I have never shaken the hand of a President of the United States. I did shake the hand of one Vice President. But the less said about that the better. I have, however, shaken the hand of one man who later became President – George Herbert Walker Bush.
Today the late President will get his due in stories all across the world. One reporter who covered him described him as a very nice man. Before he ran for the Presidency, in a bid that pitted him against the more telegenic Ronald Reagan, he had been described as the the best prepared person ever to run for President. Among them were his appointment to head the Republican National Committee during the Nixon Administration and ambassador to China. The latter position was during Nixon’s Trump-like struggle, to achieve something spectacular to help him escape a crisis enveloping his presidency.
George Bush got an early start on a political career by being THE youngest combat pilot of World War II. It actually began even earlier than that. His father, Prescott Bush, was a US Senator representing Connecticut. As such he was part of an all but extinct founding branch of the Republican Party – Northeasterners. In their heyday they championed Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller and a socially liberal point of view.
I trace the current crumbling of the GOP to George Bush and others who rather than stick up for their ideals put tape on their mouths as Ronald Reagan invited white southern politicians in to the Party of Lincoln after the Democratic Party’s championing of Civil Rights made them feel unwelcome in that party.
The evolution of the Party in my lifetime has led to the release of a new toxicity represented by the email I received which I put in my previous post with its casual use of the most forbidden word of my childhood, the “N” word.
George Bush was not temperamentally part of that transformation other than his deplorable Willie Horton ad. In fact, by temperament Bush was almost the antithesis of an egotistical politician. His mother taught him not to talk about himself. Christopher Buckley, the son of the conservative icon William Buckley, a speechwriter for Bush and clever novelist tells the charming story of being invited to Bush’s home while the President’s mother was present. When her son began telling some very interesting stories of his many remarkable experiences the mother interrupted him to scold that he was talking too much about himself.
Considering the occupant of today’s White House that anecdote, all by itself, suffices to show how far today’s America has driven off the rails.
But in 1980 I wanted a champion for common sense and moderate Republican values. At first I was a big supporter of George HW Bush. My first visit to the Kitchi Gammi Club was to meet with a group of Bush supporters for his Presidential campaign. That gathering place more than anything demonstrates just how out of touch my kind of Republicans of that era were.
When Reagan blew past Bush I set my sights on the Independent candidacy of the Illinois Republican Congressman John Anderson. But before Bush signed on to be Ronald Reagan’s Vice President and I wrote him off I drove to Minneapolis to get a look at Bush up close. I am no longer sure where I saw him but I think it was the U of M’s Northrup Hall. Claudia and I went over and I shook his hand.