Alexander's Column

Tailwinds and Following Seas, President Bush

"There is a God and He is good, and His love, while free, has a self-imposed cost: We must be good to one another." —GHWB

Mark Alexander · Dec. 5, 2018
“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.” —Samuel Adams (1780)

George Herbert Walker Bush, our nation’s 41st president, died in peace last Friday evening. He was 94. With him passes an era, as he was the last warrior statesman of the “Greatest Generation” to serve our nation as president.

Much has been said and written about President Bush in the days since his passing — and it’s no small irony that much of it is in the same Leftmedia forums that were so abjectly biased against him in their coverage of his presidency.

Prior to his single term in office, GHWB served two terms as President Ronald Reagan’s vice president. As my friend Cal Thomas wrote, “Any epitaph on the life of George H.W. Bush must include at least three words: character, honor and integrity. From his service in World War II, to his political career and post-presidency, not to mention his faithfulness to Barbara, his wife of 73 years.”

Indeed, all of President Bush’s service to our nation, and his life in retirement, is framed by his high character, honor, and integrity — and, I would add, heroics.

President Bush was a contemporary of my own father, also a WWII naval fighter pilot, and while I had met Mr. Bush briefly on occasions when he was serving with President Reagan, what I knew best about him was what I knew about my own father and their shared generation: They were prepared to give their lives en masse to defend Liberty for their countrymen and all people.

Like many warriors of their generation, Mr. Bush was shaped to a degree by survivor’s guilt, having witnessed so many friends perish.

During a 1944 bombing sortie in the Bonin Islands, on approach to his target, the then-20-year-old Lt. Bush’s VT-51 squadron TBM Avenger was hit by flak and caught fire. He recounted that he thought to himself, “My God, this thing’s going to go down.”

With his engine ablaze, he completed his bomb drop and piloted his plane and crew back over sea, where he ordered his two-man crew to “Hit the silk” — bailout. But his radioman, Petty Officer Second Class John Delaney, and substitute gunner, Lt. j.g. William White, did not survive. Shortly after he entered the water, Bush was rescued by the submarine USS Finback as the rest of his squadron circled above.

Mourning the loss of his crew, he wondered, “Why had I been spared and what did God have for me?” He asked himself that question on many days since. In essence, he knew at that point that he owed his life to others, to something much bigger than himself.

Indeed, he was a faithful man, and God had much in store for him.

George H.W. Bush hailed from an old, wealthy, Northeastern dynasty of establishment Republicans. His father was Prescott Bush; his mother was Dorothy (Walker) Bush. Prescott was a Wall Street investor and later a U.S. senator from Connecticut. George was a product of Greenwich Country Day School and Andover, but in defiance to his father’s insistence that he go straight to Yale, he enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday.

He married Barbara Bush while still in the Navy. Mrs. Bush said, “I married the first man I ever kissed. When I tell my children that, they just about throw up.”

She offered this observation not long before her death: “At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

Shortly after they were married, George wrote to Barbara, “How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you.” And they were. Of their 73 years together, Mr. Bush said, “I have climbed the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband.”

Their marriage was a remarkable testament to that sacred institution.

GHWB returned to Yale after the war to complete his education.

His eldest son, George W., was born in 1946.

After graduating in 1948, Bush broke ranks with his family and moved to west Texas, where he pursued a successful career in the oil business. “I was offered a job on Wall Street by my uncle,” he later said, “But I wanted to get out. Make-it-on-my-own kinda thing.”

Five more children were born in Texas: Robin in 1949 (who died of cancer three years later), Jeb in 1953, Neil in 1955, Marvin in 1956, and Doro in 1959.

GHWB lost a 1964 Senate run but was elected a 7th District House representative in 1966 and served two terms. He succeeded by displacing much of his Northeastern establishment Republicanism with Texas conservatism, much as George W. Bush would in 2000.

