By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
This past week, former president George HW Bush passed away. Personally, I’ve been struggling with how to feel about this. Let’s examine this.
As a president, he did a lot of things with which I really did not agree. HIs involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, and bombing of civilians in the Kuwaiti war have always bothered me. During the latter, after pushing Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, he continued the war on Iraq, and although he did not ever depose Sadaam Hussein, he did end up creating a “no fly zone” that would continue to last for a decade. His administration, in four years, also caused a serious decline in the economy.
I’m not alone. He lost his bid for re-election in 1993 after only a single term in office, the last president to do so.
As a former president, however, he was a decent man. Not without controversy (just a few years ago he was accused of inappropriately touching a woman, which, let’s be real, is a form of sexual assault). He is not my favorite former president, but he was a good man.
So, when a president passes on, do we simply ignore his past issues? After all, his incomplete actions in Iraq left us with a no-fly zone, an a son (George W. Bush) who took the opportunity to finish his father’s war (before claiming “weapons of mass destruction” that were never found, he stated that the war was justified because Hussein had created a plan to assassinate a former US president) and start a new one in Afghanistan. It took President Obama to finish the Iraqi occupation, and the Afghanistan war is continuing today, seventeen years later).
On the other hand, in this age of divisive politics, he seems to have forged an enduring friendship with the other living former US presidents, and has spoken of the importance of civility in politics. This kind of quiet leadership, along with the other former presidents, demonstrates an important form of courage and discourse that seems to be missing so badly in the current US congress.
A good friend of mine pointed out to me (just today as i was discussing the concept of this article) of this relationship between the former presidents. It occurred to me how civil the presidents have always been with each other, despite contentious elections and party rivalries. It seems as though, with the exception of the current White House occupant, former presidents have always reached out to one another and the current president to offer counsel, advice and support.
I must admit, I’ve never been in a situation where I have had to make the kinds of decisions with such heavy consequences as presidents must face every day. Sometimes their decisions appear to be too personally motivated, but I also acknowledge that I am not privy to the same level of information as the president. I look at the Afghanistan war and wonder why we are still there, and yet, four presidents later, it is a war we continue to fight. There must be a reason.
On social media, I re-posted a marvelous recent photo of the four previous presidents and their wives together. They were all smiling and laughing (which could have been staged I guess) and seemingly in good and friendly spirits. This is an important lesson to all of us, a lesson that teaches us that we need not agree, we need not even be on the same “team”, to be civil with one another. Our politicians seem to have lost the skill to debate and compromise, and remain friends regardless of how things turn out.
So, how do we handle the death of a former president with whom we disagreed? I can’t tell you what you should do, but I, myself, choose to remain respectful, feel sorrow, but remember history.