Tag Archives: George W. Bush

Funerals put politics in perspective

Funerals that honor public figures — notably those involved in some level in politics — have this way of putting politics in their proper perspective.

I just watched a touching tribute to the late first lady Barbara Bush. It made me swallow hard on several occasions, particularly as I heard commentators tell us how bitter political foes could become the best of friends.

Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; George W. Bush and Clinton.

Indeed, today at the Houston church where the world said goodbye to George H.W. Bush’s beloved “Bar,” one could see first lady Melania Trump sitting next to Barack Obama, who sat with his wife Michelle next to Bill and Hillary Clinton; George W. Bush sat in the family section across the aisle next to his wife, dad, brothers, sister and their huge assemblage of Bushes.

It strikes me today as we digest the vitriol that emanates these days from the halls of power in Washington that it need not be that way. Much of the commentary today about Barbara Bush spoke of her friendships with Democrats as well as with Republicans. Her husband, after all, is the quintessential Republican, as are her two sons — one a former president, the other a former governor.

But we were told today about Mrs. Bush’s kind heart, her compassion, empathy, her generous spirit, good humor, grit, her tough-love approach to caring for her children and, yes, her friends.

Mrs. Bush’s husband promised to create a “kinder, gentler nation” when he was elected president in 1988. The jury still might be out on whether the 41st president of the United States achieved that noble goal. He practiced kindness and gentleness in his personal life, as did his beloved first lady.

The nation said farewell today to someone who embodied a more genteel time in what has become at times a blood sport. The craft and art of politics aren’t what they used to be. That besmirches politics’ current practitioners, not to mention their once-noble pursuit.

Whenever we say goodbye to beloved public figures, some of us — yours truly included — wish that it might signal a return to a time when political foes could actually become friends.

Is this such a moment? Oh, probably not. My hope, though, does spring eternal.

Trump offers valid reason for staying away

This just in …

“First lady Melania Trump will attend the memorial service for Barbara Bush this Saturday on behalf of the First Family,” a White House spokesperson confirmed Friday. “To avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush family and friends attending the service, President Trump will not attend.”

OK, there you have it. I accept that reason for the president not attending the late Barbara Bush’s memorial service Saturday.

Under normal circumstances, this would go unnoticed. No one would raise so much as an eyebrow over this declaration.

These aren’t normal times. We do not have a “normal” president in office. Donald Trump took office after a contentious, often bitter presidential campaign. He said some amazingly harsh things about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who ran against Trump in the 2016 GOP presidential primary — and the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush. The two men’s mother, the former first lady, took serious umbrage at what Trump said about her beloved sons, as did her husband, the 41st president, George H.W. Bush.

Custom usually dictates that first ladies attend the funerals or memorial services of their predecessors. So, Melania Trump will represent her husband at Mrs. Bush’s memorial service.

As for the president’s absence, I’ll accept that he doesn’t want to disrupt the event.

After all, this event is going to be all about the former first lady, who was as unique an individual as any who have been granted the opportunity to serve in that capacity.

Barbara Bush has earned a glowing and love-filled sendoff. May this Bush family stalwart rest in the eternal peace she so richly deserves.

RIP, ‘The Enforcer’

What does one say only moments after learning that one of America’s most beloved public figures has left this good Earth?

Barbara Pierce Bush has died at the age of 92. It was no surprise. She was in “failing health,” surrounded by her family. She had ordered an end to preventative health care, focusing instead on “comfort care.”

The wife of the nation’s 41st president made no pretense about the fake pearls she wore around her neck. She said they were intended to cover up her wrinkles. But everything else about her was so very real. She was known to her kids and grandkids as “The Enforcer.” She set the rules and she made them stick.

And the nation fell madly in love with this woman, a proud first lady — but more importantly a proud wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She promoted literacy. She became an advocate for research on HIV/AIDS.

She also was unafraid to disagree with her husband, President George H.W. Bush, or her son, President George W. Bush.

The nation will grieve. The president will order flags to fly at half-staff at the nation’s federal buildings. We’ll all remember Barbara Bush as the matriarch of one of the nation’s most iconic political families.

She was a great American.

Mrs. Bush embodies class and grace

I don’t know about anyone else, but I do have difficulty watching admired public figures struggling as they fall into “failing health.”

So it is with former first lady Barbara Bush, who lived in the White House with her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, from 1989 until 1993.

She is now at home in Houston. Mrs. Bush has declined any further medical treatment. She has requested “comfort care.” Her family has gathered around her.

Yes, it looks as though the end is near. More than likely.

My difficulty deals with watching this marvelous woman struggle to remain among us. The love story that unfolded in January 1945 when she and the young Navy aviator married. They now hold the presidential record for marital longevity.

Mrs. Bush always acquitted herself with class as well as with candor. Her children and grandchildren call her The Enforcer. No one put anything past this marvelous individual.

She made literacy her hallmark while serving as first lady. She read to children. She sought to imbue in our kids a love of literature. Mrs. Bush created a foundation to continue that work after her time as first lady had expired.

