Jon Meacham: George H.W. Bush and the Price of Politics

For every compromise he made to political expedience on the campaign trail, in office he ultimately did the right thing.

Comments: 202

  1. Did the right thing? Nominated Clarence Thomas’s, employed Lee Atwater those actions alone tarnished Mr. Bush. He only looks better when compared to what the Republican Party had become. Meecham is someone whose opinion is valued by some but for the life of me I don’t know why.

  2. @Gary Cohen Indeed, as to " . . . don't know why". I stopped reading Maureen Dowd in this paper for all her gushing over George the First. It's regrettable Mr. Meacham dishes up similar fare here while the elder Bush's "No New Taxes" mantra has been put into reverse by his party followers. They abhor even funding of basic health care while currying favor with Sheldon Adelson who runs a far-better casino than does Mitch McConnell's Senate.

  3. I was surprised to see that Meecham did not mention an early indication that Bush had a very flexible set of ethical principles. He had long favored allowing "a woman's right to choose" in the abortion realm. But when Reagan offered him the VP position only if Bush would reverse his position and oppose Roe v. Wade and its wider implications, Bush quickly agreed to do so.

  4. My estimation of George H. W. Bush's life can be summed up in two words, Willie Horton.

  5. @Tom Aleto - Two more words - Clarence Thomas.

  6. @Tom Aleto Much as the Romney family will be forever tainted by the "47% takers" to somehow vanish at little or no cost.

  7. It should be: Operation Condor

  8. Mr. Meacham has written some fine works, but with this editorial, and perhaps his new book, (and to be fair, I have not read it) he seems to be pinpointing the extreme right turn of the party in 1989. This is a departure from earlier work that places it with the Christian Right hijacking the party under Reagan. I believe the Republican Party turned well right under Bush 41's nose and he did not stop it. But, he was a dignified Republican. We don't see that much anymore.

  9. @Anthony: The party turned hard right in 1980. Never mistake who instigated the change, and who was lionized for it by his party, despite few accomplishments. The GOP today is a direct result of Reagan. Poppy Bush was Reagan's political enemy. Bush 41 was a brief interregnum in the Republican Party, not a taste maker. He deserve credit for that. The last EisenhowerRepublican in the Oval Office.

  10. @Anthony: You need to look deeper. In the mid 1960s very rich, very far right wing Republicans began to pursue a number of policies to advance their agenda long term. One of the devices was for wealthy right wing families to finance “charitable” (tax free) foundations. Those foundations then actively & passively began seeding various organizations that existed to penetrate & further seed various religious entrepreneurs & in exchange for the ‘seeding’ they were expected to yank their flocks to the right. This was no accident. It was cultivated by the Political Philosophehr Leo Strauss, a Neo-Nietzscheian (atheist/psychopathy-ish) Nazi refugee who taught at Univ of Chicago & is God Father to the Neocons. They spawned numerous orgs to push religions to the right. 1 is the Democracy and Religion project which attempts to yank mainline Protestantism to the right. Another is the Catholic League, which has no formal ties to the Catholic Church but attempts to usurp & yank Catholicism to the right. (This org suffered a huge loss with Pope Francis) So it maybe that the Christian Right hijacked the GOP but it was high end GOPers that high jacked various Christian sects. Witness millennial Christians fundies who can’t understand how their leaders universally embrace a decadent unchristian Trump. It’s because Trump embraced massive tax cuts to the rich, so the rich told their religious entrepreneur beneficiaries to embrace Trump. See Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss and the American Right

  11. One of my earliest political memories is Bush comparing Clinton and Gore to his dog Millie, which came across as totally harsh at the time. When he was reminded of that remark a few months later, he claimed not to recall making it and said something along the lines of, "Did I say that? Oh well, politics makes you say some regrettable things sometimes." I guess politicians are imperfect. But it'd be nice to reserve the label "honorable" for people who behave honorably when it's inconvenient to do so.

  12. @Diego Yes, and I think of John McCain. He had every opportunity to stoke racial animus toward Barack Obama for political advantage, and he refused to do so. Mr. McCain held himself, and the country, to a higher standard. That's being honorable.

  13. While reflecting upon the news of Pres. Bush's death, my now less sharp recollections are reflected very well in this piece. The repeated focus on what our national offices were for, that of serving the people rather than having evolved as they are now, into profiting for one's self, stand out as one of the most important sentences in this whole piece. Like cancer, subtle at first and even when suspect sometimes ignored, the lack of vision and willingness to do the will of the people above party, is slowly destroying our government. Our country is filled with those who have no active recollection of what the day to day feeling was like, at a time when there was plenty of mischief (McCarthy) but generally the idea was you were to serve the citizens and the Constitution, and integrity and shame helped to keep those given power on track. If that were to be changed quickly, even today's voters would notice. Change it slowly and the public's tolerance for the malfeasance is a bit more acceptable. Thank you for this excellent piece. It helps those of us old enough to recall the 50s and 60s and the more pure system we had. I hope this article also helps those who have a foul taste in their mouth from modern politics how it can be and what we need to do to restore it.

  14. The best Republican President in over 50 years. Admittedly, a low bar. I would be delighted to have him as our President today. I still would not vote for him.

  15. Sorry Jon, while I respect you as a historian, I'm not buying this characterization of Bush, primarily the "competitor" to get into office, the gentleman once he's in. Character demonstrates itself at all times, you don't get to pick and choose. When Bush ran against Dukakis, he used underhanded appeals to racist fears to win. You don't get to knife someone in the back to win, then ask everyone to just be friends once it's over. He did some admirable things, but his overweening desire for power led him to do things he should not have done. These were not innocent mistakes, but political calculations, and they should not be whitewashed. That being said, even at his worst he was better than his son or our current president, which demonstrates how far the Republican Party has fallen adopting Bush's strategy of ignoring character to get power.

  16. @Kent James You're right, Mr. Meacham politely described President Bush's election strategy as "the ends justify the means", which has been a Republican modus operandi ever since. However those "ends" typically ignore the common good in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy, benefits cuts for the hoi polloi, and an overall decline in the health of our democracy.

  17. @Kent James: "Character demonstrates itself at all times, you don't get to pick and choose." How many other politicians from both parties (past and present) will you apply that to?

  18. @Kent James: I am not politically aligned with Poppy Bush and did not vote for him, but I consider him one of the best modern presidents. Why? In office, he made the right choice rather than the politically expedient one. Isn't that a sign of true leadership? Understood that he was party to odious acts (e.g.the Willie Horton ad, which we all remember). I am also conscious that presidential elections are not expressions of a person, but rather two competing and relatively rigid machines. No doubt Lee Atwater was welcomed in Hell after dying young. But consider some of the risks he took in office. He raised taxes after the massive deficit of the Reagan years. This likely ushered in the prosperity of the 90s, but was enormously unpopular with his party. Or consider the absence of "regime change" after the Gulf War: also very unpopular with his base, but was a savvy assessment of the situation. In his book, "A World Transformed," Bush described almost exactly what would happen in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, under his son, in the 2000s. Most importantly, consider his non-confrontational position vis-a-vis the dissolution of the USSR. Again, this non-muscular stance was unpopular with the GOP. But he facilitated one of the more important positive events of the 20th century, against the resistance of his supporters. All of these things cost him a second term, but they were better for the US. Isn't that what we most want from a POTUS, after we put policy aside?

  19. 41's primary legacy was 43. ....Unfortunately it is a legacy that cannot be celebrated.

  20. A preposterous eulogy for a life-long insider who played dirty, stoked racism for political gain, had no fact or principles he wouldn't sacrifice for personal advancement ("voodoo economics", anyone?) pardoned felons who would have implicated him in crimes and exploited personal contacts for the gain of himself and his family, notably the Saudis, who bankrolled and bailed out Bush ventures for years. With his prevarications, marketing of aggressive wars and personal profiteering, he put down the carpet for his son, at the time the worst president in modern history, and then for Donald J. Trump, who's managed to top "W" in every sorry respect. And Mr. Meacham calls this the "Greatest Generation".

  21. To many of us, George H. W. Bush wanted to have it both ways: Ruthless while a candidate; Statesmen while a politician. More and more one can make the case that the two are irreconcilable. Did the ghost of Willie Horton come back to haunt him in 1992 with one look at a watch ? Did he endanger not only fellow vets but future Americans by a Gulf War saw this country protecting despotic monarchies? Did he preside over the largest US deficit at the time while decrying his then rival Ronald Reagan for Voodoo Economics. Truthfully, his presidency was at best problematic and at worst disappointing, but no one could doubt his courage which is more than we can say for the current occupant of the White House..

  22. G. H. W. Bush's career had its dark moments; several are mentioned in the comments already posted. Still, it is hard for me not to see him as the last decent Republican. He was a throwback to the rich WASPs who ran the Republican Party and to a great extent the country before 1960. The Party went racist with Goldwater in 1964, and Gingrich and his gang destroyed civil politics after 1992, but Bush managed to maintain some decency and work in the national interest in spite of his party changing around him.

