In 2020, give me a presidential candidate like George H.W. Bush

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With the 2020 election campaigns due to start soon, many potential candidates are considering a presidential run.[1]  While their qualifications differ, it is those with character and the ability to work with people who can make a difference.  Just look at George Herbert Walker Bush.  His success both at home and abroad rose from these seven qualities that made him a good leader and a great man:

  1. Extensive experience serving the nation. He was a veteran, serving in World War II, joining the Navy at age 18 as a Navy pilot.[2]  He flew 58 missions and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action.

He represented Texas in the House of Representatives for two terms.[3]  He also served as Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.[4]  Before being elected President, he served as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President for two terms, working on federal de-regulation and anti-drug programs and visiting many foreign countries.[5]

In short, President Bush had military, legislative, and executive branch experience.  With his extensive foreign relations experience, he was “among the best prepared men to be Commander in Chief in the 20th century.”[6]

  1. A social moderate with a willingness to compromise. As a Republican president working with a Democratic Congress, he was able to pass two important pieces of legislation.[7]  One was an amended Clean Air Act, described as “the most sweeping and comprehensive environmental statute on the books.”[8]  It reduced acid rain through a market-friendly cap and trade system.[9]  This system resulted in a 67% nose-dive in U.S. emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal-fired electricity generators.[10]  In its first 20 years, the law, according to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, reduced premature deaths by 160,000, heart attacks by 130,000, and hospital admissions by 86,000 resulting in a savings of $2 trillion.[11]

He also fought for the disabled, working for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.[12]  Called “the most expansive piece of civil rights legislation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the ADA includes in its protections those with HIV/AIDS at President Bush’s insistence.[13]

  1. Moral courage. During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988, President Bush promised, “Read my lips.  No new taxes.”[14]  When he said that, the deficit was manageable; but it later ballooned.[15]  To cut the deficit and get a plan through Congress, he had to propose both spending cuts and a tax increase.[16]  In the end, the deal cut the deficit by $500 billion over five years and was credited for facilitating the economic boom in the 1990s.[17]  But doing the right thing, at least in part, caused him to lose reelection to a second presidential term.[18]

He also exercised moral courage when he decided not to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein after driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait.[19]  In the face of heavy criticism, President Bush refused to proceed, believing it would have cost human lives and result in long-term hostile occupation. [20]   Five years later, he was proven right when American forces invaded Iraq.[21]

  1. An expert in diplomatic foreign relations. President Bush facilitated the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, but he refused to revel in the West’s victory[22] or “dance on the wall,” as he put it.[23]  In exercising restraint, he ensured the Cold War’s finality and improved relations with the Communist bloc.[24]

He also cultivated friendships with foreign leaders but did not permit them to push him around.[25]  His liberation of Panama from Manuel Noreiga was “fast and ruthless.”[26]   And when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he, with Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, built a coalition of more than 36 nations, convinced nations  other than ours to almost entirely pay for the expeditionary force, and pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait in six months.[27]

  1. President Bush told his grandson to run for office with a “servant’s heart.”[28]  And a few days after he first took office as President, he told staffers, “There is no higher honor than to serve free men and women, no greater privilege than to labor in government beneath the Great Seal of the United States and the American flag.”[29]   After he lost a bitter election battle to Bill Clinton, he didn’t let his ego get in the way of leaving a gracious note, telling the new president that he was not a very good one to give advice but encouraged him to push on in the face of criticism.[30]  President Bush wished him “great happiness” in the White House and said he was “rooting hard” for him.[31]
  1. Kindness without weakness. In accepting the Republican nomination for president in 1988, President Bush objected to the Republican reputation for a lack of sympathy, stating, “I want a kinder, gentler nation.”[32] He was a prolific letter writer, particularly thank you notes, who believed in manners and kindness.[33]  Former President Jimmy Carter commented that “Bush’s “administration was marked by grace, civility and social conscience.”[34]  When he lost his bid for re-election, he thought of how to ease the pain of loss and disappointment for others.[35]  He always believed in treating those with whom he disagreed with respect.[36]

President Bush’s acts of kindness throughout his life may have misled some into thinking he was weak.  For example, his mentor, Richard Nixon questioned whether George H.W. Bush was “enough of a ‘nut cutter’” to do the dirty work.[37]  Yet when toughness was called for, President Bush answered.  He was tough in Panama and Kuwait, and he was tough in sacrificing his political future for the good of the country when he raised taxes to reduce the deficit.