In 1971, Bush became President Richard Nixon’s UN ambassador, and in 1973 he took over the Republican National Committee as Watergate was swamping Nixon’s administration. Bush was among those who recommended that Nixon resign in the interest of the party and our country rather than face impeachment, and Nixon complied on August 9th of 1974. After the resignation, Bush noted in his diary, “There was an aura of sadness, like somebody died. … The [resignation] speech was vintage Nixon — a kick or two at the press. … One couldn’t help but … think of his accomplishments and then think of the shame.”

In some important respects, Bush held the Republican Party together through its most arduous challenges of the 20th century.

Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, appointed Bush as chief liaison to China (in effect, ambassador), and his 14 months there under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are viewed, historically, as very beneficial to U.S.-China relations.

In 1976, Ford brought Bush back to serve as CIA director, a role he served in for less than a year before Jimmy Carter replaced him with Stansfield Turner, who, like Carter, proved to be inept.

GHWB’s rise to the presidency came after his resounding defeat in the GOP’s 1980 presidential primary, in which he ran as a moderate alternative to Ronald Reagan. After Reagan’s victory, he added Bush to the ticket for two of the most successful presidential terms in our nation’s history. Despite Bush’s infamous and spurious 1980 claim that Reagan’s supply-side policies constituted “voodoo economics,” President Reagan’s economic and foreign policies were an enormous success — the former launching a historic economic boom and the latter bringing our arch nemesis, the USSR, to collapse.

That success elevated Bush to what was perceived to be a “third Reagan term” in 1988, when he ran on a conservative platform hitting all the right buttons for the Reagan coalition. However, while he shared Reagan’s character and integrity, he did not possess Reagan’s fighting spirit, his ability to create political coalitions, or his broad appeal with grassroots Americans.

Riding high on Reagan’s economic and foreign policy successes over the previous eight years, Bush declared in his 1988 Republican National Convention acceptance speech: “We are a nation of communities, of thousands and tens of thousands of ethnic, religious, social, business, labor union, neighborhood, regional, and other organizations, all of them varied, voluntary, and unique. This is America … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky. … I am guided by certain traditions. One is that there is a God and He is good, and His love, while free, has a self-imposed cost: We must be good to one another.”

In his inaugural address, President Bush said: “There has grown a certain divisiveness. We have seen the hard looks and heard the statements in which not each other’s ideas are challenged but each other’s motives. And our great parties have too often been far apart and untrusting of each other. A new breeze is blowing, and the old bipartisanship must be made new again.”

He concluded, “The American people await action. They didn’t send us here to bicker. They ask us to rise above the merely partisan. ‘In crucial things, unity’ — and this, my friends, is crucial.”

Unfortunately, in the years since, the Left’s “bickering” has devolved into politically deranged divisions with its resulting uncivil discourse.

Bush’s decisive leadership as commander-in-chief during the Desert Shield/Storm offensive to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and to contain his other regional ambitions was the high point of GHWB’s presidency. The most memorable pieces of advice Bush received in building that military coalition came from Reagan contemporary, Margaret Thatcher, when Bush was hesitant about launching Desert Storm: “Don’t go wobbly on us, George.”

Desert Storm was, tactically, a resounding success – a clear demonstration of the “Bush Doctrine” of using overwhelming force. But within days of Iraq’s retreat from Kuwait, some American military leaders were suggesting we should have pursued Saddam all the way to Baghdad and overthrown his regime. That perceived insubordination by some senior officers resulted in their quiet resignation, including that of Commanding General “Stormin’ Norman” Schwarzkopf after his return in 1991.

Arguably, Bush 41’s reluctance to move beyond the UN mandate and remove Saddam from power, combined with the failure of Bill Clinton to take down Osama bin Laden on numerous occasions, resulted in the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation and George W. Bush’s subsequent launch of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Those operations, and subsequent regional operations, have been very costly in terms of human life and national treasure. Of course, the most costly failure in the region was the unchallenged rise of the Islamic State under the Obama/Clinton watch — left for the current administration to clean up. Fortunately, the Trump administration’s military leaders have done that.

