Anderson: George H.W. Bush — the statesman we needed
By David M. Anderson
Dec 08, 2018 | 5:00 AM
There are different kinds of leaders, be they presidents of countries, CEOs of companies, prime ministers, heads of non-governmental organizations. In the United States, we have frequently elected presidents who promised to box for us. They offered their hands to us and we gave them the boxing gloves.
Teddy Roosevelt boxed for us. John Kennedy boxed for us. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama boxed for us. George H.W. Bush, though he could be tough as nails on the campaign trail, was not a boxer. And we knew that when we elected him.
Bush was the consummate statesman, even though he was not eloquent or brilliant when he spoke in public. Still, he entered the White House with a set of experiences that no other U.S. president could match.
He was the epitome of the Aristotelian mean, always striking the right balance between extremes of deficiency and excess to hit the virtue just right, whether it was courage or wisdom or temperance or prudence.
Bush offered the American people his able hands and we gave him a pair of cashmere gloves to lead with.
I always liked President Bush, but I never thought he was driven to be president. He did indeed seem to like the job, and he took his work seriously and always maintained, and enhanced, the dignity of the office of president of the United States.
But I never thought he really wanted the job. He was ambitious, and you can't run and win the office of president without wanting it at some level. But he was not a man who seemed like his life would feel incomplete if he never served as president, whereas Teddy Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and other U.S. presidents lived as though it was their destiny to lead our great country.
President Bush’s heroism as a Navy pilot was notable; his jumping out of an airplane when he was 90 to bring back the glory and excitement of his World War II years was incredible. His most notable achievement was seeing the United States and the free world through the transition period after the Soviet Union collapsed. All of his Aristotelian virtues and exhaustive experience on the world stage prepared him for this vital work.
President Bush's temperament was very suited to this transition role. He was not revolutionary in spirit, and the country didn't need a revolutionary when he served in the White House. We didn't need a boxer, a fighter to knock down opponents and raise up monuments of freedom and equality, although President Bush most certainly did provide crucial support to the Americans with Disabilities Act that was a Congressional initiative. No, we needed a president with cashmere gloves who knew how to conduct diplomacy at the very highest levels.
Yes, this president also knew when to launch small wars and attack enemies, as he did in Panama and Iraq. But these efforts were not his finest hour.
His finest hour was working with Mikhail Gorbachev and our allies in Germany, France and England to bring about what he himself called “the new world order.”
This consummate diplomat who brought stability to the world order as Soviet Russia fell and Germany reunited also lacked the ability to inspire citizens, even most of those who voted for him. But he was not elected because he would inspire us or unite us across class, race and gender lines.
We knew he was statesman who was not eloquent, we knew he could politic with the best of them. We knew he was not Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy.
We knew, at some level, that he was the right man for the job at the right time.