  23. @rawebb1 "The Party went racist with Goldwater in 1964" and the country to Vietnam with LBJ. Lost the second item; still battling the first. Even subsequent sugar-coating of either is a cruel joke.

  24. He was a class act. It's hard to find that inside the Beltway these days. RIP.

  25. This attempt, among the first of likely many, to shape future historical understanding of Bush as this genteel, country-first patrician who insistently placed himself at a remove from his party's racist, plutocratic base exists only with the greatest tension with the three names I can't get out of my mind: Willie Horton, Clarence Thomas, and Anita Hill.

  26. So the ends justify the means? Well, we’ve seen where this has taken the GOP, and sadly the country.

  27. @Wappinne, The means were a unpleasant requisite to the ends. He didn't justify them. He was just realistic.

  28. “I’m worried that sometimes your idealism will get in the way of what I think is sound governance.”--President George H.W. Bush. The wisdom of the 41st president was lost on Newt Gingrich and all the cadre of hard-right, ideological zealots who hijacked the Republican Party. Mr. Bush wanted none of it but the rebels persisted. It led to today's political climate: fractious, ruinous, hostile and unpatriotic. But Mr. Bush also wore the clothes of racial politics when it suited him. His first (and only) White House term was greased by the infamous Willie Horton ad that was the brainchild of Lee Atwater, a race-baiter of the first water. It is also a mark against Mr. Bush that he nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, a judicial plague that haunts us still, all these years later. At least he tried to do the right thing. If that is damning with faint praise, well it certainly outdistances the results of his son's two terms and that of the current occupant of the White House. Today's Republican Party would be an alien being to the 41st president. Uncompromising; bitter; self-righteous; an unrepresentative, moneyed-class owing nothing to "We, the People" but everything to their shadow donors, the "real" Americans. He was the last true Republican president, his son and the current edition both misguided by misplayed loyalties and unattended hatreds that ruined their tenures.

  29. Thank God for his service to the nation. His able hand during those turbulent days when Berlin Wall came down, Collapse of Soviet Union and his ability to form a global coalition during First Gulf War, specially when he danced with late Syrian President Hafez-al-Assad, convincing him to join coalition.

  30. German chancellor Angela Merkel on George Bush "The courageous and peaceful revolution by people east of the Iron Curtain met with the courage and skill and of a statesman who, together with others, led Europe and the trans-Atlantic partnership through this upheaval and ushered in a new era."

  31. @Talesofgenji . . . and gave rise to Trumpism, Chancellor Merkel, the roots of which you know full-well.

  32. Notwithstanding Mr. Meacham’s characterization, I view GHWB as just another link in the long chain of Republicans who have cynically exploited the worst tendencies of their countrymen for political gain. How they governed once in office does not negate the roles they played in creating the highly polarized state of affairs we are currently experiencing together with the rise of right wing extremism. If some of them had actually had the character and moral decency to repudiate the tactics of fear and bigotry their ambitions might have fallen short but we might not have gotten to where we are today.

  33. @Mike 547 - thanks for your response to Mr. Meacham's hagiography; however, I must give credit to the late Senator John McCain and when, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, he retorted to a person who claimed she couldn't vote for Mr. Obama because she couldn't trust him and "he's an Arab", "No, Ma'am, he's a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what the campaign's all about. He's not." A decent repudiation, truly, and I can't think of another, sadly.

  34. Jenny, thank you for reminding me of Senator McCain’s rare character. Unfortunately, as you note, it is difficult to identify others with similar traits.

  35. My best analysis (from an ordinary citizen's point of view) of George HW Bush is that he was first a warrior. At 18 he volunteered for front line combat duty and very nearly died for the cause. He believed in the "cause," therefore, with his whole being. But he would kill as well as die. To me this explains the tension between his instincts as an American leader and his instincts as a fight-to-the-death warrior. When the warrior is engaged during battle, be it WWII or a presidential campaign, all bets are off...winning is what matters. After the peace treaty is signed or the campaign is won, governance demands a wholly different attitude. This bifurcation is deeply troubling and can exist only in a certain and rare kind of personality. One needs deep commitment to principle coupled with a savage willingness to off the enemy, and probably neither can be neatly set aside in the service of the other. We now have a president with none of the life-expending bravery of Mr. Bush and none of the impulse to serve us the people. The blessing for this president (and the curse for us) is a complete lack of tension in his approach to his presidency: he will do nothing that requires a dollop of courage and he will do anything to serve his personal interests. Most simply put, only of these presidents is truly a man. He just died. Rest in peace, Mr. Bush.

  36. @Victor I enjoyed your attempt, but have you ever heard the words "the ends don't justify the means?" That kernel of thought has been around for a long time and doesn't just apply to warfare. Thing is, if GHWB had run against a person like Donald Trump who would have already been using such tactics against him, I'd say, okay--he had no choice. But, he did it against a good man and public servant, a true statesman, the governor of my state--Mike Dukakis. An honest man who would have made a fine president. Then, his son Dubya does even worse to John McCain who was a really brave warrior with few peers. Again, a man who would have been a perfectly fine president. Now look at John McCain--he had plenty of opportunity to use racist attitudes against Barack Obama but he deliberately chose not to do so because John McCain was, at heart, a decent man. Comparing Bush to Trump makes Bush look good. Go one step further, though, and compare him to John McCain. Comparison is not so great now, huh? Neither of the Bushes are rare personalities. Just political hacks.

  37. He was a good man who served his country well in many ways. I find it interesting that so many bring up Willie Horton and Lee Atwater. It is naive to think that a candidate makes all the decisions about strategy and platform. Clarence Thomas is an odd person who has maintained a predictable stance on the Supreme Court. As for racial politics, let us consider the 8 years of both Obama and Clinton: Blacks and Hispanics did not improve their lot under either president. The compassionate conservatism of both Bushes was more effective though less touted.

  38. @Ricardo de la O Any facts to back that last claim up?

  39. "What mattered to him was not what one said or did to rise to ultimate authority. What mattered was whether one was principled and selfless once in command." It was this world view that ultimately saddled us with Trump— a president who is a reckless serial liar, and, who is completely devoid of both principle and selflessness. While I truly respect Bush's service to our nation, I can't decide if this is ironic, or SAD? Given the current state of affairs, I'm going with sad.

  40. Jon Meacham writes that "He deserves our praise..." and that Bush grew up "in a world where politics was a means to serve the public good, not a vehicle for self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment." On the contrary, George HW Bush will be remembered most for his appeal to racist fear with his Willie Horton ad, and his replacement of the giant of the civil rights movement and first African-American supreme court justice, Thurgood Marshall, with the abysmal Clarence Thomas. History will not be kind to George HW Bush.

  41. You cannot be a politician and honorable at the same time. Honorable people do not sacrifice hard principles for political expediency. Saying that you oppose desegregation just to get in office, only to recant a couple of years later is pretty darn close to lying. That does not negate much of what this article is about. I just recoil at the use of the words "honorable" and "politician" in the same sentence, whether it is a democrat, republican, libertarian, or whatever. Unfortunately it is impossible to be honorable and get elected.

  42. "What mattered was whether one was principled and selfless once in command. " Sorry, Mr. Meacham, but no that is not the only thing that matters. Protecting democracy matters a great deal as we can see today. Mr. Bush did everything to undermine the integrity of elections by using political thugs and racism to win. Bush's methods, as well as Reagan's, led the Republican Party down the path to corruption and unreality.

  43. To show how much things have gotten worse, one of the reasons given by the talking heads as to why he lost to Clinton was he glanced at his watch during a debate. Things sure have changed.

  44. Of the six republican presidents serving in my life time Eisenhower was the best, H.W. was next, as he was not too offensive, excepting his use of the "Southern Strategy". The other four committed crimes so here is their order of egregious terms as president: The worst is a three way tie of: W, for his war crimes violative of Nuremberg by waging aggressive war; Trump, for treason in conspiracy with Russia, and; Nixon, for the deaths of uncounted U.S. soldiers and other people by thwarting Johnson's peace efforts and don't forget Watergate. Reagan had the Iran-Contra crimes and his reliance on racism (but that is just what post Eisenhower republicans do).

  45. Let's not go too far overboard in our worship here. As Iraqi troops were massing at the border of Kuwait Bush’s advisors all told him no Arab country would invade another Arab country. Forgetting one of the seminal lessons from Robert McNamara regarding Vietnam, always ask “what if we’re wrong”? Bush sent a very weakly worded statement that did not at all convey the message that the US would consider it an unacceptable aggression if Iraq invaded Kuwait. The rest of course is history. Iraq invaded, we invaded and quite possibly set up the whole Middle East for some of the problems we see today. While as a staunch liberal I have a lot of respect George H.W. Bush and his presidency, he made mistakes, some of them quite serious, deadly, and history changing.