All said, the point is that the domino effect of not finishing the job can be very costly.

On the domestic front, perhaps GHWB’s greatest lasting achievement was his nomination and subsequent appointment of Justice Clarence Thomas, following his unfortunate nomination of David Souter, who became a reliably liberal vote on the High Court. Bush also elevated the judicial careers of future Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

Unfortunately, he signed onto many policy positions which betrayed Reagan’s grassroots coalition who elected Bush. He signed onto the “Framework Convention on Climate Change,” the foundation for the Left’s now-out-of-control statist climate change agenda. He walked away from his commitment to defend the Second Amendment. He bailed out savings and loans. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which created a litigation windfall against businesses of all sizes, and made it more difficult for disabled people to find employment. He signed legislation ensuring “no net loss of wetlands” which infuriated farmers and private land owners.

Ahead of his 1992 reelection bid, the most damaging insult to the Reagan legacy came when Bush broke his bold 1998 campaign promise — “Read my lips: no new taxes!” His mistake, of course, was one that other Republican presidents have made: trusting Democrats to do what they promised — in this case, to make $2 in spending cuts for every $1 of tax increase in order to reduce the federal budget deficit.

As columnist Ken Blackwell observed, “Despite a stratospheric 91% approval rating following his lightning victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces in the first Gulf War, Bush’s standing sagged for two years. His broken promise fueled grassroots rage and the Perot challenge. Bush 41 fell to Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, gaining an abysmal 37% of the popular vote. Columnist George Will said he had made a sow’s ear of the Reagan silk purse.”

In March of 1992, Bush lamented: “I thought this one compromise — and it was a compromise — would result in no more tax increases. I thought it would result in total control of domestic discretionary spending. And now we see Congress talking about raising taxes again. So, I’m disappointed, and given all of that, yes, [it was] a mistake.”

As economist and scholar Thomas Sowell concluded, “When the first President Bush looked at his watch during a nationally televised Presidential debate, he epitomized what has been wrong with Republicans for years. A member of the audience had just asked a stupid question. Ronald Reagan would have been all over him, like a linebacker blitzing a quarterback. But Bush 41 just looked at his watch, as if he couldn’t wait for this to be over.”

Notably, in terms of character and temperament, the public persona of our current president, Donald Trump, is the antithesis of Presidents Bush and Reagan. Trump’s garish New York “values” and his petulant communications are tiresome. His character is a stark study in contrast to the man being eulogized Thursday. However, as I have noted previously, there is a vast gulf between Trump’s public persona and his private relationships. His 2016 primary opponent, Jeb Bush, praised Trump for his outreach to the Bush family, saying he “couldn’t have been nicer” and was “really gracious.”

That said, the takeaway point here is that, in terms of domestic and foreign policy success, Trump has excelled beyond even President Reagan’s record of achievements at his first midterm.

This is to say that President Bush’s steadfast character, honor, and integrity, while admirable traits that all presidents should demonstrate, do not ensure policy success. Nor did those qualities ensure his reelection. He was out of fight.

Contributing to GHWB’s ‘92 defeat, was also a lot of “fake news.” That’s right — the mainstream media was saturating its consumers with fake news then, too.

One example would be the perennial myth that Bush lost a second term because of a failing economy. The fact is, Bush’s last month in office was the 22nd consecutive month of positive growth, capped by an average 3.2% GDP growth for 1992, his last year in office.

And one particularly memorable and effective example of the New York Times’s long history of fake-news reporting occurred during Bush’s reelection campaign.

Under the headline, “Bush Encounters the Supermarket, Amazed,” the Times asserted that, upon visiting the technology section at a National Grocers Association convention, President Bush had never seen an electronic grocery checkout scanner, which had been in wide use for more than 15 years. The Times declared, “This career politician, who has lived the cloistered life of a top Washington bureaucrat for decades, is having trouble presenting himself to the electorate as a man in touch with middle-class life. … Today, for instance, he emerged from 11 years in Washington’s choicest executive mansions to confront the modern supermarket.”

