The mainstream media and other anti-Trumpers are pretending to be offended by the ridicule President Trump heaped on former president George H.W. Bush’s pet saying/project “a thousand points of light.” At a rally in Montana, Trump riffed:
A thousand points of light, what the hell was that? What did that mean? Does anyone know? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican!
I know one thing. ‘Make America Great Again’ we understand! ‘Putting America First’ we understand! ‘A thousand points of light,’ I never quite got that one.
James Hohmann, part of the Washington Post’s anti-Trump brigade, sees Trump’s professed confusion about Bush’s mantra as evidence that the current president fails to see unifying or uplifting America as part of his job as president. “A thousand points of light,” Hohmann explains was shorthand for Bush’s vision of “a kinder gentler America” in which Americans found meaning by serving a higher purpose than themselves. Hohmann concludes that Trump neither understands nor respects the sentiment.
But back in 1988 and throughout the Bush I presidency, Democrats thought “a thousand points of light” was a joke — a bad joke that Bush used as an excuse for minimizing the federal government’s role in helping people. The notion that “a thousand points of light” could do the government’s job (as the Dems see it) of lifting people up was deemed bizarre, if not incomprehensible.
Here is what Mike Dukakis, Bush’s opponent in the 1988 election said about “a thousand points of light” during the presidential debate of September 25:
I must have been living through a different eight years then the ones the vice president’s been living through, because this administration has cut and slashed and cut and slashed programs for children, for nutrition, for the kinds of things that can help these youngsters to live better lives. . . .
The 50 governors of this nation have proposed to the Congress that we help those families to get off of welfare, help those youngsters, help their mothers to become independent and self-sufficient. It’s taken months and months and months to get Mr. Bush and the administration to support that legislation, and they’re still resisting. That’s the way you help people. . . .
[A] thousand points of light – I don’t know what that means. I know what strong political leadership is. I know what’s happened over the course of the past eight years. These programs have been cut and slashed and butchered, and they’ve hurt kids all over this country.
So when Trump said he doesn’t know what “a thousand points of light” means, he was picking up an old Democratic talking point — not surprising since Trump might well have been a Democrat in 1988. He wasn’t showing himself to be cold-hearted or anti-uniting American any more than Dukakis or others on the left who ridiculed the slogan were.
I should add that it’s one thing to ridicule a candidate for president (as Bush was in 1988) and another to have a laugh in public at the expense of a 94 year-old former U.S. president (as Bush is now). Trump shouldn’t be mocking Bush publicly.
But Hohmann and his fellow anti-Trumpers shouldn’t be pretending that Trump’s ridicule of Bush demonstrates a crabbed view of the presidency or a disdain for human kindness and national unity. Dumping on a thousand points of light was a Democratic talking point, and would be again if a Republican presidential candidate ever revived the theme.