Smerconish: George H.W. Bush is ‘good people’


By Michael Smerconish

Tomorrow is President George Herbert Walker Bush’s 88th birthday.

First my bias: In college, I had the amazing experience of traveling across the country and sometimes around the globe doing advance work for the Vice President Bush. And, in his term as president, I was an appointee to a sub-cabinet level position his administration. 

Now the facts: 

When he ran for the presidency in 1980, his slogan was “a president we won’t have to train.” That was a reflection of the fact that by that point in his career, he’d already been a war hero, member of Congress, UN ambassador, envoy to China, and head of the CIA.  Soon thereafter he would add the credentials of vice president and commander in chief.    

History will record him as the man who signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, who did raise taxes, who instituted a temporary ban on assault rifles and later renounced his lifetime membership in the NRA. He presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, signed START I with Gorbachev, drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and began the NAFTA negotiation.  

When he ran and won in 1988, he offered six words that would come back to haunt him four years later. Funny thing, he would later form a close personal bond with the man who beat him — Bill Clinton.  

I admire much about the man — mostly how he lived his parent’s edict of never “bragging on himself.”

Let me give you an example: when he left the White House, he did not write the obligatory memoir. Instead, this traditionalist, having been raised in an era of letter writing, not texting, decided instead to assemble his life in correspondence — letters written to him and by him were put together chronologically. And those accounts, created in real time, became the record of his life, titled All the Best. They are unvarnished and offer a portrait of the man. 

Here’s an example:

On September 2, 1944, Bush’s airplane was shot down off the island of Chichi Jima, in the Bonins and was rescued by the USS Finback. The next day, he wrote to his parents: ”Mother and Dad,” the letter began. “This will be the first letter you have gotten from me in a good long while.  I wish I could tell you that as I wrote this I am feeling well and happy. I am O.K., but I am troubled inside and with good cause.”

He then proceeded to tell his parents what had happened on what he described as a “bombing hop,” including the loss of two colleagues. Bush was able to bail from the burning airplane and while parachuting toward sea, saw the smoldering craft hit the water.

Some other lines from a long letter: 

“I’m afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it cause I sat in my raft and sobbed a while.”

“My heart aches for the families of those two boys with me.”

“It’s a funny thing how much I thought about Bar during the whole experience.”

“Much much love to you all, your ever devoted and loving son, Pop.” 

George Bush had enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday. He’d postponed the start of his college education at Yale to serve his country, and was for a while the Navy’s youngest aviator. 

Maureen Dowd wrote glowingly of him yesterday. On Thursday night, HBO will televise a 90-minute documentary celebrating his life, aptly named 41, produced by Jerry Weintraub.

It’s nice to see him receiving accolades while he is with us. Too often we offer praise only in eulogies. As we would say here in Chris’ hometown, George H.W. Bush is good people. He was a president we didn’t have to train.    

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.