Originally posted to Facebook 12/6/18 …
I’ve been wrestling with the legacy of George Bush the Elder this week. It’s complicated.
The negatives that go beyond simple presidential competence (any president can have a recession) …
- Brutal overt and covert action in Central America and the Middle East, including Iran-Contra and an unnecessary Gulf War.
- A continuation of Reagan’s indifference on gay rights and AIDS, though he also took a few progressive steps, especially in his later years.
- Clarence Thomas
- Lee Atwater and racist dog whistles
- Folding like a lawn chair and embracing the bullshit trickle-down theory he once called “voodoo economics.”
- The Americans With Disabilities Act. Even John Fugelsang gave him credit for this one.
- An updated Clean Air Act.
- David Souter.
- A willingness to “cross the aisle.”
I still think he was sincere in his calling to public service. His judgment — in the CIA, as VP and as president — can and should be questioned.
But the reason he’s being praised so heavily right now, aside from the fact that a funeral isn’t really the right time to dump on someone, is that he so easily clears the painfully low bar the Republicans have set today. He’s not just better than Trump. He’s better than McConnell. He’s better than Pence. He’s better than Cruz, Rubio, Rand Freaking Paul, Steve KKKing, and a bunch of people who shouldn’t let the door hit ’em on the way out.
He was more compassionate than today’s Republicans. He was more reality-based than today’s Republicans.
How we judge him overall is actually quite similar to how we judge all leaders of the past. Do we think ill of Washington and Jefferson for perpetuating slavery? Do we think ill of generations of presidents who never even thought about LGBTQ rights?
In short — do we forgive people for being products of their time? Do we write off Bush’s attitudes toward the Third World and people of color in general because society simply hadn’t progressed very far in his day?
I don’t know. But it’s a lot easier to forgive Bush than it is to forgive the current crop, and at least we have something positive to say about him. And I don’t mind in the least pointing to those positives as well as the bipartisan philanthropy of his post-presidential life and saying, “See that? THAT’S how you’re supposed to act.”