  46. @David Patin: "Bush sent a very weakly worded statement that did not at all convey the message that the US would consider it an unacceptable aggression if Iraq invaded Kuwait. The rest of course is history." You haven't and you won't ever hear a word of that from a single conservative commentator, but it's true.

  47. I never voted for him, and disliked his compromises with the Gingrich/Buchanan wing of the GOP. But he was much preferable to them, and I would much rather have him, or Gerald Ford, in office than any recent Republican. One of the puzzles of his son's administration is why he didn't pursue foreign policies, or budget policies, more like his father's. The Republican Party is now the Buchanan/Gingrich/Trump party, and a man like George H. W. Bush couldn't get nominated now. The country is worse off for that.

  48. In the film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks talks about how everyone thinks of the devil as an evil guy with horns, when he is, in fact, an ingratiating character that encouraging you to lower your standards just a little bit. His expressed and insightful distaste for what Newt Gingrich would bring to politics didn't stop him from employing Lee Atwater to do the Gingrichian dirty work that it took for him to win the presidency. The success of the Willie Horton ad opened the door to the fear mongering race-baiting that has been working so very well for Republicans.

  49. To commenters who object to Mr Meacham's positive remembrance because of valid opportunistic failings like approving the Horton ad - life and leadership are more complex than we want to believe. George Herbert Walker Bush's powerful and stern resignation letter to the National Rifle Association, his eventual work on the Clean Air Act, his reversal on raising taxes when the federal coffers were running empty (instead of exploding our deficit like Trump has) even though it cost Bush a second term, and his vote for a Democrat to attempt to stop the rise of an unconscionable toxic stain on the United States presidency all stand him head and shoulders above the utter garbage - yes, garbage - in Washington today.

  50. @common sense advocate “he's way better than what we have now” isn’t much of a recommendation. Fact is, despite the alleged comments to Gingrich, he used those tactics when he needed to.

  51. @John - far better then the mockery of the president that we have now is absolutely a recommendation-anyone who refuses to acknowledge that is exactly why voters brought Donald Trump into office.

  52. George HW Bush was the ultimate servant of his country.There was no battle too fierce nor no challenge too daunting to deter him in the pursuit of his vision of a great America.His ultimate challenge was that he served so long and was Reagan’s Vice President for eight years that others in his party became restive.The harder edged and more combative crowd in the Republican Party challenged him as they realized a Democratic takeover was coming.His campaign manager, Lee Atwater, was known as a bare knuckles fighter who caused division as well as loyalty.The hard edged, right wing took over as Bush ended his presidency.Theyhad had enough of the genial Reagan and principled Bush.They wanted their voices heard- they will not be treated kindly by history while George HWBush will be honored.

  53. Yes, as remote as Agincourt. From the fifteenth through the twentieth century, many of our leaders shared certain values. Then came Donald, who seems to have no values at all. As Shakespeare gave Henry V to say, "But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive." RIP, Mr. President.

  54. A wonderful tribute to a great American

  55. The difference between HW Bush and presidents before or after (with the exception of Carter), is that he owned up to his mistakes, which made him a bit more human than most of us. Read Meacham’s excellent bio.

  56. @Last Moderate Standing Carter still has not owned up to plenty of his mistakes. He just can't remember them all.

  57. Meacham is high on his own supply, choosing a framing that allows him to excuse incidents like Willie Horton—and ignore things like Iran-Contra, Clarence Thomas, and Bush’s entire run at the CIA. Bush was not a Good Guy or even a Politician with a Heart of Gold. He was just another guy too rich and powerful to ever be held accountable for his crimes.

  58. One problem is when he called Reagan's plan, "Voodoo Economics", he was telling the truth. He later supported this scam. The middle class started its decline during the Reagan years. Bush did nothing to stop it. However compared to Trump, he is a super hero. Compared to FDR, he is "Not worthy." We live in mediocre times.

  59. Bush was an amoral political opportunist. He was originally pro-choice and condemned "supply side economics" as "voodoo economics" but changed his tune to become vice president to the detriment of the US economy and women's civil rights. In both his presidential campaigns he used slander, race-baiting, and disinformation as every day tactics. The Bush presidency was part of the downward slide that led to Trump.

  60. The reality was nothing like this. The campaign was ugly and I've always known that the myth of GHW Bush's gentility and civility that Mr. Meacham has worked so hard to create is nonsense.

  61. @Robert F Maybe Meacham is not creating nonsense, but satire?

  62. Willie Horton anyone? And he corrected that with Mr. Clarence Thomas, eh?

  63. I can't think of George Bush without laughing at “Read my lips”.

  64. "...the world around him was beginning to resemble a Joe McCarthy rally." And today, those rallies are back. More frequently than Bush could have ever imagined. And, our president laments that he has no Roy Cohn. As Bush wrote: "Strange. Unbelievable."

  65. @Tom Q I'd say McCarthy rallies with a touch of KKK thrown.

  66. I guess this encomium shows us just how bad things are today: they make him look good.

  67. Iran-Contra and pardons: need I say more? In light of the current criminal investigations centered around the White House, we should all reread Lawrence Walsh's final report, but I'll excerpt Walsh's statement on the pardon here: "President Bush's pardon of . . . Weinberger and other Iran-contra defendants . . . demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office -- deliberately abusing the public trust without consequence. "Weinberger . . . deserved to be tried by a jury of citizens. Although it is the President's prerogative to grant pardons, it is every American's right that the criminal justice system be administered fairly, regardless of a person's rank and connections. "The Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed with the pardon of . . . Weinberger. "Weinberger's . . . decision to conceal and withhold . . . notes of the Iran-contra matter radically altered the official investigations and possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials [and] . . . contain evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials . . . . "President Bush had failed to produce to investigators his own . . . notes, despite repeated requests for such documents. . . . In light of President Bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned about his decision to pardon others . . . ."

  68. The cynical (yes, cynical) nomination of Clarence Thomas, the only reliably conservative black jurist he could find, belies much of what Meacham describes as the man's innate decency. On top of nominating one of the least-qualified judges ever to be named to the Court, he then blatantly and obviously lied to the American people by asserting that Thomas was "the most qualified" candidate he could find. Everyone knew what he meant. The "black" seat on the Court, previously occupied by a towering figure from the Civil Rights movement that Bush opposed while running for the Senate, would now go to a man whose primary qualification was that he was black and willing to consistently support a view of the law that in no way supported the struggling African American population, but rather the interests of the 1% that Mr. Bush also happily represented. Let's not get carried away in praising a former President who was in the end a cynical and calculating pol. Sure, he was a nice guy. So is his son, but that doesn't mitigate the disasters that Bush Jr. brought to us.

  69. @rhall: "On top of nominating one of the least-qualified judges ever to be named to the Court..." What are the "qualifications" for a federal judge? None are listed in the Constitution.

  70. @hm1342 Agreed, the constitution does not spell out qualifications for the supreme court, and, so oddly ironically conversely, how could Thomas be "the most qualified" candidate?

  71. I admired Bush after he declared Reagan's tax and spending ideas were "voodoo economics." He lost my respect when he embraced them.

  72. @David All this breast-beating rush-to-be-1st-to-sanctify. Kinda overlooks his toadying up to the Saudis. Off to Halliburton, guys!

  73. I remember when the Berlin wall came down, GHW Bush seemed truly bewildered at the event unfolding before our eyes, just like the rest of us. I thought at the time he had no idea that monumental show of courage by the East German people in defying their Russian occupiers was happening on his watch. It seemed to me that his presidency also seemed to be just a bit out of his control. His one decision to stand up to Saddam Hussein and push him back to within his borders and subsequently not follow him into Iraqi territory was a courageous one although his party heaped scorn on him afterwards. One thing important was his courteous behavior to all and his wonderful "thank you" notes to those who met with him to offer advice. That was the true mark of a gentleman. I admire him for the courage to show that to the world during a troubled time.

  74. Bush 88 was the last time I voted GOP. It was the high point of my career. 4 years later I would be at 1 of many low points that seemed to follow whenever a Bush became president The biggest civic opportunity missed in my life time was not creating a Marshall Plan after the fall of the Soviet Union. I blame that on Gingrich style GOPers. In 1918/19 The GOP helped make sure that America not pursue a better world after WWI, then gave us free fall economics. Wealth concentration peaked in 1929 which gave us the Great Depression, Hitler, Holocost & WWII. In 1945 We took the opposite approach with the UN NATO & Marshall Plan & econ equality giving us a mass middle class & the worlds greatest golden age culminating in a man landing on the moon & a joyful cultural explosion epitomized by the Beatles “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” In 1990-91 we should of/could of built off of the 1945 experience, passed a new Marshall plan w/ help from our allies, then sent in Euro Bureaucrats to help build new institutions & Japanese & S. Korean advisers to help plan econ development. In 1988 Poland & Ukraine were similar in sized & development. Today Poland is a 1st world country, Ukraine is a basket case. Imagine today a Poland like experience stretching acrosss the entire former Soviet Union. The GOPers gave us 1918 all over again. Wealth concentration peaked in 2005 giving us Great Recession & now we have Putin & Trump. I think Bush was capable of giving us another 1945 but not Gingrich style GOPers.