The world has joined in offering love and support for this iconic American political family that has been led by a matriarch who stood tall next to her husband — and her oldest son, George W.  Bush, who also ascended to the presidency.

Still, it is damn hard to watch this story unfold.

‘Mission accomplished’? Not just yet, Mr. President

Donald Trump did what he needed to do when he ordered “precision strikes” against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

The White House has declared “mission accomplished” with regard to the strikes launched by U.S., French and British air power. It was an impressive allied effort to retaliate against Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, including children.

The sight of those victims convulsing and heaving in the wake of the gas attack sickens the heart. It also points out that we are dealing in Syria with an animal disguised as a strongman.

To hear the Russians, Syrians and the Iranians deny that Assad gassed civilians is to defy credulity. Of course he did it. Assad has shown such propensity in the past.

The air strikes, though, have accomplished their mission, which was to destroy Syria’s ability to deliver chemical attacks. Reports from the field indicate that the air strikes — as deadly as they were — did not prevent a future gas attack.

Which brings me to a critical point. To claim “mission accomplished” requires proof that Assad has been rendered impotent militarily. That hasn’t happened.

We once heard a president of the United States, George W. Bush, issue a similar “mission accomplished” statement after our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. We captured the late Saddam Hussein, resulting in President Bush making that landing aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier, where he stood under the banner proclaiming that we had accomplished our mission. The war dragged on for years after Saddam’s capture and execution.

Trump cannot make such a declaration yet. The Joint Chiefs of Staff — at the president’s direction — have executed, in conjunction with our French and British allies, a strong response to Syria’s dictator.

Let us hope it doesn’t lead to a broader conflict or — and this is the worst case — open conflict with Russia and Iran.

A mission that is accomplished fully will render Bashar al Assad incapable of inflicting such misery ever again on helpless victims.

‘Welcome back,’ ballooning budget deficits

Ronald Reagan and his fellow Republicans made lots of hay in 1980 about the “spiraling” budget deficit during that presidential election year. It totaled a whopping $40 billion.

The GOP presidential nominee’s campaign ridiculed those big-spending Democrats en route to a smashing landslide election victory over President Jimmy Carter.

Ah, yes. Republicans were the party of “fiscal responsibility.”

Hah! Not any longer. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the current fiscal year will end with an $800 billion budget deficit and will surpass $1 trillion by the next fiscal year.

Hey, what happened? Oh, it’s that tax cut that the Republicans wrote into law — at the insistence of Donald J. Trump, and the $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by Congress.

What happened to fiscal restraint? Where are the controls on runaway government spending? Aren’t congressional Republicans — who control the House and the Senate — supposed to rein in free-spending tendencies usually associated with liberal Democrats?

A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, managed to craft a balanced budget in the late 1990s with help from congressional Republicans. Then came Republican George W. Bush, who succeeded Clinton in 2001. We went to war at the end of that year, but didn’t increase taxes to pay for it. The deficit soared out of control.

Democrat Barack Obama came aboard in 2009 with the economy in free fall. He pushed a tax hike and a spending boost through Congress. The economy recovered. The deficit was pared by roughly two-thirds annually by the time he left office in 2017.

Now we’re hurtling back to Square One. The deficit is exploding.

And no one in power seems to care about things that used to matter a lot.

Bob Bullock would be proud of this one

AUSTIN — Wherever he is, I am quite certain Bob Bullock — the late and legendary Texas lieutenant governor — is a happy man.

Why? Because a museum built and dedicated in his memory is a sight to behold. Its artifacts are educational in the extreme. Its ambience is welcoming, as are the docents scattered on all three of its floors willing to explain the whys and wherefores of Texas history.

I pledged to go to the Bullock Museum of Texas History upon visiting the Texas capital city. Today I did so.

Planning for an education on Texas history

It is so very interesting.

The museum opened in 2001, two years after Bullock’s death. He had lobbied hard to get a history museum built. He managed to persuade the powers that be to erect the museum not far from the University of Texas and the State Capitol where Bullock toiled for the last part of his lengthy public service career.

It is a marvelous tribute to someone I didn’t know well, but someone about whom I had learned a great deal upon arriving in Texas in the spring of 1984.

I learned that he was one tough son of a bi***. He was irascible, a bit of a grouch. He didn’t suffer fools at all — let alone lightly. He was a classic conservative Texas Democrat, which meant that he favored the working man and woman but didn’t take up the cudgel often for progressive social causes.

He also worked well with Republicans. Bullock and a fellow Democrat, former House Speaker Pete Laney, developed a constructive — and productive — working relationship with Republican Gov. George W. Bush. They worked as an effective team until 1999, when Bullock left office; he would die later that year of cancer.

The Bullock Museum tells the story of Texas in multiple parts. It tells visitors about the wreck of the LaBelle (the remains of which are pictured above), a French ship that sank in Matagorda Bay in 1684 after sailing to the New World from Europe, a mission it wasn’t even designed to complete.

It walks visitors through the fight to gain independence from Mexico, Texas’s nine-year existence as an independent nation and then its annexation into the United States in February 1845.

I won’t go through all that the museum contains.

