We spent a long weekend thinking about the legacy of George H.W. Bush, whose state funeral will take place this week, and one truth stands out:
If a person earned points for a life of public service, President Bush 41 would have to be the top stone in an impressive pyramid.
Americans have come to expect extraordinary accomplishments from special people, because in a very real way, such possibilities lie within most of us.
Those who do reach that peak richly deserve all the praise we can give. Bush was one of those special people.
Bush lived 94 years, and just about every one of those years was full of service to and hope for mankind. “A thousand points of light” was more than just a political catch phrase for Bush. It was a rule by which he lived.
The former president said things generally not heard these days. In his inaugural address on a frosty January afternoon in 1989, Bush turned to the leaders of both houses of Congress and said, “This is the age of the offered hand.” Such grace is unimaginable today.
Bush served only one term as president, a rarity in this era of high-tech and high-speed political opinion-shaping, but he managed many accomplishments, in large part because of that proffered hand across the aisle.
Bush was at the helm when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait, and after some thought about the problem said, “This will not stand.” And it didn’t. U.S. and coalition forces ran Iraq out of Kuwait, and President Bush believed the Iraqi people would rise up against Hussein. They did not, which America’s voters perceived as weakness in the Bush administration, expediting the one-term designation in history books.
Bush’s Points of Light movement was yet another demonstration of the man’s will to provide opportunities for Americans to make sacrifices to facilitate their personal dreams coming true. The Americans with Disabilities Act was a direct result of Bush’s promise of giving everyone, not just a select few, an opportunity to excel.
George H.W. Bush grew up with a strong sense of the importance of public service. Not long after he moved his family to Texas, both political parties tried to recruit him. He soon became chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.
After a first, unsuccessful run for office, the path was straight to the top, with stops along the way in Congress, the vice presidency, ambassador, head of the CIA. All this followed his graduation from Yale, and a stint as a Navy pilot in World War II in which he was forced to bail out, then rescued by a U.S. submarine crew. Later as president, Bush was at the helm when Communist control of Eastern Europe collapsed, and then the Berlin Wall crumbled, ending the Cold War.
Bush’s accomplishments in the public-service universe are truly legendary, but it is enough to say that Bush’s life could, and should be a model for anyone willing to make the kinds of personal sacrifices necessary to reach worthy life goals.
George H.W. Bush died only a few months after his beloved wife Barbara passed away. They were inseparable. Providing full details of a life so well-lived would be impossible in this space. Perhaps we should leave it at the takeaway, what we have learned:
The George H.W. Bush message is a good one — it’s really we, not me.