The Last “Patrician” President

Screen Shot 2019-02-25 at 9.11.48 PM

Words to a neighbor about George H.W. Bush. (with a few edits)

“I feel I owe you a deeper explanation of my feelings about George HW Bush beyond Twitter and other exchanges. And I think Bush himself deserves a wider explanation as well.

My feelings about him are complicated, as they stem from a birds eye view and deep reading about the sins of the elite eastern establishment.

First, I fully recognize and understand the goodness in Bush, his generosity toward others, his sense of fairness and the decency with which he conducted himself. I also admire deeply his determination with other Yalies to strike out on their own after college for the oil patch of Texas. That is a distinctly American impulse that I admire. Not to mention the enlistment at 18 to risk his life when today’s 18 year olds wonder whether to hike Europe or work on Wall St.

I subscribe to the sentiments in Maureen Dowd’s column about him the other day. I admire his good traits and yearn for the good side of his character and wish those values would return to Washington and the country. Read Dowd’s highly personal piece here:

I know the Bushworld fairly well. My father and he were at Yale together. My parents joined the CIA after college with many classmates to serve their country. Bush and my parents shared friends and their example of respectful disagreement and civic responsibility was carved into us. Skull and Bones, kindness toward others, a reluctance to talk about one’s self, fairness above all. There is a sense about these guys/gals that they had a responsibility to do right in the world and care for others. The ultimate noblesse oblige life.

I hear what you are saying – that it is wrong to examine the underside of Bush’s life so soon after death. That it is somehow mean and not nice or fair to his memory or his family. I hear that. We have in this country a tradition of this – of gauzy hagiography around leaders when they die. We did it with JFK, Reagan, John McCain, and many others. We lionize them and ignore the dark side. And I think that gets us in trouble.

The Bay of Pigs, Iran-Contra, paying off dictators, fomenting coups in countries we don’t like, assasinations of foreign leaders. We just don’t seem to learn.
I think we owe it to ourselves to lay it all out there, ESPECIALLY now, as Maureen Dowd did – not in a cheap and nasty way, but with respect and fairness. To not remember all of George Bush is to disrespect his role in U.S. history.

To wit:

  1. He said he knew nothing about the Iran-Contra scandal and said he was out of the loop. He did not resign in protest. Instead he pardoned the wrongdoers and aided the cover-up.
  2. He was slow to understand or do anything about the AIDS crisis.
  3. His Willie Horton ad against Dukakis and his farming out the dirty tricks to Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater was one of the more shameful episodes in our political history and has led us directly to Fox News.
  4. He defended Richard Nixon during Watergate as chair of the RNC.
  5. 5. He said little or nothing about Trump – for which Carter, Bush 43, Clinton and Obama share responsibility.
  6. He protected CIA scandals and wrongdoing and took those secrets to his grave.
  7. Let’s not forget that his father’s firm Brown Brothers Harriman, helped finance the Nazi War machine.
  8. He said little as his son and Dick Cheney lied us into a war in Iraq that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people and cemented the U.S. identity in the world as an arrogant colossus on the wrong side of most every argument.

Bush’s decency – the the values and traits of his generation – had a dark side: an arrogance and blindness to the role of women, people of color, other countries. It is a go along philosophy, don’t rock the boat – because you can always argue it out over bridge at the country club or at a Yale reunion. My brilliant Mom would interject here and protest that she had many a late night argument with the likes of William F. Buckley and others in the Bush orbit about these issues. And she would be right. And of course at some level it is unfair to hold Bush and his generation to a moral and ethical standards they knew little about back then.

Yes – these men won World War II and presided over the construction of a world order that has seen the U.S. create the most powerful economy in human history. But they were often blind to the consequences of that world order – the suffering it has caused. And too often they were willing to live in ignorance at Kennebunkport or other enclaves in a luxury created by their parents and grandparents on Wall Street while others suffered around the world.

I guess my point is that we need to see these men in total, not through the haze of what we wish them to be. I suspect we would continue to argue about timing – that we should wait a few weeks before we deal with the bad stuff. I think I disagree. Lower the flags, honor his memory, best wishes to the family, proper memorial services. And I am glad at some level that the CIA building bears his name, although I am unconvinced the CIA does us much good.  But the journalistic treatment of Bush and other’s who die, needs to be robust and include everything, warts and all.”