This fake news was consequential because it was dutifully repeated ad nauseam by the rest of the Leftmedia propagandists.

Problem is, it didn’t happen, as columnist Larry Elder documented and debunked in a recent review of NYT fake news. No Times reporter covered the event — they were just headlining some other pool reporter’s fake news. Of the NYT’s reporting, the systems analyst who showed Mr. Bush the scanner said, “The whole thing is ludicrous.”

But the intended damage was done, and the image of Bush as a rich, out-of-touch politician was solidified.

The Party of Reagan withered under the “kinder, gentler” administration of his successor, and, consequently, the nation suffered further indignity under two scandal-plagued Bill Clinton (and Hillary Clinton terms).

But as William Murchison observed, “That man — Bush 41 — did his best for the country he loved and served; furthermore, he did it with class rather than showmanship, dignity and honor rather than demagoguery and the crossing of fingers inside coat pockets.”

Indeed he did.

And President Bush demonstrated his class when, after being defeated in an ugly campaign, he left a kind letter to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. He wrote in part: “There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” (That letter stands in stark contrast to the Clinton regime’s actual tenure and, notably, the fact that they and their staff vandalized and looted the White House upon their departure.)

Notably, in another letter to his granddaughter after leaving office, he wrote, “I was right when I said, as President, there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others.” Indeed, his life was characterized by service to others, and the same can be said of his sons George and Jeb in their years of public service.

I will remember President Bush best through a few quotes that best capture his character — the talk he walked.

“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

“In crucial things, unity. In important things, diversity. In all things, generosity.”

“This is America … a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.”

“Be bold in your caring, be bold in your dreaming and above all else, always do your best.”

“No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy, and the untiring hope of the human spirit.”

“We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right. We know how to secure a more just and prosperous life for man on Earth: through free markets, free speech, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state.”

“The anchor in our world today is freedom, holding us steady in times of change, a symbol of hope to all the world.”

“Losing is never easy. Trust me; I know something about that.”

“Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Forgive. Stay the course.”

“I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead. For our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God’s love is truly boundless.”

In a 2009 letter to a friend, GHWB offered a summary of the 10-points to live by which had served him best.

“Don’t get down when your life takes a bad turn. Out of adversity comes challenge and often success. Don’t blame others for your setbacks. When things go well, always give credit to others. Don’t talk all the time. Listen to your friends and mentors and learn from them. Don’t brag about yourself. Let others point out your virtues, your strong points. Give someone else a hand. When a friend is hurting show that friend you care. Nobody likes an overbearing big shot. As you succeed, be kind to people. Thank those who help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear when your heart is broken because a friend is hurting. Say your prayers!!”

President Bush should also be remembered for his lighter moments, such as declaring, “I do not like broccoli, and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

And recall his reaction to “Saturday Night Live” comedian Dana Carvey’s Bush impersonation at the White House Christmas in 1992. He quipped, “I have opinions of my own — strong opinions — but I don’t always agree with them.”

In self-deprecation, he said, “Fluency in English is something I’m not often accused of.” George W. received that gene!

And he said, “I like a colorful sock. I’m a sock man.” He will be interred in a pair of his favorite colorful socks.

Lying in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday evening, there were long lines of dignitaries and citizens bidding him farewell.

Addressing those gathered in the Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence said, “The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. And today, on behalf of the First Family, and my family, and the American people, we offer our deepest sympathies and respects to your family. And we thank you for sharing this special man with our nation and the world.”

President and Mrs. Trump quietly paid their respects, and typical of the Bush family, they have ensured that the ceremony at National Cathedral Wednesday did not become a “bash Trump” spectacle as did the funeral earlier this year of Sen. John McCain. A Bush family spokesman noted in advance that it would be a fitting “celebration of the noble public service that George H.W. Bush gave. It’s not going to be about anybody else.”

