Tag Archives: 1988 election

Trump’s got to change? How?

Chris Christie is a seasoned political hand who purports to know what it takes to win a presidential election.

The former Republican New Jersey governor, though, came up empty in 2016 when he sought the GOP nomination for president, losing that battle to a guy who now is fighting for his political survival. Christie offered some words of advice to Donald Trump:

Change what you’re doing or else you’re going to lose. Period. End of story.

I did chuckle a bit when Christie referred to “President Michael Dukakis” who was leading Vice President George H.W. Bush by 18 percentage points about this time during the 1988 campaign. Bush went on to defeat Dukakis handily.

What did the underdog, Bush, do to reverse the tide? He went on the attack. Full bore. Frontal assault. He savaged Dukakis over the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and his furloughing of a murderer who then committed a heinous crime while he was away from prison.

Dukakis never fought back. He let Bush’s team beat him bloody.

That’s how Bush turned the tide.

Does Donald Trump have that kind of weaponry in his arsenal? Hardly. Trump already has established his brand. He won election by waging one of the nastiest campaigns in history. He is going to do the same thing again against Joseph Biden. He is incapable of changing course, changing his methods, doctoring his message.

I also would add that any attempt by Donald Trump to change his approach will look like what it is: a makeover that only makes a candidate look good, but doesn’t change whatever churns inside the candidate’s gut.

Americans now have taken a full measure of what Donald Trump offers to them as president. My hope is that enough Americans have had their fill of what they have seen and will demand change at the top of our governmental chain of command.

Time of My Life, Part 5: Conventions bring serious tasks

Every now and then journalists get to see the most serious tasks imaginable in a totally new context, especially when you’re thrust into a front-row seat.

I had a couple of those experiences while working for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. I want to share them with you briefly here.

In 1988 and again in 1992 I was privileged to attend two Republican National Committee presidential nominating conventions. Beaumont lies between two major cities — New Orleans to the east and Houston to the west. The GOP nominated Vice President George H.W. Bush as president in 1988 in New Orleans; then the party nominated him again for re-election in 1992 in Houston.

I got to witness all of the hubbub, the whoopin’ and hollerin’ up close both times.

The 1988 convention placed me behind the speaker’s podium inside the Superdome in New Orleans, where I witnessed President Reagan deliver a stirring speech to the faithful crowd. After the president finished his speech — and as the crowd cheered the Gipper — he and his wife, Nancy, turned and walked off the stage and so help me as God is my witness, he looked straight at me as we made eye contact. I have to say that was quite a thrill.

I worked in the same media room with some fine reporters and columnists. One of them is Chris Matthews, who at both conventions was a “mere” columnist for the San Francisco Examiner, which was owned by the same Hearst Corporation that owns the Beaumont Enterprise. I got to know Matthews, I like to say, “before he became ‘Chris Matthews,'” the current star of prime-time cable TV coverage on MSBNC. He and I enjoyed a cup of coffee at the Houston convention, chatted for a few minutes. He wouldn’t remember it, but it happened.

The 1992 gathering in the Houston Astrodome was notable as well for a couple of speeches. Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan sought to wrest the GOP nomination from President Bush and delivered the frightening speech in which he implored the delegates to “take our country back” from some nefarious evil forces Buchanan thought had hijacked the nation. I also got to hear former President Reagan bring down the house when he mentioned the Democrats’ nominee, Bill Clinton, who Reagan said fancied himself to be another Thomas Jefferson. He responded, “Let me tell you, governor. I knew Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson was a friend of mine, and governor, you’re no Thomas Jefferson.”

The former president’s timing was picture perfect, owing to his well-known skill as a film and TV actor.

The biggest takeaway from both conventions was the sight of serious men and women doing the most serious work imaginable — nominating candidates for president and vice president of the United States — while wearing goofy elephant hats, with vests festooned with buttons and labels and generally carrying on like children at a birthday party.

I simply had to suspend my disbelief as I watched these individuals performing this most serious of tasks.

Yes, it was representative democracy in its raw form. It was a joy to watch and to cover it for the newspaper that employed me.

One more stark difference between Trump and Bush 41

Americans have just bade farewell to a great and good man, George Herbert Walker Bush, with tributes and praise that brought instantaneous comparisons to one of his presidential successors, Donald John Trump Sr.