  75. @Tim Kane I agree a "Marshall Plan" for Eastern Europe and the former USSR states likely would have produced a different outcome but, as I recall, Republicans and Democrats were looking for a "peace dividend" following the end of the cold war. Perhaps if Bush had been re-elected in '92, he could have pushed through the funding needed to build democratic institutions in Russia and eastern Europe but it was not a priority for Clinton administration.

  76. @Mister Mxyzptlk I agree with the assessment of Clinton. I believe Bush was capable of envisioning a better plan for moving forward. I think the post Reagan/Gingrich style GOPers weren’t. They were after only 1 thing: tax breaks for the Rich. I don’t think they would have voted for a New Marshal plan - but, Gingriches didn’t take over until 94. So maybe Bush could have. What was a missing was a plan made in advance to the fall of the Soviet Union. In fact back then I was expecting this to happen. I still don’t understand the lack of foresight except for the system of greed which took over. I keep looking at graphs that show median wage being flat from 1972 until now. That was not sustainable w/out elites in both parties condoning & perhaps benefiting from it. I think Perot’s campaign was a reaction to these trends, but maybe I’m being generous to Perot. The cost of the Marshall plan was $16 billion in 1945 dollars. A similar investment in 1991 dollars would have been about $350 billion in 1991 dollars or about 1/10th of what we spent in Iraq. Imagine having a global democratic first world wrapping entirely around the northern half of the Northern Hemisphere: Europe, Russia, Japan, S.Korea, Japan, to Canada & a still middle class majority U.S. No Putin. No Trump. Just peace & prosperity. Global norms this pervasive could have helped us put such conditions on the Chinese for entry into GATT trading system. The despotic undeveloped world would be ever shrinking.

  77. @Tim Kane: "The biggest civic opportunity missed in my life time was not creating a Marshall Plan after the fall of the Soviet Union. I blame that on Gingrich style GOPers." Clinton had his opportunity as well before the 1994 midterms, but I don't see you blaming Clinton for the same missed opportunity. "In 1918/19 The GOP helped make sure that America not pursue a better world after WWI, then gave us free fall economics." Had the U.S. not gotten involved in WWI in the first place, Britain and Germany would have probably negotiated a peace settlement. By late 1917/early 1918, both sides were almost out of everything, including men to fight. There would have been no disastrous Treaty of Versailles, the Kaiser would still have been in power, and the situation that gave us Mussolini and Hitler would have been avoided.

  78. While the 1988 Bush campaign is rightfully criticized for the Willie Horton "dog whistle" advertisements against Dukakis, what happened next is instructive. Both parties, with Clinton as President, revamped the criminal justice system with mandatory minimum sentences, 3 strikes and aggressive enforcement of relatively minor crimes - the repercussions of which we are still dealing with today, especially in minority communities. The rhetoric of the day would be considered extreme, if not racist, now.

  79. @Mister Mxyzptlk...any relation to the Michigan trotter "Joan's Mxylptlk"?

  80. I do think it is unfair to characterize Ross Perot with Donald Trump. Please look closer. For starters, Perot served. He seemed to be patriotic. He was an independent. His motivation appears to have been driven by a revulsion to partisan & lobbyist politics that put special interest ahead of national interest. My guess was he was probably a conservative but offended by drift of GOP politics that concentrated wealth at the expense of over everything else. So he put himself out there to try to do something. He may have been wrong, or naive or quixotic, or whatever, but he doesn’t belong with Donald Trump or even Pat Buchanan who was only a speech writer/pundit. Nor does Donald Trump deserved to be chatagorized with Perot. This isn’t nuance. You were comparing apples and asperegus here. They are not in anyway the same thing.

  81. This article is too kind to the elder President Bush in one way. The Willie Horton ad was despicable -- it was the act of despicable people -- and helped lead us to where we are today.

  82. @Frank And don't forget filling the unwritten "quota of one' on the Supreme Court represented by Justice Thurgood Marshall -- one of the legal scholars who helped strike down segregation -- with Clarence Thomas (who liked "movies" the way Kavanaugh likes beer). One of the most cynical appointements ever until Trump showed up, to borrow a phrase from LeBron James. We can point a finger at Lee Atwater for the former and Dick Thornburgh for the latter, however, these things were approved at the highest level.

  83. @Frank Al Gore used the "Willie Horton" meme first in NY primary fight.

  84. @Frank More despicable than the Horton ad was Bush's behavior sabotaging the 1992 Global Climate Change conference in Rio.

  85. See what happens when you don't eat your broccoli?

  86. History will show that GHWB will be remembered as one of the better presidents of our republic. I have nothing but respect for this guy and I vote independent. My condolences to the Bush family, you lost your parents and we lost a great leader.

  87. I can only view past presidents now by comparison. President Bush showed the character, moral principal and allegiance to the truth that all good leaders showed. Sure there was Iran-Contra and his switches on abortion and trickle down economics but those were the compromises of a Vice President. When push came to shove and the buck stopped with him his decency and intelligence came to the fore. The incident that comes to mind though when comparing yesterday to today is a small one. I forget which debate it was against candidate Clinton that he made the mistake of looking at his watch, showing impatience with the town hall he was attending. I recall it was quite the scandal at the time and set him up for the unfair charge that he wasn't the man of the people that Bill (I feel your pain) Clinton was. Now we are in a time where school yard nicknames are assigned to your opponents as was experienced by Low Energy Jeb, Lil Marco, Lyin Ted and Crooked Hillary. I'm sorry he had to live to see the degradation of his beloved party, our collective politics and America itself but I'm glad he stuck around as a reminder of better, gentler and more courteous times. RIP George Herbert Walker Bush.

  88. Reagan and Bush were both pro choice until they were running for president. The both of them knew that to woo Christians to the republican party, they'd have to go antiabortion. So they did. Remember, Dana Carvey SNL skit, "Slip Slide. Slip slide. A thousand points of light." George H.W. Bush had a problem being milk toast. Please don't rewrite history when someone dies. Everyone has positives. You don't have to create them.

  89. His best decision was not attempting to take over Iraq after the Gulf War. Of course, in a bizarrely ironic twist, somebody related to him "finished" that job. He was also no fan of civil rights. I remember him making an extremely condescending, disparaging crack about somebody being a "card carrying member of the ACLU". That always stuck with me, and forever made me extremely wary of his true character and motives. And he did like his tax cuts, but at least used a fact based palette to make decisions concerning tax policy when push came to shove. His "voodoo" economics line was an instant classic, a really funny and incisive quote from a guy that really wasn't all that hilarious. I give him my highest complement, which is "competence". As a Democrat, I can't ask anything more than that from a Republican, and I would certainly swap him out in a heartbeat for what we have today.

  90. @JayK Competence used to be my lowest expectation in a president. Competence was baseline. Now, I'd be really happy climb out of the hole we're in and get back up to baseline.

  91. "He negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and passed historic clean-air legislation." President Bush's legacy of these landmarks has been virtually unraveled by his predecessor in the White House. What a disheartening past two years he must have witnessed in dismay and disbelief!

  92. While George H. W. Bush was a sometimes mean politician (Willie Horton) and flawed president (Clarence Thomas), his presidency was a mix failures and successes (the latter including a judicious prosecution of the Gulf War with a massive coalition of allies and a clear exit strategy and also his respect for the environment here at home). But through it all he possessed decorum and respect for his office and the Constitution. One wonders if the passing of this president isn't enough to cause Trump supporters to reflect with some embarrassment on the wretchedness they have visited upon our country.

  93. @JD Nice idea but I don't think The Con Don faithful do much reflecting.

  94. A dedicated family man, a distinguished veteran, a principled man; may he rest in peace. And condolences to the Bush family; they have given a lot to this country.

  95. @Jan Oh, they've given a lot, all right.

  96. As a long time member of the comment crew, and one who is occasionally described as “ mean, but brilliant “ I’ll just say that I personally would prefer ANY of the Bush Family in the Oval Office rather than the current occupant. And I’m a lifelong Democrat. Excellent Writing, Sir. Well done.

