Tag Archives: George H.W. Bush

‘W’ trying, perhaps, to be too cute with his critiques

George W. Bush is saying he doesn’t want to “criticize” his successors as president of the United States.

Then he says things that sound oh, so critical of them.

Which is it, Mr. President? Are you going to weigh in fully or are you going to keep one foot off the scales?

Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the ex-president warned against “isolationist tendencies,” an apparent reference to some of the statements made by Donald J. Trump and his administration.

It would behoove Bush to steer clear of references to the Iraq War, which in my view, didn’t turn out quite the way he and his team envisioned it and sold it to the United Nations and to the American public. We weren’t greeted as “liberators”; the fight to secure Baghdad was far tougher than advertised; and, oh yes, we never did find those weapons of mass destruction that the Bush team said were in the late Saddam Hussein’s possession.

As USA Today reported, “Bush said that there is a lesson ‘when the United States decides not to take the lead and withdraw,’ an apparent critique of former President Barack Obama.

‚Äú’Vacuums can be created when U.S. presence recedes and that vacuum is generally filed with people who don‚Äôt share the ideology, the same sense of human rights and human dignity and freedom that we do,’ he added.”

The former president should lose the pretense of “not wanting to be critical” of his successors. That would be too bad if he did decide to weigh in fully. I kind of admired his declaration that he didn’t want to undermine his immediate successor, President Obama, as he sought to craft his own foreign and domestic agenda. Neither did his father, George H.W. Bush, when he turned the presidency over to the man who defeated his re-election effort, Bill Clinton.

If Bush 43 is going to speak critically of current policy, then he just ought to say so and cease trying to sugarcoat it with “I don’t intend to criticize anyone” statements.

Actually, Mr. President, I get what you are trying to say.

Allow this dissent on ‘most qualified’ candidate for POTUS

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 01: President George H.W. Bush waits on the field prior to the start of the game between the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

“I can say with confidence there has never been a man or woman — not me, not Bill, nobody — more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.”

So said the current president, Barack H. Obama, this past week at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Clinton to run for the presidency.

I am going to quibble with the president on this one.

Hillary Clinton probably is more “qualified” on paper than either Obama or her husband to become president. Obama served in the Illinois Senate and then briefly in the U.S. Senate before being elected president in 2008. Bill Clinton served as Arkansas attorney general and as governor of his home state before being elected president in 1992.

Clinton’s wife served in the U.S. Senate and as secretary of state after serving as first lady — while taking an active role in policy decisions made during her husband’s administration.

But is Hillary Clinton the most qualified person ever to seek the office?

For my money, the honor of most qualified candidate — in my lifetime,¬†at least —¬†goes to a Republican.

I give you George Herbert Walker Bush.

You are welcome to argue the point with me if you wish.

But G.H.W. Bush’s pre-presidency credentials are damn impressive.

He flew combat missions in World War II as the Navy’s youngest fighter pilot. Bush then came home, moved to Texas and started an oil company. Then he served in Congress, where he represented the Houston area¬†for a couple of terms before losing a Senate bid to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen.

That wasn’t nearly the end of his public service.

He would later be appointed to serve as head of the CIA, as special envoy to the People’s Republic of China, as chairman of the Republican National Committee, as ambassador to the United Nations — and then he served as two vice president for two terms during Ronald Reagan’s administration.

I get that President Obama wants to cast his party’s nominee in the best possible light. Given that she’s running against someone — Donald J. Trump — who is likely the least qualified candidate for president in U.S. history, the president perhaps can be excused for a bit of embellishment.

But a great man is still with us.

Sure, President Bush lost his bid for re-election to Bill Clinton. That, though, must not diminish the myriad contributions he made in service to our beloved country.

Litmus test for VP hopefuls? You bet


Politicians all sing in unison when the question involves “litmus tests.”

They “never” apply such tests, politicians say. They don’t “believe in litmus tests.”

They all are lying.

I mention litmus tests because both major-party presidential nominees-to-be are about to select their vice-presidential running mates. Should Republican Donald J. Trump and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton require their VP picks to pass these litmus tests?

Sure they should.

In reality, though, there really is just one question that presidential nominees should always ask their VP choices: Are you ready to become president in the event something happens to me?