The tributes honored the former president’s empathy, compassion, the size of his heart, wisdom and coolness under the most extreme pressure imaginable. Many of us drew a straight line between the 41st president and the 45th president and found the latter man lacking in all those categories.

What has gotten almost no attention has been the qualifications chasm that exists between the men.

We went from electing arguably the most qualified man ever as president to electing — without question, in my mind — the most fundamentally unqualified man. Yes, we made that leap between 1988 and 2016. In just 28 years we reset the standard for electing the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the world’s greatest military machine.

Bush served as a U.S. Navy aviator in World War II (who came within a whisker of dying in combat), successful West Texas businessman, two-term member of Congress, CIA director, special envoy to China, Republican Party chairman, ambassador to the United Nations and then vice president of the United States. All that occurred before his smashing election as POTUS in 1988. He also was married to the same woman for 73 years, with whom he produced six children.

And Trump? His business record has been, shall we say, mixed. He had zero public service experience. His entire professional life was aimed at self-enrichment. He has filed multiple bankruptcies. The only public office he ever has sought is the presidency of the United States. The personal part? He’s been married three times and has admitted to cheating on his first two wives — with evidence mounting that he did the same thing to his current wife.

President Bush brought honor and an enormous well-spring of commitment to public service to the world’s most powerful office. Donald Trump has brought — um, let me think — not a single shred of any of it to the office to which he was elected. We have turned the presidency into an office where the occupant can receive on-the-job training. No experience necessary. How utterly astonishing!

George H.W. Bush was worthy of the praise he received. Donald J. Trump is equally worthy of the scorn he is receiving.

Putting politics aside, let’s honor a great life

It won’t surprise those who read this blog carefully to realize that I didn’t vote either time — in 1988 or 1992 — for the late George H.W. Bush when he ran for president of the United States.

However, despite my own partisan leanings and admitted bias, I want to devote the next bit of time to honor this man’s life.

Long before he died last night at the age of 94, I grew to appreciate the profound public service that President Bush gave to the nation he served with such nobility, grace and grit. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate that service back when he was an active politician seeking election and re-election as president. Time, though, enables all of us to view people and instances through a different prism than we do in the moment.

Bush 41’s campaign for the presidency in 1988 was not his shining moment. He brutalized his opponent, Michael Dukakis, with a campaign that called Dukakis soft on crime and soft on love of country. Four years later, the economy was faltering and I felt we needed a change in direction.

OK, that all said, I believe it is important to honor the arc of this man’s life. Good heavens, President Bush led the fullest life one could possibly imagine.

He was born into privilege. He enlisted in the Navy right after Pearl Harbor, became the youngest aviator in the Navy during World War II; he was shot down and plucked from the ocean by a submarine crew. He came home, married Barbara Pierce, the love of his life. He finished college and went into business in West Texas. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, lost two races for the Senate. Bush was appointed head of the CIA, special envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations, he chaired the Republican National Committee, was elected vice president and finally as president.

He helped shepherd the end of communism in Europe. He watched the Berlin Wall come down in 1989. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He led an international coalition against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait.

Even after he left office, he remained active and on call when the need arose. He teamed with his old adversary, Bill Clinton, to lead an effort to raise money in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The two men then became the best of friends.

This man’s life is worthy of honor by every American. President Bush devoted so much of his adult life to public service. That’s how I choose to remember this great — and good — man.

The other stuff that troubles us in the moment, the hideousness surrounding the current president? That can wait.

This is President George H.W. Bush’s time.

Bush 41’s legacy contains considerable irony

George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency was cut short by perhaps one of the more ironic twists of political fate in recent U.S. history.

President Bush, who died Friday at age 94, was elected in 1988 and sought re-election in 1992. He was victimized by the wisdom of a decision to back away from an ill-considered promise delivered from the podium of the Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

“Read my lips,” the then-vice president intoned at the ’88 GOP convention, “no new taxes.” The crowd erupted. They cheered. They whooped and hollered.

But wait! After he took office in 1989, the economy began to slow down. It fell into a fairly deep recession. What was the president going to do about it? He retracted his “no new taxes” pledge and got Congress to do the very thing he said he wouldn’t do . . . ever!

The 1990 deficit reduction act proved to be a fiscally sound — and politically dangerous — policy decision. It created a rebellion among the Republican Party caucus in Congress. As USA Today noted in its editorial, the measure laid the groundwork for the budget surpluses that would follow.