  97. I’m a lifelong Democrat also, and I completely agree with you.

  98. @Phyliss Dalmatian, you would rather have Bush, Jr. and Cheney back, lying to people about non-existent WMD (none of which, even had they existed, were allegedly used vs US territory to begin with), and preemptively invading nations on trillion dollar credit cards, while cutting taxes? Neo-con, intervention-first regime changers, creating a permanent state of "war on terror" to replace the Cold War and ending the peace dividend? Wars that Obama promised to end and then, not only did not, followed the new pattern laid down by Bush, Jr. & expanded the insane powers under the Patriot Act and expanded the intervention-first activity to Libya and Syria? It is like Maureen Dowd's recent column and her metaphors. Cheney was brutally effective, efficient, "silent assassin" while Trump is extremely loud, transparent raving lunatic, who you can hear outside. And, thus far, while still failing to end Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump has at least not initiated any new wars. He has even gotten one or two things correct, such as his criticism of Jeb Bush for trying to defend Iraq War. Yes, stylistically, the Bush family certainly more palatable this is one reader and voter who strongly agrees with the late Barbara Bush that "we've had enough Bushes" in the White House.

  99. Actually, the "read my lips...no new taxes" pledge was either the start of the extreme politics we see today, or an early example of its gaining momentum. The "right" thing was supplanted by the "tribal" thing. Purism, idealism for one's party, won over "logic, intellgence, and principle." That which sells took precedence over that which serves the country the best in the most principled ways. Since that time, sadly, the base has captured the energized and most influential part of the Republican party. Poppy Bush was a remnant of the kindler, gentler, principled form of politics that is now an anachronism. We can only hope that it returns some day.

  100. “What mattered was whether one was principled and selfless...” And that is the basic tenet to be embraced by those who are elected to lead this nation of ours and, for that matter, the world. No president is perfect. It is an impossibility for human nature in general. But George H. W. Bush was true to himself, and strived to balance morality with politics. Never an easy task. When we look to his life now, particularly as a president, we find a man who upheld a democracy not so much by policies, but instead by ethics and always being aware that there is a universal moral code. His Party of which he proudly represented is gone now. This country has not only lost this man of the Greatest Generation but also one half of its two-party system which was created on the basis of just and fair compromise. Let us hope that his legacy of honor can someday soon be resurrected.

  101. When it came to the messy business of campaigning Bush either relied on or deferred to those who love the mess, operatives like Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes. He didn't like to dirty his hands, yet wanted to enjoy free of stain the power that came to him as result of divisive tactics that used racist fears to win votes. It's his massive hypocrisy that now makes Bush a symbol of something lost in American politics and culture. At least he knew dirt when he saw it. At least he tried to separate himself from the damage being done to the country.

  102. @LineByLine Oh good, hypocrisy is now a virtue.

  103. @LineByLine Your comment is really funny. It reminds me of something Mark Shields said on the News Hour about how Richard Nixon wasn't as bad as Trump because he at least admitted he was doing something illegal when he did it. Trump, never, ever admits to doing anything illegal, even when it's crystal clear that he's done something illegal. It's very sad when the guy who knew he was doing something wrong is okay now compared to the guy who refuses to admit he's ever doing anything wrong. Similarly, GHWB is given a pass and we all think he's great because he at least acknowledged that it was dirty politics while he allowed other people to do his dirty politics for him. Wow, we are so messed up here.

  104. He was a president who did nothing to slow down the hollowing out of the middle class through "free trade". As we can see, China is now a democracy , right? The Bushes and Clintons are part of the same mindset; no wonder they get along so well. The American people voted for an end to it in 2016. Trump is doing what he said he would do, and I do not care about his manners.

  105. You feel like the middle class is actually coming back? Huh.. not from where I’m sitting. And give me somebody who cares for something other than himself any day.

  106. A not-too-deft sidestep on Willie Horton; Iran contra; Clarence Thomas? Dan Quayle? Politics inherently imperfect? Yes, even nasty. All these are soft targets and Mr. Meacham is asking us to view the man in the light of his own priorities as his biographer, and it's not unreasonable. Mr. Bush was a courageous warrior, a decent man, and a most competent president. Like all presidents, complex, conflicted, most importantly imperfect.

  107. This is a poignant, truthful remembrance. I’m curious, of those that have lived through all U.S. Presidents since Nixon, what lessons should we learn? For me, it’s that self-centered promotion and dishonesty never win out, or a mean-spirited embrace of a political position or policy. One can be for tax cuts, but don’t insult our intelligence that it generates deficit reduction. One can be for single payer health care, but try to base your argument on facts and not ad-hominem attacks. I was most impressed by his closing remark to Gingrich that his “idealism “ might get in the way of good governance. We need to all dwell on that.

  108. Single payer health care & ad hominem attacks?

  109. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took this country into a new political era. From the moderately progressive turn the USA took in 1932, under FDR, we became a moderately regressive country in 1980 and have been moving along in that path ever since. George HW Bush, to his credit, saw the potential for outright right wing reactionary policies as the GOP turned the country in a path away from welcoming and celebrating equality of opportunity for all and from fighting a long terrible legacy of bigotry, Eventually, it led Bush to vote against the reactionary demagoguery of Donald Trump. We now face directly the danger Bush foresaw. Will America turn back in time from the excesses of fear mongering and bigotry that Bush could not stomach? This is the challenge of our time. It is why Bush’s death is so so historically meaningful.

  110. “The nation mourns him not least because we no longer have a president who knows that the story of the nation is not all about him.” I agree with your sentiment, Mr. Meacham, but I reflect that we still have one other such president left among us: Jimmy Carter. Nonetheless, we thank President Bush for his statesmanship and service to country. Let us never forget.

  111. I admired Bush's words during Gorbatchev's crisis in Russia ("Who is threatening?!") and his parachute jump on his 80th birthday. But I disliked his Texan slight accent that replaced the civilized accent of his original upbringing.

  112. I respect his service and send condolences to his family. But let's not lose sight of the fact the Republican Party has been evolving into a racist and fear mongering organization for almost 40 years. He hired Lee Atwater, long known as a dirty campaigner (partner of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, need I say more?). He bought into the Willie Horton ad, a continuation of the ugly, racist dog-whistles used by Ronald Reagan. He may have "ultimately (done) the right thing", but he, and the GOP, sold their collective souls to get there.

  113. @Beth S "...the Republican Party has been evolving into a racist and fear mongering organization for almost 40 years." And I add in service to the uber-wealthy 1% and corporations, duping the gullible unwashed masses while fleecing their pockets, eliminating affordable healthcare, and outsourcing their jobs. Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute.

  114. There is a straight line from Bush’s racist Willie Horton ads to Trump’s racist birtherism against President Obama, but Trump is no match for Bush’s example of character and humility during and after office. Bush loved this country more than himself, but Trump loves Trump over anyone or anything else.

  115. Paying off the debt to Willie Horton by nominating Clarence Thomas was not the right thing at all.

  116. Mr. Meacham, if you really want to tell the Truth about George H.W. Bush to your readers, and to History, you will advise everyone to watch the PBS Frontline show on Lee Atwater. Lee Atwater was the poison the Bush family recklessly injected into our politics, and from which we have never recovered. Atwater metasticized into Trump. Everyone should watch that Frontline show, and then await Mr. Meacham’s explanation of how George H. W. Bush righted that great wrong.

  117. While I concur with your characterization of GHWB as a decent man, he occasionally surrounded himself with some who were, so to speak, less so. I would cite Lee Atwater and John Sununu as examples.

  118. I have only two words for President Bush: Clarence Thomas

  119. For a Yankee, he made a pretty good Texan.

  120. He was just a standard issue republican, who had to regularly appeal to the not inconsiderable part of their regular voters who are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic. And as his professional biographer states, he did so willingly and without a thought. But his manner is so better than the current republican in the white house, his reputation gets better every day. So now what do you do jon?

  121. Having read many of the eulogies, have we forgotten his hostility towards Israel? Remember the loan crisis? What a shame.

  122. Bush's expedience in campaigning was the fault of the American electorate, not his own. It's the majority of white American voters who reward racists and punish liberals. That's just a fact. Bush needed Lee Atwater to establish his bona fides with the Republican South, which had always disliked and distrusted him for being weak on race-baiting compared to the Gipper. Bush could have nobly rejected Atwater's evil genius, and lost. That was his only option, and for a politician that would have been pointless.

  123. @Fred White How do you know that Bush would have lost if he did not use Atwater's as his attack dog?

  124. My Mother taught me that if you can't say anything nice (good) about the deceased remain silent.

  125. Do George HW Bush’s “compromises” on the campaign trail include the racist dog whistle of his Willie Horton ad, or his lie ”read my lips, no new taxes”, knowing he would, in fact, have to raise taxes to counter the deficits created by Reagan with his massive tax cut for the wealthy? Or maybe you refer to his flip from acurately describing Reagan’s economic plan as voodoo economics through the day of the ‘80 Republican convention, to sound policy the next, having been offered the Vice Presidency? Does “doing the right thing” include the first Gulf War, entered into at the direction of the Kuwaiti King, or the permament stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the driving event for the creation of Al Qaeda by an angry Osama bin Laden? Dying does not automatically erase a man’s sins.