Trump is now apparently ready to choose between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Both of those fellows no doubt would answer “yes” to the Big Question. The task for the campaign, though, is to persuade a majority of voters that they would be able to step into the job on a moment’s notice.

Clinton is facing a similar decision. Her field of hopefuls is much deeper than Trump’s. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia? Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts? Hey, how about the guy who’s got the job now, Joe Biden? All of them surely would answer “yes” to the litmus test question.

Another possible Clinton choice has been rumored to be Julian Castro, the current housing secretary and former mayor of San Antonio. He’d answer “yes,” too, but some of us wonder whether he truly would be able to step into the box.

But when presidents are looking for people to fill key positions, you can damn sure bet that they have a set of policies and principles they demand of those they are considering.

Does that constitute a litmus test? Of course it does.

Consider the test that Ronald Reagan put his VP hopefuls through in 1980. Were they pro-life or pro-choice on abortion? That appeared to be a major question the hopefuls needed to answer correctly. Reagan settled on George H.W. Bush who, during his time in Congress, had been nicknamed “Rubbers” because of his strong voting record in support of organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Bush became an ardent pro-life candidate the instant he said “yes” to the Gipper.

Do you think Ronald Reagan had a “litmus test” that Bush had to pass? Absolutely!

So it will be this time around, just as it always has been.

If politicians say they don’t have “litmus tests,” they’re lying.

So much for principle, yes, Mr. Speaker?


I guess you could have predicted this switcheroo.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has performed a 180-degree flip on free trade. He now agrees with the Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald J. Trump.

Free trade is a bad thing, Trump says. It steals jobs from American workers and ships them out to places like China and Mexico, he says.

Gingrich, though, was one of the architects of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which opened the door wide to free trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Then the party’s presumed nominee came calling with a possible vice-presidential selection in mind.

Now it’s the former speaker who says he agrees with Trump on trade.

This kind of switch isn’t new, of course. Politicians do it all the time.

My favorite switch involved one of my favorite Republicans, a man I admire very much. George H.W. Bush once was considered a tried-and-true pro-choice Republican on abortion. Then the party’s nominee tapped him on the shoulder in 1980 and said, in effect, “If you want to run on our ticket, you have to become a pro-life guy on abortion.”

Bush did and he joined Ronald Reagan on the GOP’s winning 1980 ticket.


Trump has accused U.S. political and business leaders of “stupidity” in allowing free trade to pilfer U.S. jobs. Does that include Gingrich?

I guess not.

It’s interesting nevertheless because Gingrich always has struck me as a politician dedicated to core principles and to partisan orthodoxy. Free trade is part of the Republican mantra, while Trump’s view of GOP trade policy has angered many within the party’s establishment mainstream.

Go figure.

Let’s be sure to check in with Gingrich if Trump picks someone else to run with him.

TEA Party redefines GOP


One of the more fascinating dynamics of the current political climate has been the realigning — in the minds of some folks — of the Republican Party.

I actually have laughed out loud at the TEA Party faction of the GOP that has taken to referring to “mainstream Republicans” as RINOs: Republicans in Name Only.

TEA Party, of course, actually is an acronym that stands for Taxed Enough Already. They comprise the harsher wing of the once-great party. They also have dominated the debate within the Republican Party and are seeking to dominate the debate across the nation.

The impending nomination of Donald J. Trump as the GOP’s next presidential candidate quite possibly is going to trigger a major realignment. The party we’ve come to know and (some of us) loathe might not exist after the November election if Trump gets swept by Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton; by “swept” I mean that Clinton quite possibly could score a historic landslide victory.

My hope for the party is that it reconfigures itself in the mold of, say, Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, Everett Dirksen, George H.W. Bush and — just for good measure — Ronald W. Reagan.

Today’s TEA Party faithful like to compare themselves to Reagan. It’s a false comparison. Why? Reagan knew how to work with Democrats. He was unafraid to reach across to those on the other side when the need arose.

Today’s TEA Party cabal has none of that skill, or willingness.

I keep hearing from my network of friends, acquaintances and former professional colleagues who keep tossing the RINO epithet at today’s Republicans who, in my view, are far more traditionally Republican in their political world view than the zealots who’ve hijacked the party’s once-good name for their own purpose.

