Updated: Dec 18, 2019
It feels unduly disrespectful to refer to the late president as a “mainstream guy” when a case can fairly be made for his excellence in ways that transcend the items on his resume. Yet, perhaps the biggest tribute we can pay to the undeniable interpersonal decency of this man is to ensure our appraisals of his broader life and legacy take into account our own contributions and complicities.
Maybe we applaud him for engaging in “the art of the possible” with such actions as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the spirit of compromise which belied his “lips” and energized the dark right while possibly upending his chance for a second term. Maybe we condemn him for that or for Willie Horton, climate change passivity, and paralysis in the face of the AIDS crisis. Or maybe we just sit back in wonder at how the US, counseled and abetted by murky organizations like the CIA, has been a ruthless counterforce against democracy across the world, prone to wading hip deep in the blood and tears of torture victims and in the smoldering rubble of unjust wars?
It is almost ghastly, while the current occupant of the White House still tweets there un-indicted, to contemplate the truth that our leaders reflect our own essential nature as a nation and a society. Yet courage and honesty force us to try. Maybe this would be the best way to honor what was best in George H. W. Bush - and what we hope are also the best impulses within ourselves that still struggle so awkwardly (and often counterproductively) to be realized in the world.