  126. HW “compromised” with the Dems, raising taxes in return for ephemeral promises of lower spending. HW kept up his end of the bargain; the Dems didn't. Dems will NEVER voluntarily cut spending on anything but the military. We only got spending restraint when Gingrich went to war with WJC. It’s akin to immigration. RWR offered amnesty in return for enforcement; the Dems accepted the former and reneged on the latter. The left simply cannot be trusted to keep its promises. HW erred on his tax “compromise”, both politically and practically. He wounded himself with his base toward no useful goal, as the Dems gave him nothing in return. Doubt that? His tax rates were but the start for the Dems and one need look no further than BHO’s catastrophic profligacy to see how “spending restraint” played out. It was Newt, not HW, whose policies produced surpluses. Newt was right; HW was wrong. HW, of all people, should have understood: certain hills are worth dying – or losing an election – to take or keep, and refusing to raise taxes is one of them. As this last election shows, Dems ALWAYS treat politics like “total war”. To them, it’s ALWAYS about personal enrichment, envy, or, more ominously, identity. To the Dems, “compromise” means taking what Republicans offer, then blithely breaking their own promises. HW, a gentleman, believed in keeping his word; that is not a vice from which Pelosi or Schumer suffer. Oh, and Souter will forever stain HW's legacy.

  127. @Michael Please consider the GOP pointing out the dangers of deficits when Dems control the white house then blowing the budget up when they get in. Since DE had a balanced budget (and 90% tax rate on $50k) only the Dems have balanced the budget.

  128. @Lisa Newt balanced the budget. WJC was willing to shut down government rather than cut spending as much as necessary. And he did. The Dems larded up the recent budgets by hundreds of billions in return for not shutting down government. Schumer crowed after the budgets were adopted, saying they funded most "Democratic priorities". Revenues are up after the rate cuts; but spending is up $127B in one year, most of it on wasteful domestic spending. That said, if your point is that many Republicans lack the spine to actually cut "popular" but indefensible spending? Guilty as charged. We see it with the farm bills, where farm state Republicans lard up spending on farm/corporate welfare, while Democrats lard it up with more traditional welfare spending. The ONLY bipartisanship in DC is when the pigs get together to slop their individual constituencies, and the impact on our kids of the resulting deficits counts for precisely bupkis. While essentially every Democrat elected these days is a socialist, to a less or (increasingly) greater degree, not all Republicans are conservatives. And, truth be told, there is a huge market for the free lunch.The electorate ALWAYS rewards the Party which promises it the most freebies. It takes a special kind of political courage to say "NO" to those who want other people's money. No Dem has that courage; alas, few Republicans do, either. Show me ONE elected Dem who supports a balanced budget; just one.

  129. @Michael Trump has increased the debt from 17 to 21 trillion in a time of surplus. Both parties play this game with your money.

  130. Hear, Hear! Thanks Jon Meachem for your words about a great man and an unappreciated great president. His critics are ideologues who fail to understand the importance of compromise in the business of governing, and are too idealistic in what it takes to win elections. He did the right thing with the 1990 budget agreement, knew he would be crucified for it politically, yet went ahead. As for the Willie Horton stuff, 41 never carried those politics with him into the Oval Office; it was just politics. The handling of the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are not sufficient words for how deftly those were handled, and the world owes him a great debt for those two acts.

  131. In the understandable and appropriate sadness over Bush's passing, let's not also forget that he cared so much about his country that he picked Dan Quayle as his running mate, someone perhaps more qualified to be president only than Sarah Palin, beside whom he looked like a genius. President Bush also gave us Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court's perpetually silent Justice upon one can count always to vote against individual rights.

  132. I recall voting for GHWB for president. The day Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court I went down to our local town hall and changed my voter registration from Republican to Democrat, and never voted for another Republican. GHWB was a more dignified and presentable person than the current president, a good family man, a veteran, etc. But make no mistake about it. Without GHWB's nomination of Thomas we would not be in the morass we are in today. His son, W, would not have been the president selected by the Supreme Court, and Citizens United would not have corrupted our whole body politic.

  133. While I certainly didn't vote for him, being highly suspicious of anyone associated with Ronald Reagan and being a past CIA director, GHWB was in fact a much better President than I thought he would be. Yes, there were issues, some huge, that I didn't agree with, but overall he was, first and foremost, a patriot concerned about the future of the United States. How terribly unfortunate that the current resident of the White House is the complete polar opposite in every way.

  134. Nearly three thousand Panamanians died so President Bush could arrest Manuel Noriega — that’s the number of humans who died on 9/11. On the other hand he was wise enough not to remove Saddam since it would have exceeded the UN mandate and yet not wise enough to eviscerate Dick Cheney for suggesting such a regime change. Sadly he spawned W, village idiot and bull in the porcelain shop that is the Middle East. Last and least, as George Will noted decades ago, 41 began life as a Yale first baseman who batted left and threw right. Better left unspoken is the evil his own father tried to perpetrate on our democracy. More than the bureaucrat Reagan accused him of being, he remained less than he could have been.

  135. He was cruel and thoughtless, just like shrub2.

  136. Trump lied to get in too. If in the future Caligula is president will we remember Trump with nostalgia? Bush also pursued the drug war as vigorously as all presidents which is a shame on all of them. Because others are similar or worse does not make him a great man. The powerful in this country have friends who write history. Those of us who lived through it do not see it the same way.

  137. I was disappointed by Bush's 1988 campaign, managed by Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater. It was the dirtiest presidential campaign of my lifetime. When Bush said that he nominated Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court because he was the best choice available, I lost all respect for Bush. Despite his personal decency, he did not hesitate to get in the gutter.

  138. Being a citizen of your neighbour country to the north I have been and am constantly amused by the reaction your press by and large has to the death of one of your presidents. No matter who the president is, once he dies, all your past grievances with the man while he was president are pushed aside and he is lauded for his actions while president.Americans, it seems to me, treat their dead presidents as if they were Kings and I have no doubt that when your current president "meets his Maker" much the same will be written about him as well.

  139. To me, the value of George H.W. Bush can be summed up in his characterizing trickle-down economics as "voodoo." He knew it was garbage, even as Reagan and other decided it was the path to follow--for which we are still paying the price today. Bush was also a true war hero. I didn't vote for him, there was plenty to not agree with, but he represents a time when people of different parties could still like each other. Today, that seems like a miracle.

  140. He did the right thing, putting us on the path to a balanced budget. He did the right thing by forging a coalition to fight the first Iraq war. And for that kind of long term thinking he was defeated and ended up a one-term President. His son was a poor shadow as a chief executive, and the current administration is more like a fun house mirror reflection, doing everything in reverse but in a twisted way. More debt, fewer allies...what have we come to?

  141. Wasn't Poppy, as head of the C.I.A. the chap who put Saddam Hussein on the American payroll? I remember another story wherein some Panama military officers had captured Noriega, called for U.S. assistance only to be denied that assistance. Noriega's loyalists rescued him and killed the rebels. Two weeks later Bush sent in the air force and a couple thousand people died in that capture of Noriega. Other than that he was the last decent so called conservative President. Far better than the other so called conservatives these last 50 years.

  142. His playing of the race card during his campaign I find unforgivable especially on the part of a Patrician.

  143. Warmonger!

  144. The problem with the Bushes reduces to their guiding principle, noblesse oblige, which is inconsistent with America, a rough-and-tumble place whose rationale is precisely the rejection of the idea of nobility and its attendant hushed tones and privilege. Bush 1 gave us the Clintons and Bush 2 gave us Obama, in no small measure because of noblesse oblige. Said another way—what compelled America’s birth will have caused America’s death.

  145. @Marian And Obama gave rise to his racist antithesis, Donald Trump.

  146. @Marian Would you like to explain Donald Trump? I'm all ears.

  147. The Clintons & Obama - the death of America? You know nothing. And Trump will bring the USA back to life! Please.

  148. I've just been reading that Mr. Bush vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 and staunchly opposed the ERA. I also found that in the words of Ted Kennedy “He is more interested in appeasing extremists in his party than in providing simple justice for working Americans.” I wonder how these aspects of Mr. Bush's politics fit into Mr. Meacham's thoughts about the man. The first comment I saw was by a Canadian who wondered at the American custom of sanctifying our deceased Presidents. This column certainly illustrates that observation.

  149. @RM Manners are not everthing. Do as I say and not as I do say it all.

  150. @RM Meacham has been sanctifying him for years.

  151. @RM This Canadian listened this week as our Prime Minister apologized to the world Canada's treatment of Jewish refugees. Our first Prime Minister who has more monuments dedicated to him is now historically drunken, vicious and vile excuse for a human being. There was no famine in Ireland and its food export economy boomed during the potato blight. One million Irish died of starvation and a million were sold into the urban hell holes of the Industrial revolution. The potato famine was by design and the lobbyists at Westminster are the same lobbyists today in Washington. Reagan destroyed America, Trump by virtue of his complete incompetence may bring it back from the dead.

