, the seats were fantastic sitting along side the podium looking out over the delegates. Speakers stood within 25 feet of our seats. It was a fun few days mixing business with pleasure.

As Amy and I walked around the Superdome area and around New Orleans more than a few chuckles were thrown my way. As political buttons and funny hats are just part of the political convention culture, Amy quickly found a large button that had a caricature of Michael Dukakis’s nose with a Ghost Busters symbol across it. It immediately became a permanent attachment to my coat label.

I became popular wherever we went. People wanted photos. Those were the days before selfies.

Now press badges were given out in AM and PM batches meaning an AM badge did not work for a PM event or vice versa. On the night of the nomination acceptance by Bush, it was realized too late that we had left the proper PM badge in Brookhaven. We made an early dash to the Superdome to try our luck.

So dressed in my best dark blue suit sans the Dukakis button for the time being, I proceeded to give my best sob story regarding my press badge dilemma to the guards at the security gate. We had come to know them over the previous two days. After some head scratching, we were pointed to our seats but told not to leave them. Over the next hour Secret Service agents came by asking questions. One of them told me I sure looked like Michael Dukakis! I showed him my button and he chuckled. Another agent who was from Mississippi walked up asked for identification, saw the name Brookhaven, “Do you know Chuck Nelms?” He said with a smile. We were then given a clearance for the night.

During his acceptance speech Bush spoke of his thousand points of light, talked about compassionate conservatism and made his infamous pledge of “Read my lips, No new Taxes!” Of course he later broke the pledge by raising taxes and thus costing him re-election in 1992, as Republicans split over the broken pledge — a split that has splintered into the Republican Party today.

History showed his tax increase, in the long run, was in the best interest for the U.S. economy. It allowed Bill Clinton to lay claim to balancing the Federal budget and thus the resulting strong economy under the Clinton watch.

The underling message throughout the funeral services Wednesday morning spoke to George Bush’s compassion for humanity – the importance of relationships and friendships. In his eulogy Presidential Historian Jon Meacham may have put it best, “We should emphasis the importance of compassion as a nation, as George Bush did. We all do not have agree, but we as a nation can try to listen to those we disagree and find solutions of which we can agree.”

Meacham went on to say how George Bush understood and learned from his mother that “humor is the solvent against the abrasive elements of life. That hatred corrodes the container in which it is carried.”

With his death maybe, just maybe this nation can take a deep breath and reflect.

As Amy and I walked away from the Superdome that night the Bush motorcade approached us turning at the corner we were standing. We were the only ones standing at the corner as the limousine turned, the then-Republican nominee was looking straight at us. A smile came on his face and he waved. We of course waved back. I would like to think, as others did, he saw the humor of the moment.

Bill Jacobs is former owner and publisher of The Daily Leader.