Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Last Aristocrat: George H.W. Bush

David Frum seems to be so depressed about the current Republican climate that he is waxing nostalgic for the last great Republican moderate, the first President Bush:
So many of the men who have sought the presidency seem impelled by a desire to compensate for something missing in themselves. George H.W. Bush was missing nothing. Born to wealth and position, he gained more by his own efforts. He fought bravely in war, and excelled at sports, scholarship, and business. He’d made a sufficient fortune by age 40—but nothing like the vast accumulations that lead contemporary self-funders to turn to politics as if a governorship or senatorship were one more thing their money could buy. Instead, he seem inspired by a much older American idea: that once a man has enough, it’s indecent to seek more; that a man who has made a success of the first half of his life owes the second half to the service of his community, his state, and his country.

So many of the men who have gained the presidency were magnificent monsters, craving the cheering of millions but indifferent to personal relationships. In everything except his achievements, the elder Bush was a more normal man. He had friends, not just political allies. He delighted in his family. He found love, comfort, and consolation in a marriage that was as much a marriage at the end as at the joyous and passionate start. . . .

Bush’s reputation has commenced a fascinating recovery. The decision that hurt him so much with his own party—the budget deal of 1990—enabled the budget surpluses of the later 1990s. His decision to halt the war with Saddam Hussein at the Iraq-Kuwait border has been retrospectively rehabilitated by his son’s decision to do the opposite.
I also have a weak spot for the first Bush. He managed the end of the Cold War and the re-unification of Germany about as well as such things can be handled. He did a fine job with the Gulf War, working behind the scenes to keep the war coalition together and leaving the fighting to the generals. He tried to find a middle course in economic management and tax policy. True, it was hard to tell what he believed in other than his own diplomatic skill, but better that than ideological mania. He was part of the "consensus" militaristic view that I think keeps getting us into trouble abroad, and who knows what dirty tricks he was part of at the CIA. That is the part of our system I would like to see get a radical shake up. Bush was not the man to shake up anything, and of all the world leaders of my lifetime he might have been the least radical. But compared to all the other oddballs who have become or run for President in the past 50 years, he does seem  like the closest thing to a normal man.

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