The irony of it is that the economy began sputtering back to life in early 1992. By then the die had been cast, to Bush’s ultimate dismay. The Democrats ran a young governor, Bill Clinton, against him. Then in jumped the Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot to muddy it up some more.

Clinton was elected in 1992. Bush blamed Perot for costing him re-election, but in truth Clinton was likely to win without a third candidate in the contest.

President Bush’s decision to renege on his tax pledge — if only modestly — proved to be his undoing. The voters rendered a harsh, and arguably unfair, decision in 1992. They said a promise made from a convention podium should be as good as gold.

It saddens me as I look back on that time.

It also saddens me that another decision, to end the Persian Gulf War without toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, led to a horrendous decision by one of Bush 41’s successors, his own son, President George W. Bush.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. President Bush declared the aggressive “will not stand.” He went to the United Nations, gathered up an international alliance of nations, directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to craft a strategy to evict the Iraqis from Kuwait. Then we went to war.

It ended quickly. The Iraqis fled from the mighty onslaught led by U.S. forces. Then the commander in chief made the decision to end it. Mission accomplished. The Iraqis had been tossed out. Saddam Hussein remained in power.

But the decision to end the war, to keep faith with the U.N. resolution authorizing it resulted in total containment of Iraq and of Saddam Hussein. There appeared to be a semblance of stability settling in the region.

But then Bush left office. Bill Clinton served two terms and he left office in 2001. We got hit by the terrorists on 9/11, and President Bush 43 sent us to war against the terrorists.

Then, for reasons that still baffle many of us, President Bush decided to topple Saddam Hussein. We invaded Iraq in March 2003. We captured Saddam Hussein, put him on trial and executed him. We were looking for weapons of mass destruction, but didn’t find any.

The question persists to this day: Why did we go to war against Saddam Hussein? Yes, I know international intelligence agencies said the Iraqis possessed WMD. They were tragically wrong.

Oh, the stability that Bush 41 forged with his decision to not invade Iraq? It was gone. The Islamic State emerged from the chaos. We’re still at war.

History has delivered some judgments already on Bush 41’s presidency. I trust historians will take note of the irony that befell this good man’s time as leader of the world’s greatest nation.

Get well, '41'

The¬†nightstand next to the bed is piling up with books I am fixin’ to read.

One of them just arrived there. It’s titled simply, “41: A Portrait of My Father.” “41” is George H.W. Bush. The author is “43,” George W. Bush.

The 43rd president of the United States makes no bones about his intentions in writing this book. He calls it a “love story” about the greatest man he’s ever known. “43” wants to share with the world the qualities that have lifted his father to greatness.

I wanted to mention this book in the wake of news that George H.W. Bush was hospitalized the other day after complaining of shortness of breath.

The man is 90 years of age. His health isn’t good. President Bush suffers from Parkinson’s disease. He no longer is able to walk. His speech sounds a bit labored these days.

But oh, yes. He jumps out of airplanes, which he did on his latest birthday.

President “43” recounts that event in the prologue to his book.

I happened to be in New Orleans the night in 1988 when then-Vice President Bush accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. The Superdome was packed with cheering convention delegates running around the floor wearing goofy elephant hats and their clothing festooned with campaign pins.

The nominee called for a “kinder, gentler” nation and pledged to govern that way if elected president. He was elected handily that year over the man for whom I voted, Michael Dukakis. I’ll concede that Bush didn’t conduct a kinder and gentler campaign.

Still, the president governed with a spirit of bipartisanship that, um, has been missing of late.

I’ve long held a great appreciation for this man’s background that, in my view, prepared him handsomely for the job he earned in that 1988 election. I continue to believe that, on paper, George H.W. Bush was the most qualified man ever to serve as president. Think about it: World War II combat veteran and aviator; businessman, congressman from Houston, CIA director, U.N. ambassador, special envoy to China, Republican Party chairman, vice president of the United States.

I am grateful that I was able to express my thanks and appreciation to him for all he has done for his country. I attended an event here in Amarillo in 2007 in which President Bush was the keynote speaker. I got an invitation to a luncheon that day and then got to shake his hand in one of those “grip and grin” reception lines.

“Mr. President, I just want to thank you for your service to the country,” I told him as we shook hands. He nodded and offered what I think was a heartfelt “thank you for saying that” to me.

He’s done it all. I look forward to plowing into George W. Bush’s account of his father’s great life.

Get well, Mr. President.