In these divided political times, it takes an event of great significance to be able to bring the country together. There is infighting over even the smallest of political issues, as politicians and parties fight for advantage. Often, it seems like the two political halves of the country couldn’t even agree on what kind of pizza to order. A recent event though has managed to cut through the divide at least for a small while. George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, died on Nov. 30.
Although I have no personal memory of his presidency, Bush always struck me as a well-reasoned and capable commander in chief. Bush led a long career of public service, first enlisting in the Navy in 1942 at the age of 18. In 1967, he was elected to public office as a congressman and later got his first job in the Nixon administration as Ambassador to the United Nations. Further working as director of the CIA, he last served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president for eight years before he was elected president.
His term included some of the most significant moments in modern world history. On his watch, the Berlin Wall came down, and the former Eastern Bloc was finally freed from communism. President Bush assembled an international coalition to quickly and decisively win the First Gulf War against Saddam Hussein. The Soviet Union also collapsed and was replaced by many new states coming into the international community.
On the domestic front, President Bush signed the NAFTA trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. He also signed the Americans with Disabilities Act and authorized bills in areas including civil rights, the environment and immigration.
One of these actions is often cited as both a symbol of his bipartisanship, but also a major reason why he lost re-election in 1992. Campaigning in 1988 for the presidency, Bush said the famous phrase “read my lips: no new taxes.” Eventually, Bush broke this pledge in 1990 when he needed the Democratic-controlled Congress to agree to a budget. The Republican Bush wanted no tax increases to balance the budget, while the Democrats wanted to raise existing taxes. Bush relented and signed the budget including the higher taxes.
After losing re-election in 1992 to Bill Clinton, Bush stayed involved in public life and went on to see his sons George W. Bush and Jeb Bush elected governor of Texas and Florida respectively, while George W. Bush went on to become President himself, marking the second time in American history when both a father and son have held the presidency (the first was John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams).
What I have found remarkable over the last week has been the amount of political unity that has been seen over this event. I noticed during the memorial service at the Capitol that Nancy Pelosi, the leader of Democrats in the House, and Kevin McCarthy, the new Republican leader, were standing next to each other. President Trump and former President Obama shook hands at the funeral. Which other event has brought such strong political rivals together in one purpose?
As the nation reflects and remembers George H.W. Bush, perhaps some of the lessons of humility and respect he taught as president and in public service can be perhaps integrated into our modern political life. Rather than just lamenting public figures like Bush as symbolic of a bygone era, we should be trying to bring back those values and apply them today. Our politics and our daily lives might just be better for it.
Connor Kockler is a student at St. John’s University. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.
Author: Connor Kockler
Kockler enjoys extensive reading, especially biographies and historical novels, and he has always had an almost inborn knack for writing well. He also enjoys following the political scene, nationally and internationally. In college, his favorite subjects are political science and economics. Two of his other hobbies are golfing and bicycling.