Let the realignment continue.


If only the VP hadn’t said what he said …


Vice President Joe Biden delivered a stern message today to some university students and faculty members

about the obstruction occurring in the U.S. Senate.

It’s threatening the core of our republic, he said. Senate Republicans must not obstruct President Obama’s effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy; they must allow nominee Merrick Garland to have a hearing, then they must debate the merits of his nomination and they must then vote on it.

True enough, Mr. Vice President.

But what about those remarks you made in 1992 about whether President George H.W. Bush should be able to nominate someone to the high court in an election year? Today’s Republicans are seeking to block Obama’s pick because this, too, is an election year and they want the next president to make the selection.

The GOP has beaten the vice president over his remarks then.

What they don’t say¬†is that Biden also declared that he would support a “consensus candidate” in an election if one were to be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired at the time.

Biden told the Georgetown law students and faculty members: “Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill.¬†But we can‚Äôt let the Senate spread that dysfunction to another branch of government, to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

It’s fascinating to me that then-Sen. Biden’s remarks now have become known as the “Biden Rule,” which has¬†never existed.

I won’t defend Biden for making his remarks in 1992. He was wrong to suggest that a sitting president shouldn’t be allowed to perform his job if he had been given the chance to do so. President Bush did select a Supreme Court justice in 1991, when he nominated Clarence Thomas to take the seat vacated by the death of Thurgood Marshall.

However, I won’t condemn Biden for holding that view. He did, after all, add the caveat that he would support a consensus candidate for the Supreme Court.

The here and now stands on its own.

The vice president is correct to insist that today’s Senate should stop its obstruction and allow the president to fulfill his constitutional duty — and do its own duty to give an eminently qualified nominee the fair hearing he deserves.


Negative campaigning: It still works


Political operatives have a name for it.

Opposition research.

Every major political campaign dating back to, oh, most of the previous century has featured it. The organization hires teams of researchers to do one thing: look up negative aspects of an opponent’s record to use against them.

Why embark on this mission? Because it works. Every single time. Voters eat this stuff up, no matter how much they complain how they dislike negative campaigning. They respond to it.

The potential Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign that looms not too far into the future is going to provide “oppo research” teams a veritable trove of negatives.

If I were willing to wager my recreational vehicle, I’d say that Clinton’s team is facing what one could call a “target rich environment.”

Remember the time her husband ran for president in 1992? His campaign famously developed what came to be called The War Room. It developed a quick-hit strategy to answer every negative attack leveled at Gov. Bill Clinton by President Bush’s re-election team. The Bill Clinton team learned the lessons taught by the 1988 campaign of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, which allowed the Bush team to “peel the bark” off of Dukakis, as the late campaign strategist Lee Atwater said famously.

I’m willing to presume that Mrs. Clinton’s team has resurrected that notion for her campaign this fall.

More to the point, though, will be the opportunities that the presumed Republican nominee, Trump, will present to the newest Clinton version of The War Room.

Trump has littered his GOP primary campaign with countless public utterances worthy of outright ridicule, not to mention condemnation.

It makes me recall the era not long after the 9/11 attacks. Those of us in daily opinion journalism were handed so many opportunities and topics on which to comment that we faced the editor’s prized dilemma: What can I set aside for tomorrow or another day even later on which to offer an opinion or perspective. Take it from me: It is far more preferable to have too much from which to choose than not enough.

Team Clinton is going to have that kind of “problem” staring it in the face once the GOP nominee’s identity becomes clear.

Yes, I know that Trump’s team will have¬†its chances as well. Which one of the campaigns, though, will have the¬†resources available to them to do the kind of research they’ll need to skewer their opponent? My hunch: the edge goes to Clinton.

Donald Trump already has demonstrated his ability to “go negative” when the other candidates have fired broadsides at him. He does so in amazingly crude ways. He’s criticized opponents’ physical appearance; he has denigrated a journalist’s physical handicap; he has chided an opponent for the manner in which he perspires. All of this, though, has endeared him to the Trumpsters who have glommed on to his message — whatever the hell it is.