  1. A moderate temperament.[38]  He was a reasonable person who believed in preparation and due diligence.[39]  Although “[r]easonable, moderate people don’t incite passion,”[40] they are the leader of choice in troubled times.

In 2020, we need a candidate with these qualities.  We need a candidate like George Herbert Walker Bush.  If one of the candidates is a kinder, gentler, humble, reasonable “nut-cutter” with experience in government, particularly foreign relations, who can work well with others, that candidate has my vote.

 

[1] Aaron Blake, The top 15 Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, ranked, The Washington Post, November 9, 2018.

[2] whitehouse.gov, George H. W. Bush.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Michael Duffy, George H.W. Bush Accomplished Much More as President Than He Ever Got Credit For, Time, December 1, 2018.

[7] Id.

[8] Monica Medina, We can breathe easier – literally – thanks to George H.W. Bush, The Washington Post, December 2, 2018.

[9] David Frum, A Forgotten Legacy of George H.W. Bush, The Atlantic, December 3, 2018.

[10] Id.

[11] Monica Medina, We can breathe easier – literally – thanks to George H.W. Bush, The Washington Post, December 2, 2018.

[12] Patrisha Wright, Thank you, President Bush, for defending my rights, The Washington Post, December 2, 2018.

[13] Id.

[14] Associated Press, ‘Read my lips. No new taxes’:  quotes from President George HW Bush, The Guardian, December 1, 2018.

[15] Michael Duffy, George H.W. Bush Accomplished Much More as President Than He Ever Got Credit For, Time, December 1, 2018.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.; Catherine Rampell, George H.W. Bush was the last of his kind – a Republican who didn’t believe in ‘voodoo economics,’ The Washington Post, December 3, 2018.  h

[19] Gerald F. Seib, The Courage of George H.W. Bush:  Avoiding the Easy Path, The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2018.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Michael Duffy, George H.W. Bush Accomplished Much More as President Than He Ever Got Credit For, Time, December 1, 2018.

[23] Richard Fontaine, American Foreign Policy Could Use More Prudence, The Atlantic, December 3, 2018.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Michael Duffy, George H.W. Bush Accomplished Much More as President Than He Ever Got Credit For, Time, December 1, 2018 ;Richard Fontaine, American Foreign Policy Could Use More Prudence, The Atlantic, December 3, 2018.

[28] CBS News, The past and future of the Bush political dynasty, December 3, 2018.  

[29] Michael Graczyk, George H.W. Bush dies at 94; made greatest mark in Gulf War, Associated Press, December 2, 2018.

[30] Joseph Curl, Read the Gracious, Humble Note George H.W. Bush Left in Oval Office for Bill Clinton, The Daily Wire, December 2, 2018.

[31] Id.

[32] Michael Graczyk, George H.W. Bush dies at 94; made greatest mark in Gulf War, Associated Press, December 2, 2018.

[33] Sarah L. Kaufman, How George H.W. Bush used hand-written thank-you notes to build bridges, The Washington Post, December 1, 2018.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] John Baldoni, George H.W. Bush:  A Leader’s Life of Service, Forbes, December 2, 2018.

[37] Todd S. Purdum, A Kinder, Gentler Republican President Is Dead, The Atlantic, December 1, 2018.

[38] Michael Gerson, George H.W. Bush’s life proves that, sometimes, things go gloriously right, The Washington Post, December 3, 2018.

[39] Greg Jaffe, ‘Honorable, gracious and decent’:  In death, Bush becomes a yardstick for President Trump, The Washington Post, December 2, 2018.

[40] Id. (quoting Richard Haas, who served in the Bush White House).

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