George H.W. Bush, 41st President of the United States. | Photo from Wikipedia.org
Former American President George H.W. Bush has died. Odds are, you haven’t come to the Idiotville blog for a full eulogy of a giant of American politics such as George Bush. Let’s instead briefly run through the highlights, then talk about a couple episodes that are emblematic of the man in slightly more detail.
George H.W. Bush has a long and complex legacy in American life. A World War II hero. US Ambassador to China. Ambassador to the United Nations. CIA Director. RNC Chairman that corruptly tried to convince US Attorney George Beall to drop a criminal investigation into VP Spiro Agnew during the Nixon Administration. Vice President. Finally, of course, 41st President of the United States.
Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday and became the Navy’s youngest aviator, despite his birthday being during World War II and his family wealth’s likelihood of shielding him from service. His plane was shot down over the Pacific not far from Japan, and he narrowly survived. This tale shows that Bush possessed a courage and fearlessness that not many others have known, and that would eventually recommend him for the highest office.
It wasn’t all courage and virtue, though. It’s important to remember that history is made of imperfect human beings.
Before it was clear that Watergate would ensnare Nixon, Nixon’s VP was Spiro Agnew. Spiro. He was in hot water for engaging in a naked bribery scheme that continued into his vice presidency, which involved accepting envelopes full of cash.
In true Nixon fashion, he tried to squash the investigation into Spiro by finding an ambitious younger politician to lean on the US Attorney prosecuting the case to, ahem, stop doing so. George Bush was the man Nixon chose to ask federal law enforcement to stop investigating his political ally. While part of the public record, this is a little known tale that was a harbinger if things to come for Nixon but never dented Bush’s reputation.
In 1988, Bush ran one of the more racist campaign ads in TV history while running for president, the Willie Horton ad. The blowback was swift and fierce, and Bush denied knowing about the ad, but he won the election. This was a clumsy, early experiment in courting the Republican party’s nativist fringe, a tactic perfected years later by one Donald J. Trump.
What Bush is probably best known for in politics, though, is having broken a pledge never to raise taxes (“read my lips: no new taxes“) while president. This was also a milestone on the road to Republican nihilism, signaling a shift from a conservative but pragmatic era to a radical period of maximum conflict and minimal compromise.
When George Bush chose to sign the bill raising taxes, he knew it put a dent in his re-election odds. He did it anyway, meaning his last great act in American politics was choosing country over party – that tax hike put the country on an early path to the budget surplus in the Clinton years.
The downside of that, however, was his re-election defeat showed Republicans everywhere the danger of raising taxes anywhere, anytime, for any reason – even if it was followed by economic boom and improved fiscal position. No Republican President has raised income taxes since, and that anti-tax fervor is significantly to blame for our current ballooning debt.
There is so much more to this American life, it’s impossible to tell his story in one blog post. There is his not-perfectly-innocent role in the Iran-Contra fiasco, his mentorship of son George W. Bush’s presidency, etc. You won’t regret taking time to read about him today.
On the whole, Idiotville issues a final, grateful salute to a true American hero that while laying some unfortunate bricks on the road to Trumpian insanity, should be remembered primarily for serving his country dutifully, and with great honor.