And those examples comprise a tiny fraction of Trump’s much-touted business, personal and political history.

And it’s that crudeness that, by itself, is going to present the Clinton team with much of the opposition research material it figures to use against their expected foe.

You want negative campaigning? We’re about to get it.

It won’t be pretty. We’ll bitch about it.

Bring it on!


Debate produces a memorable sound bite

Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont,, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton laugh during the CNN Democratic presidential debate, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Hillary Clinton can take ownership now of perhaps the second of three memorable sound bites that have stuck with some us over many years.

Last night the Democratic presidential candidate referred to the attacks leveled against her by primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders as an “artful smear.”

Bingo, Madame Secretary.

That will go down in history right along with another one of her gems, when she referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” that concocted the sex-related scandals that enveloped her husband during his time as president of the United States.

The third memorable sound bite comes from a federal judge who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to join the U.S. Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas famously referred during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to allegations of sexual harassment as a “high-tech lynching.”

There you have it. There well could be more, but those jump out at me.

Those, in my mind, are the Big Three of sound bites relating to scandals and/or controversies.

The debate between Clinton and Sanders, though, did prove edifying, educational and at times entertaining.

It also was memorable now for what is certain to become a sound bite that will live forever.




Let’s just call him ‘Silent Clarence’


I actually thought it had been longer than a mere decade since Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had asked a question during oral arguments before the nation’s highest court.

Nope. It’s only been 10 years.

The New York Times article attached here spells out what Justice Thomas has settled on as his reason for remaining silent.

It’s discourteous, he told the Times.

Discourteous? You mean if a lawyer says something that you believe needs clarification, but none of your court colleagues wants to seek some clarity, that you don’t want to be rude by asking the lawyer a question?

I don’t quite get that.

On second thought, it makes no sense at all.

Justice Thomas was President George H.W. Bush’s pick in 1991 to serve on the court. He succeeded perhaps one of the most argumentative men ever to serve there, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, who earned his Supreme Court spurs by arguing successfully before the court on the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended desegregation in public schools.

President Lyndon Johnson made history by appointing Marshall to the court in 1967, making him the first African-American to serve there.

Justice Thomas is a decidedly different type of high court jurist, both in judicial philosophy and temperament, apparently, than the man he succeeded.

I believe President Bush offered¬†a serious overestimation of Clarence Thomas when he called him the “most qualified man” to sit on the high court.

That said, Thomas has been true to his conservative principles over the past quarter century.

As for the next time he asks a question of a lawyer, you can be sure the media will make a big deal of it.


Still pulling for Jeb

Jeb  Bush

John Ellis Bush, aka Jeb, is trying to goad Donald Trump into making more stupid pronouncements.

To be honest, I¬†might be one of the few Americans, let alone non-Republicans,¬†pulling for Jeb to get Trump’s goat.

Jeb wants Trump one-on-one, in a debate. Just the two of ’em. Man to man.

It won’t happen, of course, given federal election rules that prohibit the exclusion of other declared presidential candidates.

Jeb, though, is trying to inject some of the energy that Trump has said is missing from his campaign.

Why am I pulling for Jeb?

OK, a couple of reasons.

One is that I long have admired the man’s family and its history of public service to the country. I point specifically to his grandfather, the late Sen. Prescott Bush, and — of course — his dad, the 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush.

Daddy Bush — known as Poppy to his family — in my view was the most qualified man ever to serve as president. He brought a stellar public service resume to the White House.

The second reason is that while I didn’t vote for older brother George W. for any public office — as Texas governor or as president — I happen to like him personally. I’ve met the 43rd president on three occasions: once on an elevator in New Orleans during the 1988 GOP presidential convention; in a lengthy 1995 interview in Austin not many months after he became governor; and in 1998 when I interviewed him in Amarillo while he was seeking re-election as governor.

My face-to-face contact with George W. Bush persuaded me beyond a doubt that he got a  bum rap from those who accused him being a dim bulb. Bush proved to be an amazingly quick study as governor.

Will the younger Bush be able to energize his moribund campaign? I hope he does and I also hope he’s able to knock Donald J. Trump down a peg or four along the way.

I am not going to predict it will happen, but my version of hope does spring eternal.