  152. Unfortunately and tragically, President Bush aided and abetted the further coarsening, corruption, and extremism of the Republican Party by allowing the likes of Lee Atwater and other sharp-elbowed opportunists to have an influential place in national politics. In the passionate desire to win, and then incongruously govern with high-minded ideals and principles, he made a Faustian Bargain with undesirable people he could not thereafter purge from the Party. Although his achievements in office should rightfully be celebrated, there is an uninterrupted line that can be drawn from this Bargain he naively, even foolishly, embraced to the wretched, loathsome, value-free current state of the Party and its present amoral leader.

  153. Do in fact the ends justify the means? Mr. Bush (the geezer) thought so, and used Lee Atwater to make it so. And there went our civilized culture, for Atwater taught Gingrich, who spawned Rove, who paved the way for Bush the lesser (aka VI -- Village ..., whom Pappy helped avoid the draft and have a ball in our jets) and now we brought in the clowns. Yes, he was a gentle man in civilian contexts, and he treated those around him with kindness and consideration. But "religion" is not something one should put on when it serves one and ignore when it does not. Hence I must conclude that he was a hypocrite, and one of the worst kind.

  154. @Pierre D. Robinson, B.F., W.S. I don't disagree with your comments. To me the Republican party took the wrong road in the 1960-70's when Nixon adopted the "southern strategy." When the republicans started to depend on the South to win elections, they were also buying into racism. Anyone who wants to win across the South has to be right on race -- the right color and right party. In most of the South, the republican party is the party of white people. Being right on religion helps also. That is all still true; why do you think The Con Don plays to racial/cultural/religious antagonism? He is still following the "Southern Strategy" except he has tried to take it nationwide. I am not here to take up for Mr. Bush but I did not recall that he was overly religious. He might have been a hypocrite but if that is worse thing about him, he was pretty good. Aren't all politicians (particularly Southern politicians) hypocites?

  155. There is no such thing as a perfect politician. Many of the commenters fault Mr. Bush because he did some despicable things --- Willie Horton ads, invaded Panama to get Noriega, appointed Clarence Thomas, etc. But if we look at any person who has held high office we find things that we don't like. Even my great hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, did some bad things of which interning the Japanese-Americans was to me the worse. But he did a tremendous amount of good. I don't know what people want from our leaders. Many Democrats could not stand the prospect of supporting Ms. Clinton and said that they could see no difference between Hillary and The Con Don. But I would pick Ms. Clinton over The Con Don any day of the week. We don't get to vote for perfect people, we just get to vote for the best one. When Mr. Bush was in office I did not think much about him but looking back he was a much better President than Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, The Con Don. So it is relative. There have been better Presidents; but there have also been many much worse. Out politicians reflect the people who elect them. It would be wonderful if our voters would vote for nice, well-mannered, gentlemanly, learned, and open-minded people. But politics is a rough business and to play one has to first get elected to office. Mr. Bush wanted to get elected so he could do good for the country; Isn't that a good thing?

  156. @Aubrey, well said. It is also about policy, however, not just personality. And Hillary, unlike her husband, was just not nimble enough to pivot and read the mood of the country. If she had done so, she would have shown humility and said Bill Clinton made mistakes in capitulating to the strange bedfellows combination of Chamber of Commerce and far left La Raza back in 1996, as well as John Huang and taking the $ from the Chinese, to kill the pending immigration reform that was about to pass Congress by strong bipartisan majority. And that she now fully recognized that the hard work of Barbara Jordan and the bipartisan Jordan Commission on immigration deserved to be fully enacted. This could have neutralized Trump on his signature issue of illegal immigration. Instead, she did not. I would have preferred Al Gore back in 2000 over G.W. Bush but, again, like Hillary, he was just not a great campaigner.

  157. @Aubrey You missed key point here: Bush, despite the NYT sub head, may not have always ultimately done the "right thing" , in fact, he did a lot things wrong and for the wrong reasons.

  158. I shall have to think hard to discern the lessons to be learned from G.H.W. Bush whose character I admire and the kinder and gentler he wanted to project I hope for. Yet, the nasties took over, and to what end? I remember voting for Clinton, but thinking, perhaps George was a "better person," which I conclude for my tastes he was although Bill is brilliant. Perhaps George is an example of " no good deed goes unpunished ", and idea I wish experience would lead me to reject but doesn't.

  159. George H. W. Brush shines brightly and sweetly in the words of Jon Meacham. It is understandable to laud him upon his death and in comparison to what we are now struggling through. Meacham only mentions Lee Atwater to relate Bush's reaction to Atwater's suggestion in 1988 of Donald J. Trump as a possible candidate for Vice President. This tiny crumb indicates how insubstantial Meacham's portrait is of Bush '41. Commenters here have filled in some of the less favorable details. While H. W. was no Donald J. Trump, who was? It is somewhat impolite, but let's not ignore the fact that Bush's death is, however briefly, giving us a rare respite from Trump.

  160. President George H.W. Bush steered the United States - and the world - through the treacherous shoals of the post Cold War World. The Soviet Empire was peacefully dissolved, almost bloodlessly, through masterful diplomacy. Those were no small accomplishments. He never bragged, never complained, humble in victory, gracious in defeat, exemplary family life, military hero, successful business man, diplomat, honorable politician - and a great President.

  161. @DennisG. I'm having a hard time remembering him doing anything constructive in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union.

  162. @DennisG That is the received wisdom but not necessarily true. Bush knew simply to keep his mouth shut and not pile on given we had already won the Cold War: the Soviets needed no push from us at that point. Call it Good Manners... lol

  163. George Bush Sr. was a great 18-year-old Navy hero and patriot who defended American values and the idea of freedom. ...and then he and his wife proceeded to raise at least three sons, Neil, Jeb and George Jr., who were so fundamentally lacking in honesty, integrity, ethics and American values, that they variously swindled $1 billion via the 1980's Savings and Loan debacle, illegally purged the 1999 Florida voter files to rig the 2000 election, engaged in active 2000 voter suppression, vote-rigging and an aggressive rejection of American democracy and the idea of representative government. Whatever American decency and greatness George Sr. had, his sons were merely well-dressed political scoundrels, spoiled prep boys and men who besmirched whatever was decent about their dad. Do we hold the father guilty for the sins of his children ? He and Babs raised them....and they trashed American decency and democracy. George Bush, Sr.....a good man, but deeply flawed and tragic.

  164. @Socrates I personally enjoyed the Astaire-esque dancing around the Willie Horton business. "That's the way politics is, unfortunately." I can almost see GHWB brushing some lint off his lapels fiercely, yet graciously. I'm sure his boys were watching closely. The way Dubya ravaged McCain some years later was quite telling. Since that was a contest between conservatives, the argument that the liberals must be stopped at any cost for the good of the country doesn't seem quite as convincing. Don't be too hard on Babs. I rather liked her.

  165. @Socrates And if GHWB was such a great president why was he a one term wonder? Let’s not forget his father is Prescott Bush. That is not a legacy I would be proud to be descended from...... Jeb and Dubya...... Please, they did what again for this country? Let’s not get sentimental about these folks. We are in bad shape as a result of GOP politics since Saint Ronnie destroyed the social programs we need. Deplorable.....

  166. @Socrates There has been a steady coarsening of political discourse in this country in my lifetime. The Bushes were not the first to play “hardball” politics and certainly not the last, on either side of the aisle. I believe Bush grew to genuinely regret the Horton ad, as McCain regretted choosing Palin as his running mate. About that Horton ad..although it can certainly be seen as a racist dog whistle, as I recall, the facts recounted in the ad were true. Inconvenient, I know...

  167. George Bush Sr. had a golden opportunity to turn us from our present course riding the runaway train of climate change. He didn't have the vision and he flubbed it. What will future historians, if there are such, think of that?

  168. @WernerJ Good point...

  169. @WernerJ History: The Gentleman from Pretend Texas (nee Maine) will earn the Gentleman's C.

  170. With credit given for the ADA and Clean Air Act and diplomatic successes--weren't the Christmas pardons in 92 also part of Bush 41's "governance"? Wasn't Lawrence Walsh's harsh judgment about them accurate?

  171. @K Swain, exactly. Just when Caspar Weinberger and others would have had to finally disclose their notes and how much knowledge (or even direct leadership) Bush, Sr. had with respect to Iran-Contra, everyone conveniently got a full pardon. Between Bush, Sr's actions and Ford's actions pardoning Nixon, set the precedent that Trump will no doubt soon follow with respect to anyone caught up and convicted by the Mueller investigation.

  172. @GRH It's always said it's for the good of the country when the rich are pardoned. And if self perpetuation is the goal, it is.

