President George H.W. Bush died yesterday evening at the age of 94. He led an almost impossibly full life, capped by his election to the presidency as Ronald Reagan’s successor in 1988. A good man and a good president, he was perhaps more than anything else a great American of the old-fashioned variety that is passing from the scene.
I took my family to hear him speak at the annual dinner of the Minnesota Family Council within two or three years of his departure from office. He was warm. He was funny. He was engaging. He talked about his upbringing, about his flight training at the age of 18 during World War II in Minneapolis, about the friends he made here, about his career in public service. He recalled his mother (Dorothy Walker Bush) and her telephoned scoldings whenever she found him to be bragging or glorifying himself as president. (Mrs. Bush died in 1992, in the final year of his presidency.)
He exposed a personal side that he mostly guarded in public. I thought it would have been to his advantage to show more of it.
The New York Times obituary with accompanying video and photo exhibit is by Adam Nagourney. I have embedded the video below.
Nagourney writes in the first sentence of the obituary that Bush “was denied a second term after support for his presidency collapsed under the weight of an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs[.]” The New York Times itself promoted the image of this “seeming inattention” during the 1992 campaign with its fabricated story of President Bush’s supposed amazement by a grocery store scanner. Fake news doesn’t get any faker.
John and I were thrilled to hear from President Bush in 1994 after National Review published our article “George Bush’s tax return.” It was an attack on the equally shoddy and influential work of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele. We faxed a copy of our article to President Bush. President Bush wrote us one of his thousands of handwritten notes:
Dear Scott and John,
Your great piece “Barlett and Steele: What Went Wrong?” [our title] was right on the target.
The problem is, of course, they have damaged us by their sloppy if not vengeful writing. I am glad you set the record straight.
I would love to know if those two ever try to rebut that which you have written. Better still, if they apologized, though I would not hold my breath on that one.
Many thanks for that insightful piece. It made Barbara and me feel very good indeed.
Sincerely, and gratefully —
Barlett and Steele never did “try to rebut that which [we had] written” about their abuse of President Bush, let alone apologize to him. RIP.
JOHN adds: I am on vacation in London, which is why I haven’t been writing much lately. Scott beat me to this, so I only want to add that our encounter with President Bush was consistent with his reputation, in that he couldn’t have been more gracious to us, while at the same time he didn’t trouble, himself, to respond to his critics even though he could have made them look silly if he had tried to do so. He seemed happy to leave his defense to people like us.
His son George W. was similarly above responding to his critics, preferring to leave such debate to historians. Whether such high-mindedness was a virtue or a flaw is an open question. For better or worse–and I think it is mostly better–it is not a quality that our current president shares.
Just for fun, I had one of my daughters text me a photo of President Bush’s letter to Scott and me, which hangs in my library: