Commentary: Bush legacy: Patriotism and partisanship

Eulogies for departed George Bush, 41st president of the United States, have tended to overplay his patriotism and underplay his partisanship. In truth, both of these were features which he displayed throughout his career. Born in the Northeast but making his political mark as a Texan, Bush reflected the divergent values which Americans possess, making history along the way.

Clearly, George Bush was one of the most prepared persons for the White House, serving as U.N. and Chinese ambassador, CIA Director, member of Congress, and vice president. He had ridden the coattails of Ronald Reagan’s popularity to win the 1988 presidential election and guaranteeing the Republicans another four years in power.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

President Bush’s partisan leanings both helped and hindered his performance. For instance, legislatively he was able to accumulate an impressive veto record while facing a Congress controlled by the other major party. Of President Bush’s 29 regular public vetoes issued over his term in office, only the last one, the Cable Protection Act of 1992, was overridden.

Further, Bush was consistent in the target of vetoes, exhibiting strident conservatism in rejecting bills intended to liberalize abortion or to limit free trade. While some of Bush’s personnel selections reflected his general moderation — people like Richard Thornburgh (Justice), Jack Kemp (Housing), and Elizabeth Dole (Labor), the choice of Dan Quayle for vice president and Clarence Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court resulted from pressure by extremists.

Given the many changes which transpired during his time in office, George Bush will likely be remembered more for his foreign policy achievements than those in the domestic area. His administration led the coalition against Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War, successfully removing Iraq from Kuwait after the invasion of the latter nation. That one-sided conflict helped to rejuvenate the reputation of the American military. Yet, the clear victory in that conflict was bordered by the 1989 Panama invasion and the 1992 Somalia operation, criticized as over and under reaction, respectively.

The decline of communism in Eastern Europe produced a period of flux which coincided with George Bush’s presidency.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 to Germany’s unification in 1990 to the end of the Soviet government in Russia in late 1991, this period rivaled the immediate post-World War I and ll environment. Bush’s internationalism allowed for a largely peaceful transition and stabilization of politics in Europe. However, a combination of partisanship and personal friendship may have prevented a more appropriate response to China following the brutal attack against Tiananmen Square protesters in June 1989.

In 1988, George Bush used a strongly partisan campaign to get elected as chief executive. Now as president in 1992, he was trying to bridge the divide between a Democratic challenger on the one hand and a significant third party contestant on the other. One of his campaign visits in 1992 brought him to Delaware, a state which he won in 1988. At a rally on The Green in Dover, he used all the cliches of the time in an effort to hold on.

Bush lost to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. Meanwhile, the state of Delaware went Democratic that year and every presidential election since; Bush left no coattails for a successor to grasp.

As an American, George Bush lived a life of caring and consequence. His public performance made public service something to be proud of.

He and wife Barbara spawned one son who has already served as president and another who could make it there, a unique contribution to American history. In a strangely fascinating way, he embodied opposites: a war hero who yearned for peace; an attack dog whose humility and humor made him likable to most; though naturally disappointed at electoral defeat, he nonetheless retained his cheerfulness in an arena filled with apathy.

If George Bush taught his and future generations anything, it is that partisanship and patriotism do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies Program Director at Delaware State University. Dr. Hoff, recently appointed to the national governing board of the National Social Science Association, teaches and publishes extensively on the American presidency.

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