Bush Sr. leaves behind unlikely legacy

The president between #40 and #42

Elizabeth McLaurin

It’s probably safe to assume that when news broke of former president George Herbert Walker Bush’s passing, the overall population of Millennials in this country barely took notice. And really, why would we?

A one-term president who succeeded Ronald Reagan and preceded Bill Clinton — that’s a presidential wasteland. Being sandwiched between two iconic and polarizing presidents doesn’t really lend any favors to establishing a grand legacy.

But I’m an older Millennial, the rare kind who was born when Reagan was president, so I remember the first President Bush fairly well. I fondly recall the presidential election of 1992 being my first introduction into the world of politics and the first presidential debate I ever watched.

Back in those days, then-nominee Clinton made headlines for playing the saxophone live on “Arsenio,” and on schoolyard playgrounds my friends and I repeated the slogan “read my lips, no new taxes” endlessly — even though none of us had any clue to what it meant.

Admittedly, those six words might just be the most memorable thing about George H.W. Bush, but I would be ignorant to believe his four years in office didn’t produce any other long-lasting memories. Because he only served one term, it’s easy to forget all the momentous events that took place over his four years.

Bush Sr. was president during the Tiananmen Square massacre in China and when Germany tore down the Berlin Wall. In 1989, he launched “Operation Just Cause,” a military action to remove tyrannical leader Manuel Noriega from power in Panama. He also worked closely with then-Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to decrease nuclear arms in the United States and the Soviet Union, eventually signing an agreement in 1990. His final year saw his administration convince Congress to sign off on “Operation Desert Storm,” which deployed U.S. troops to Iraq, culminating in the Persian Gulf War.

On the home front, Bush Sr. was seen as the epitome of a family man, pragmatic and mild-tempered. Arguably, few recent presidents have held a higher regard for this nation’s highest office. His inauguration day letter to incoming President Bill Clinton highlighted this.

“Your success now is our country’s success,” he wrote. “I’m rooting for you.”

In 2014, he met then-president Barack Obama on the tarmac of his namesake airport in Houston simply because,“when the president comes to your hometown, you show up and welcome him,” he said.

And unlike the other three most recent Republican presidents – Trump, Reagan and Bush Jr., he was the only one to raise taxes and cut defense spending in an effort to pay down the national debt. Fiscal responsibility is an oft-mentioned stalwart of the Republican Party, but whereas other party members merely talked about it, Bush Sr. followed through.

Much of George H.W. Bush’s time was spent pursuing foreign affairs, an inclination that seemingly came at the expense of domestic ones. This is most often cited as the reason for his failure to secure a second term. But he was a strong advocate of American volunteerism and in his 1989 inaugural address, his affection for the country was evident.

We are a nation of communities… a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky,” he said.

Being number 41 in a group of 45 is an exclusive club. It pretty much guarantees history will never really forget you. But legacies are different and there are two types concerning presidents, the ones we talk about and the ones we don’t. I’m not the betting type, but if I were, I’d say George H.W. Bush is fated to be more of a Martin Van Buren than an Abraham Lincoln.

Ultimately, only time will deliver the full verdict of how Bush’s four years in office will come to be seen. And whether it’s fair or not, inevitably many will continue to compare his presidency to that of his son’s.

A testament to his matter-of-factness, his own words probably say it best, “History will point out some of the things I did wrong and some of the things I did right.”