In his statement on the passing of President Bush, President Trump noted, “Through his essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country, President Bush inspired generations of his fellow Americans to public service — to be, in his words, 'a thousand points of light’ illuminating the greatness, hope, and opportunity of America to the world. Along with his full life of service to country, we will remember President Bush for his devotion to family — especially the love of his life, Barbara. His example lives on, and will continue to stir future Americans to pursue a greater cause. Our hearts ache with his loss, and we, with the American people, send our prayers to the entire Bush family, as we honor the life and legacy of 41.”

Wednesday morning at National Cathedral, President Bush was eulogized by his devoted son, George W. Bush. He was joined in remarks by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, and his biographer Jon Meacham.

According to Meacham:

“He believed that to whom much was given, much is expected, and because life gave him so much, he gave back again, and again, and again. … in his personal life, he stood in the breach against heartbreak and hurt, always offering an outstretched hand, a warm word, a sympathetic tear. … Abraham Lincoln’s ‘better angels of our nature’ and George H.W. Bush’s ‘thousand points of light’ are companion verses in America’s national hymn. For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than two fear, and two heed not our worst impulses but our best instincts.”

Alan Simpson observed:

“He was a man of such great humility. Those who travel the highroad of humility in Washington DC, are not bothered by heavy traffic. … He never lost his sense of humor. Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life. … He never hated anyone. He knew…hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in. The most decent and honorable man I ever met was George Bush. … His epitaph, perhaps just a single letter, the letter ‘L’ for loyalty … loyalty to his country, loyalty to his family, loyalty to his friends, loyalty to the institutions of government. … God has returned now to take him back. … we commend him to Your loving hands… God rest his soul.”

For his part, eldest son George W. offered these endearing words for the father he loved:

“For Dad’s part, [his] brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life and he vowed to live every day to the fullest. … Dad could relate to people from all walks of life. He was and empathetic man. He valued character over pedigree. And he was no cynic — he looked for the good and each person and he usually found it. Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary — that one that can serve with integrity and hold true to important values like faith and family. … He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light. … He loved to laugh [and] placed great value on a good joke. That’s why he chose Simpson to speak! … We tested his patience — I know I did — but he always responded with the great gift of unconditional love. Last Friday, when I was told he had minutes to live, I called him. The doctor who answered the phone said, ‘I think he can hear you but he hasn’t said anything for most of the day.’ I said, ‘Dad I love you and you’ve been a wonderful father.’ And the last words he would ever say on earth were, ‘I love you too.’ … Finally, every day of his 73 years of marriage, Dad taught us all what it means to be a great husband. … After Mom died he was strong but all he really wanted to do was hold Mom’s hand again. … In his inaugural address, he said this: ‘We must hope to give them a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, his neighborhood and his town better than he found it.’”

In conclusion, George W. said, “Your decency, sincerity, and kind soul will stay with us forever. So through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you … the best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief, let us smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”

The tears he shed with those final words spoke volumes about the love between a father and son, as well as the foundation of love upon which his family was built. The Bush family was, and remains, a dynasty, but unlike most dynasties, they have always been, first and foremost, a family.

On Thursday, President Bush will return to Houston for a memorial service at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and eulogies by his grandson, George P. Bush, and former Secretary of State James Baker.

Over his interment, the Navy will fly a 21-aircraft missing man formation – the largest-ever. Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic commander, Capt. Kevin McLaughlin, will fly the lead in the formation and his aircraft has been painted to list “President George H.W. Bush, 41” as pilot and “Barbara, First Lady” flight officer. It is likewise fitting that part of this president’s legacy is the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77).

God bless you President Bush. Tailwinds and Following Seas. And on your final flight, Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited!

Footnote: You can view the flyover here. And regarding our farewell to President Bush, for those sea-bound, “Fair Winds and Following Seas” is the sendoff. For aviators, “Tailwinds” is the sendoff. For Naval aviators, we use a variation combining both: “Tailwinds and Following Seas”.

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Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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