I’ll just add this takeaway: As much as the state celebrated the sesquicentennial of its independence from Mexico, while giving relatively short shrift to the 150 years since its annexation into the United States, so does the Bullock Museum.

I say this not as a criticism, per sue, but merely as an observation.

I am thrilled to have finally seen this sampling of Texas’s rich history.

Obama is relaxed; many of us wish he could return

Barack H. Obama seems to have found his second wind as a private citizen. Same with Michelle Obama.

The two of them hardly ever are photographed without big smiles on their faces. The former president is enjoying his time away from the spotlight, as is the former first lady.

Oh, this fills many of us with wistful thoughts. If only we could get him back. That can’t happen. The U.S. Constitution limits presidents to two elected terms. Barack Obama did his time. Now he’s out among some of us.

Sure, he’s making a ton of scratch making speeches. He is kicking a lot of his post-presidential income back to community projects near and dear to his heart. He is following the course set by many of his predecessors.

George W. Bush has taken up painting, has biked with wounded veterans (including in Palo Duro Canyon) and has opened his presidential library in Dallas; Bill Clinton is hard at work on his Clinton Global Initiative Foundation, also making speeches and getting mixed up in politics from time to time; Jimmy Carter builds houses for Habitat for Humanity and teaches Sunday school in Plains, Ga.; George H.W. Bush is in poor health, but he, too, enjoys retired life.

I suppose it would tempting for Obama to fire back at his successor, Donald Trump, who seems to need a foil; he relishes the notion of dismantling many of his immediate predecessor’s successes and he does so while firing off broadsides via stump speeches and tweets.

Therein lies one of the many differences between Obama and Trump. The current president simply cannot stand being criticized; the former president might not like it, but he maintains his silence … mostly.

As much as I would like to have Barack Obama back in command of the situation, I know — and appreciate — his sense of freedom from the rigors of serving in the nation’s highest public office.

I wish him well. I also hope he doesn’t disappear. Many of his countrymen and women still enjoy listening to his soaring rhetoric far more than the trash talk that pours forth from the guy who succeeded him.

Look out, ‘radical Islam’

President George W. Bush told us in clear and unequivocal terms while the nation grieved over the 9/11 attack: We are not at war with Islam.

President Barack H. Obama followed that message to the letter. On the night he announced the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the president told us that bin Laden was not a “Muslim leader,” but that he was a “mass murderer of Muslims.”

A new president has taken over. Donald J. Trump has just nominated Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state and has appointed John Bolton to be the new national security adviser.

These two men — not to mention the president — seem intent on changing the narrative. They want to take direct aim at “radical Islam,” as if the terrorists with whom we are at war represent a great world religion. They do not. They have perverted Islam to fit some ruthless ideology.

As Politico has reported: Both Bolton and Pompeo will now be working for a president who has alleged, with no evidence, that American Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks, and who has proposed banning all foreign Muslims from U.S. shores. Critics say the personnel moves suggest Trump’s worst instincts on how to approach the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims will find receptive ears among his foreign policy aides.

Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster, who will be leaving the State Department and the National Security Council, respectively, were thought to have some sort of moderating influence on Trump. But the president has shoved them aside, elevating two more fiery confidants to help formulate U.S. foreign policy. They are likely to seek to steer the president toward a position that mainstream Muslims might interpret to be more hostile to their religious faith.

That, I suggest, is a dangerous trend.

The killers with whom we have been at war since 9/11 need damn little pretext to recruit new militants to follow their perverted cause.

Trump reverses growth quotient

Paul Begala is an acknowledged Democratic partisan. He once worked for President Bill Clinton. He is no fan of Donald Trump.

Now that we’ve established that, I have to concur with something he has said about the president.

Whereas presidents — particularly those who come to the White House with a primarily outside-the-Beltway experience — usually grow in the office, Donald Trump is shrinking the office to fit his own shortcomings.

Begala mentioned how Presidents Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all learned about the office, how they filled the White House with their presence. Trump has reversed that momentum.

I will add that of the examples Begala cited, all of them had prior government experience. Reagan served two terms as governor of California, Bush served a term and a half as governor of Texas, Clinton served multiple terms as Arkansas governor and Obama served in the Illinois state senate before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.

Trump’s experience is totally unique. He never sought a public before running for president. He ran a large business. Trump answered to no one. He has demonstrated zero curiosity, zero humility, not a lick of introspection. He has said he’s never sought forgiveness. He won’t admit to making a mistake.

As some observers have noted, Trump’s political skill — which he exhibited while campaigning successfully for the presidency — hasn’t transferred to governing. He doesn’t know how to govern.

Donald Trump isn’t growing into the office he won. He is shrinking it to fit his own diminished profile.

Trump is shaking up the Cabinet. His closest advisers are bailing, or are being pushed out. His Health and Human Services secretary had to quit; his first national security adviser was canned; Trump has just fired the secretary of state; the veterans secretary is about to go; the current national security adviser may be canned; Trump has burned through four communications directors.

This all happened in the first 15 months of his presidency.

And the president would have us believe he is doing the best job in the history of the exalted office of the presidency?

Nope. Paul Begala is right. Donald Trump is shrinking the office.