  173. @GRH Marc Rich. Enough said.

  174. George H W Bush, through Lee Atwater, destroyed the political career of Gary Hart. Bush didn’t want to run against Hart and then engineered the “Monkey Business” fiasco to take of matters, ensuring a race against a much weaker opponent (Dukakis). Do the ends really justify these means, Mr Meachem? Bush had some strengths, but if you have to win this way it is just plain wrong.

  175. Although I didn't vote for him either time, I did respect George H. W. Bush because I knew that he put country before self. Oh, my, how far the GOP has fallen in the choices made to be president.

  176. @eric Because Bush put white people like himself and Lee Atwater and Andy Card and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfield and Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan first over any and all black folks, I have contempt for him. All blacks are not Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Barack Obama.

  177. @eric Putting Clarence Thomas on the SC was NOT putting country over self. It was a political act of self promotion to toady to extremism. And it failed to secure a second term so it was futile; sold his integrity for nothing. Mr. Bush was a mixed bag at best, and a willing tool of bad policies at worst. It will be said 100 years hence that GHW Bush was a mannerly person who served his masters well. Thin gruel for a man who knew far better and surely had the education and capacity to be a great president and settled for expediency. He most wanted to be remembered as a Gentleman. He earns a Gentleman's C.

  178. The profoundly cynical act of nominating Clarence Thomas was not "the right thing." Yes he did put his stamp on the country, but I fail to see much reason for all this glorification.

  179. I am also convinced that all this glorification of HW is nonsense. For all of his niceties, there was a much darker side to this man. Like his father Prescott, who together with the NY banking cartel, helped to finance Hitler's rise to power, HW's clandestine companies sold oil to Japan right up until the day of Pearl Harbor. Then during his presidency, he hosted the Iran-Contra affair, leaving Ollie North to take the rap for running drugs in order to buy guns for the CIA led war against Ortega's Sandanista uprising against their ruthless Nicaraguan dictator. This was done with the help of their friend General Noriega in Panama who HW then declared as his enemy while using Panama City as a staging ground for what later would become the invasion of Iraq, for which we are still paying. It's quite a legacy, isn't it?

  180. I was disappointed terribly when he deep-sixed his support of Planned Parenthood for the intractable right-to-life position, devoid of compassion or realism.

  181. @Geraldine Conrad The Bush's long ago traded intellectualism for faux populism to stay politically relevant, to the detriment of their party and our country.

  182. Thank you for this balanced look at 41’s life. The last Republican, indeed.

  183. I fear that as a historian, Meacham has, over the years, grown overly close to his subject and is no longer capable of objectivity. He should change his job title to hagiographer.

  184. @Tom Yep. Right on the money. They say that happens to a lot of biographers who fall in love with their subjects. Maybe they think they have studied them so much that they feel protective of them. In Mecham’s case, though, it’s very obvious.

  185. I think George HW Bush was an honourable man as was John McCain. I was however not brought up to worship patricians. It is too early to make historical judgements. If the USA and the world survives the next decade we may begin to see whether all those visits to Kenneport by Prince Bondar and the bin Ladens made the economic recovery of the 90s a good thing or a bad thing. I am reminded of Mark Anthony's speech " for they are all honourable men."

  186. @Memphrie et Moi John McCain certainly wasn't treated like a "patrician" by his Vietnamese captors, and George H.W. Bush's "patrician" background didn't keep him from being shot down as a Navy flier during WW II. A bias against people who came from financially comfortable backgrounds is still a bias.

  187. What I liked most about President Bush was his wife and their relationship. I did not vote for him because I didn’t trust his politics. I’d however trust that he and Barbara had an exemplary relationship. He may have done some good things during his presidency but that only feels comforting when considering the legacy of what was once HIS Party. That friends is called nostalgia.

  188. re: civil rights act stance/open housing etc: so. lying to voters to get elected , in order to do same thing you stood against once elected is admirable means to an end ? employing lee atwater and giving him free rein , act of a gentleman ? bush was not whimp in any way and certainly accomplished goods things in office. but loafers without socks and a cigarette boat do not give you class. give me harry truman any day. no ivy league-no college, a few questionable associates, but a better man never served as president of the united states.

  189. @cass county, and Truman, after signing the National Security Act that created the modern national security state, CIA and NSA included, recognized when things had gone way too far. Publicly penned in the Washington Post, on December 23, 1963, exactly 1 month after President Kennedy's assassination, his strong concerns about the rogue actions and abuse of the intelligence agencies that were no longer simply gathering intelligence as Truman had intended but had purposely instead been used as an extralegal force beyond the purview and approval of Congress. Allen Dulles, close ally of Prescott Bush, then went to Truman's home 4 months later to try and get Truman to retract his opinion column and to instead state his support for CIA covert actions. Truman refused and, in 1964, reiterated his opinion against CIA covert actions for Look Magazine. In the late 1960's, Prescott Bush expressed in correspondence his continued anger and disappointment that President Kennedy had fired Allen Dulles after Bay of Pigs (and CIA's misrepresentations to Kennedy about what Bay of Pigs was intended to do).

  190. @GRH thanks. always good to be reminded of true courage. and, the value of continued thinking and re-thinking.

  191. @cass county Most of your gripes are policy gripes, and that's kind of the point here. He was a good man that your could disagree with while still respecting. Yes, Lee Atwater, like his partner Paul Manafort, was a piece of garbage, but I don't understand all the hand wringing about the 1988 campaign. The campaigns of the 1800's were orders of magnitude worse. Oh and politicians change their positions, cover me in sackcloth and ashes. Let's all relax here and appreciate a man who dedicated his life to public service whether or not we agreed with his policies.

  192. On the whole, I think George H. W. Bush was a rather good president. But I cannot forgive his putting Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.

  193. I was always startled by Bush’s cynicism, from someone who otherwise seemed decent. To choose Willie Horton, Dan Quayle, and Clarence Thomas were very cynical, opportunistic stunts that insulted the intelligence of the electorate.

  194. He could have been a great president if he hadn’t been so worried about losing. We tend to pick candidates who are willing to do and say anything to get elected. And that’s why we so often pick the lesser candidates. 41 wasn’t a natural politician, but he did seem to have the national interest at heart. He just couldn’t figure out people.

  195. It all sounds so nice and yet, when I think about former presidents, I’m left mystified as to why, why have some or all of the formers not penned a joint letter protesting the influence of Russia in our congress, the president, and the election? If the former presidents can’t cohere a message now, when will we see any light at the end of this tunnel.

  196. Thank you George H. W. Bush for your stewardship of our democracy as a dedicated public servant in all of the roles you held which were more than anyone else. You left us and the world a better off place.

  197. George HW Bush always reminded me of "Mr. Rodgers", you known the neighborhood guy? Too bad he wasn't known for, " Would you be my friend"? Rather than Willie Horton and Clarence Thomas. He was an easy guy to satirize ( Like Trump ), but his instincts for the job of President were to serve the Country, not to line his pockets and feed an enormous ego, like the current occupant of the White House. It seems to me he was the last Republican, after him the inmates took over the asylum.

  198. 41 followed a tactic used by several Republicans (until Donald Trump...): campaign for the party's presidential nomination by appealing to the party's far right, then try to appear more centristr during the presidential campaign, then return to the right while governing. 41 first used that tactic when he ran for Congress. He later said he regretted doing it, that he didn't see himself as an arch-conservative. But, he did it again, though, when running for president, most especially when running for a second term. The Republican party composition and dogma perhaps made such strategy the only path to win the nomination. Regardless, here was a man of honorable lineage politically and socially with an excellent military and public service record who drank the conservative Republican Kool-Aid, let himself be dominated by Republican extremists and bequeathed us W...

  199. George HW Bush was a very good man but he was a middling president. Mr. Meacham writes, "In office, he [GHWB] ultimately did the right thing." Sometimes, perhaps, but one of his presidential acts was to appoint Clarence Thomas to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. Thomas's contribution has been little more then a decades-long knee-jerk reaction based on a narrow and not very mindful ideology. Thomas might turn out to be HW's most lasting legacy. Compared to today's incumbent Oval Office squatter, President Bush 41 exemplified the core decency that qualifies him as a full card-carrying member of the human race.

  200. I think Bush 41 was a good American. I didn't always agree with his policies or his practices, but he was serious and thoughtful about his work and reasonable in most things.

  201. The comments here show how far this country has sunk. Instead of paying respects to a man who devoted his life to public service, the majority of posters spend their space trashing Bush for mistakes he made or that they feel he did. Lest we forget, Al Gore was the first to raise the specter of Willie Horton in a debate and Clarence Thomas fell in the mold of the republican philosophy that the Supreme Court should interpret the law, not make it. You may disagree with the politics but the man is entitled to be acknowledged for the exemplary way he lived his life and as a model to others.