Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Life of Service: George H.W. Bush a Good Man and a Model President

George H.W. Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018) was a humble family man who has contributed enormously to the history of the United States and the world. One of his enduring achievements was the 1990 amendment to the Clean Air act.  He is best known for being the 43rd Vice President of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and the 41st President of the United States from 1989 to 1993. After he left office he continued to be active in humanitarian activities

He leaves behind an impressive legacy of service. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor Bush postponed his university studies and when he turned 18 he enlisted to become one of the youngest aviators in the US Navy. After the war he attended and graduated from Yale University.

He then entered the oil business and became a millionaire by the age of 40. He was a member of the House of Representatives, an Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Bush institutionalized historic changes to the vice presidency that continue to this day. As Vice President Bush contributed to Ronald Reagan's key policies. When he became president he helped clean-up some of the mess that Regan left behind including fixing the savings and loan banking crisis. These actions helped to cement Regan's legacy.

The Bush presidency stands out in stark contrast to the current president.  Bush believed in truth, he always put the national interest ahead of his own interests, and he actively supported global institutions like the UN and NATO.

Bush was a moderate Republican who is well known for his "1000 points of light" comment. Perhaps most noteworthy for our times is his effort to make the United States a "kinder, gentler nation." Although he was averse to attacking his political opponents, his campaign strategist Lee Atwater convinced him to go after Bob Dole. It is interesting to note that while Bush was lying in state, the 94 year old Dole asked to be helped out of his wheelchair so that he could salute his former political adversary.

Bush acted in the national interest even when there was no political payoff. Unlike so many leaders he did what he thought was right independent of the political costs.

Bush forged strong relationships with international leaders that served global peace. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was ending the cold war by helping to bring about the bloodless abdication of the Soviet Union.

Another truly great accomplishment of the Bush presidency is his Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. These acts addressed the problems of acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution. They established a national permit program for stationary sources of pollution, and increased enforcement authority. The amendments also created new auto gasoline reformulation requirements, and set Reid vapor pressure (RVP) standards to control evaporative emissions from gasoline.

Bush is also responsible for the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). This effort along with a number of other domestic and international initiatives have distinguished Bush as a man of principle and decency. From fixing banking problems at the outset of his presidency to using military force to counter Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, he did what he thought was right.

He agreed to the tax increase because it was in the national interest even though it broke a key campaign promise and cost him a second term. This was exploited by the cynical and opportunistic politics of Newt Gingrich who privately agreed with the tax increases then publicly came out against them.

Of course Bush was not perfect he made his fortune in oil and as a politician he oversaw deregulation. He was also implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal.  Without overlooking these imperfections it is fair to say that Bush's legacy will age well. Perhaps even more importantly for our times, he demonstrated the sorely lacking attitude required for genuine political leadership.

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