I choked up, too — for the decent and honorable leadership, now missing, that reflects the true greatness of America.
• • •
Jon Meacham, historian and biographer of George Herbert Walker Bush, spoke at his memorial service on Wednesday and said, “He stood in the breach of the Cold War against totalitarianism. He stood in the breach in Washington against unthinking partisanship. On his watch, a wall fell in Berlin, a dictator’s aggression did not stand.”
Meacham called Bush, “America’s last, great soldier-statesman, a 20th century founding father,” in the tradition of U.S. presidents who believed in causes larger than themselves.
“An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.”
When listening to some clips of President Bush today on a radio retrospective, I heard again the following excerpt from his 1991 State of the Union speech, and tears came to my eyes. Not only was I inspired once more by the simple and uniquely American conservative yet communitarian vision he eloquently communicated, but my heart also grieved deeply, knowing that those who claim to lead us today rarely inspire us like this.
Why have our leaders abandoned prioritizing and proclaiming these ideals? Where is the appeal to the “better angels of our nature?” This call to live and serve one another together in the light of a greater purpose? This call for the strong to raise up the weak and give them the opportunity to share in America’s dreams?
Drink in these remarkable words again…
If anyone tells you America’s best days are behind her, they’re looking the wrong way.
Tonight, I come before this house, and the American people, with an appeal for renewal. This is not merely a call for new government initiatives, it is a call for new initiative in government, in our communities, and from every American – to prepare for the next American century.
America has always led by example. So who among us will set this example? Which of our citizens will lead us in this next American century? Everyone who steps forward today, to get one addict off drugs; to convince one troubled teen-ager not to give up on life; to comfort one AIDS patient; to help one hungry child.
We have within our reach the promise of renewed America. We can find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves – a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light. It is expressed by all who know the irresistible force of a child’s hand, of a friend who stands by you and stays there – a volunteer’s generous gesture, an idea that is simply right.
The problems before us may be different, but the key to solving them remains the same: it is the individual – the individual who steps forward. And the state of our Union is the union of each of us, one to the other: the sum of our friendships, marriages, families and communities.
We all have something to give. So if you know how to read, find someone who can’t. If you’ve got a hammer, find a nail. If you’re not hungry, not lonely, not in trouble – seek out someone who is.
Join the community of conscience. Do the hard work of freedom. That will define the state of our Union.
• President George H.W. Bush, 1991
Stunning, in the light of today’s debased political atmosphere. The contrast is so stark it should be obvious to anyone paying attention.
I did not always agree with President Bush, and I would even say he is responsible for some bad, even shameful things (Willie Horton, anyone?), but the basic decency and humanity of this man cannot be called into questio. In character, experience, genuine patriotism, statesmanship, and demeanor, he was everything we are lacking now in a POTUS and in other governmental officials.
This is the moderation, the gentle good humor, the generosity and kindness balanced with conviction and battle-tested toughness that we so need today. This is the wisdom of someone grounded in family, community, and public service that we lack in so many of our current so-called “leaders.” Unfortunately, his friend Alan Simpson was correct when he quipped, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
Every sentence eulogizing President Bush at his memorial service was a stinging rebuke to today’s politicians, most of whom are unworthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as GHWB.
His son George W. paid him the highest tribute: “To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
Oh, and by the way, today is December 7, when we remember Pearl Harbor.
Will anyone step up in the years to come like Mr. Bush and his peers did during and after that horrific conflict, earning the right to be called “the greatest generation?”
You want to “make America great?”
Give us more people like this.