George H.W. Bush was a good and honorable public servant who loved his country, his family, and his dog. George H.W. Bush was an evil and conniving war criminal who hated anything that got in the way of his political ambition. These are the competing views I am seeing on my media feed today. Both views are correct. No, the truth is not somewhere in the middle. They are both correct, simultaneously. Sets of facts that appear to be opposite can – and often do – coexist.
Immediately after Pearl Harbor 17 year-old George Bush lied about his age in order to join the military and then risked his life jumping out of airplanes to fight Nazis. Years later as CIA Chief, Bush used the same military to execute violent coups against democratically elected Central American governments. He was the “kinder” Republican candidate who was fine with Lee Atwater and the racist “Willie Horton” ad. He was the “gentler” Republican President who dropped bombs on innocents in The Middle East. I have no doubt that George loved Barbara and the kids and the grandkids. He also callously ignored those dying horribly from AIDS when he had the power to do something about it. “A Thousand Points of Light” are well and good, but honestly, that was conservative gold in its emphasis on private charity over government mandated social justice.
The good/bad Bush is not an anomaly in politics. In fact, Bush serves as a quintessential icon of the privileged, white American “moderate.” We all know him, he’s your neighbor. The guy who tears up at family gatherings surrounded by loved ones but has zero empathy – contempt even – for the family on the nightly news who just had another kid shot in the street. He plays in the annual golf charity and chokes up over the great social causes they support and then drives his SUV home to his suburban mansion. His employees down at the hardware store love him but in the end, business is business, and everybody knows who is boss. Neighbor Dan – like Bush – has no real world vision or philosophy beyond the easy and ill-defined canards of “family” and “country.”
But there’s one very big difference between your politically moderate neighbor and George H.W. Bush: Your neighbor wasn’t the fucking president of The United States of America!
When Neighbor Dan dies at the ripe old age of 94, let his family have their good-news-only remembrance. Who cares? When a former President dies, the postmortem should be as thorough and accurate as possible, and center primarily on his public acts. I’m glad for Bush’s family that he was such a good guy, but I don’t really give a shit. What did he do that was good/bad for the country? An honest, meticulous assessment is necessary. Rewriting history for political opportunism is contemptible. But whitewashing history just to be nice is equally nefarious.
I’ll leave on a positive note: The now famous letter of encouragement Bush left for Clinton in the oval office. That was cool – I’ll give him a nod for that. Good form. We could use a bit more of that.
Charles Bursell has been heard nationally on SiriusXM, National Public Radio, and The Pacifica Radio Network. He currently hosts the podcast Charles Bursell Presents.