George H.W. Bush would be 97 this month. His June birthday invites reflection. As a President, he was not Ronald Reagan, whom he served as vice president. Reagan was a lifetime conservative, Bush moderate. But as the elder Bush admitted on Reagan’s passing, he learned from Reagan.
He became conservative. More to the point, he was a seasoned, trusted leader – domestically and internationally. He had courage.
The contrast between Reagan-Bush and Biden-Harris is stunning, almost heart-skipping. If Reagan was a paramount national and world leader, man of conviction, great communicator, Bush – as his vice president – was no slacker.
Loyal, GHW Bush was modest, an abashed patriot.
Youngest naval aviator in WW II, he flew a torpedo bomber – Avenger – off the USS San Jacinto in the Pacific.
Having delivered his payload from a burning plane, he was shot down, wounded, crewmates killed, rescued at sea.
As one family with a crewmate on that carrier told me, unbeknownst to the public (until now), Bush was back up in an Avenger in 30 days. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, never spoke of it. Working in the White Houses of Reagan and Bush, I often tried to insert into Bush’s speeches an educating reference to his distinguished military record. He removed everyone.
Courage comes in many forms – not all military.
Married to Barbara, they had six children. Their second, daughter Robin, died at age five of leukemia. Imagine the heartache. Children, death of a young daughter, family travails – all might have ended national service. Instead, they matured the man, made an old soul young, and deepened his faith in God and America.
After the war, before family, he was a standout athlete, two College World Series, eventually turned his hand to business, was a Texas oilman. He then returned to service, ran for the Senate, and lost for the House, and won.
Defense hawk, he voted for the 1968 Civil Rights Act, which rankled some of his constituents – he did not care.
He said it conscience.
Fast forward. Before Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, Bush served as Ambassador to the UN, Republican National Committee Chair, de facto Ambassador to China, and Director of the CIA.
Before Reagan took on the Soviets before Trump took on China, Bush was circumspect – understanding China’s future required engagement and caution. He thought America “needed to be visible but not pushy, muscular but not domineering.” He knew the savagery of war hot, communism’s blot, and China’s uneasy trajectory.
By the time GHW Bush ran for President in 1980, he had world respect – and from leaders of both parties. Against the advice of some, Reagan felt he work as vice president.
As on so many other issues, Reagan was right. Bush was steadfast, loyal, smart, mature, and patriotic.
After eight years of watching one of the nation’s greatest, absorbing Reagan’s wit, grit, and boundless optimism – seeing him survive an assassin’s bullet, bring down inflation, cut income taxes, restore confidence, create 18 million jobs, convert a Soviet leader, and defeat the Soviet Union, GHW Bush took over as President. If not Reagan, Bush knew the lessons cold.
Which brings us to the stomach-churning contrast of Biden-Harris.
Not only is Biden visibly missing steps, signals, cue cards, and neurons – being laughed at on the world stage – but Harris, as his vice president, is the Rorschach opposite of GHW Bush as a vice president.
Where Bush was a vice president with heroic military service, paragon of family virtue, faithful and unabashed about commitments to life, Constitution, speech, worship, self-defense, and individual liberty; where he was seasoned by service in two high-profile, Senate-confirmed international leadership posts, had led a party and the Central Intelligence Agency – all after serving in Congress and making his way in business – Harris is the living opposite.
Harris has no military service, not enough courage to visit the border, the maturity of a teen – giggling at life-and-death inquiries.
She has not the virtue to hold office with clean hands, not the faith to defend faith, not the commitment to life that saves a baby from death at birth, less still to constitutional rights. She has held no national posts by appointment, has no knowledge of international affairs, no intelligence background, no history of making payroll in business.
In short, Harris is the antithesis of leadership, opposite of GHW Bush as vice president. Biden is the shadow of a shadow. In his prime, he was an empty suit, convictions all ambition, and these – to law enforcement, national security, bipartisanship – all gone. He is bleached out. Biden-Harris is the opposite of Reagan-Bush.
So, if history is our guide, we know three things. First, when we have strong leaders – like Reagan-Bush or Trump-Pence, who trust people, not government – good things happen. When we have bad leaders, weak by every measure, we must be on guard. Finally, if we stay true to our principles, as Reagan and Bush did under fire, “We the People” can again get strong, faithful, conservative leadership. Reagan never gave up, GHW Bush never gave up, and we must never give up. On GHW Bush’s 97th, good to recall it all and take heart.
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