Celebrating the Leadership of Bush 41 on His 100th Birthday

By June 11, 2024 No Comments

By Joe Straus

This week marks what would have been the 100th birthday of President George H.W. Bush. It is a time to celebrate a man who distinguished himself both by what he accomplished and how he led.

Bush’s presidency from 1989 to 1993 was highly consequential: The United States won the Cold War, helped broker the peaceful reunification of Germany, and liberated Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Bush signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act. Strength and diplomacy abroad, combined with kindness and compassion at home, defined his time in the White House.

Jean Becker, who served as Bush’s chief of staff after his presidency, is the author of a newly published book, Character Matters…and Other Life Lessons from George H.W. Bush, which includes stories and tributes from many of Bush’s family, friends, and former aides. The book vividly illustrates Bush’s results-driven leadership and personal integrity. For example, former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu recalls the extraordinary care that Bush demonstrated in his relationships with international leaders, including Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during a period of significant change for Europe.

Sununu writes, “President Bush’s decades of integrity and credibility allowed him to move these powerful leaders in unison toward a common goal. They trusted his tactics and strategy, and most importantly, they trusted that he would ensure that they shared the credit for the success of this world-changing effort.”

Before, during, and after his presidency, Bush put principles over politics. Author and historian Jon Meacham recalls in his book Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush that as a congressman representing Houston in the 1960s, Bush came under attack from within his own party because he supported legislation aimed at ending discrimination in the housing market. Bush, however, did not waver. He said of one critic, “He couldn’t have been uglier and meaner. But that just made me more determined to do what was right.”

As President, he agreed to a deficit-reduction deal with congressional Democrats that reduced spending while also making modest increases in tax rates. Because he had famously promised not to raise taxes, Bush knew this decision could cost him re-election, and in large part, it did. But the deal also reversed growing deficits and paved the way for a balanced federal budget in the years after he left office.

In his post-presidency, Bush resigned his lifelong membership from the National Rifle Association after the NRA attacked federal agents as “jackbooted thugs” in a fundraising appeal sent in the weeks after Timothy McVeigh killed 168 by bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City. As Meacham recalls in a book titled The Soul of America, Bush wrote to the NRA, “Your broadside against federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor, and it offends my concept of service to country.”

Throughout his life, Bush demonstrated the moral fiber that we should expect, if not demand, from great leaders.  Even many Americans who disagreed with his policies understood that he put his service to others above any personal gain or glorification — a style that is growing less and less familiar in an age when we seem to measure elected officials by their visibility in the media rather than their effectiveness in office.

This week, Bush friends and alumni will gather in College Station. Those who knew him best will share memories of his presidency and his remarkable life. As we reflect fondly on the past, it will be difficult not to wonder when we will again see a leader with the wisdom, courage, and fundamental decency of George H.W. Bush.

Joe Straus is a former State Representative from San Antonio who served as Speaker of the Texas House from 2009 to 2019.

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