The American Moral Leader

Source: New York Times

George H. W. Bush, the 41st American President, was no ordinary politician or public servant. More than a surviving World War II veteran, Congressman, Ambassador, CIA Director, and Vice President, he was a man who knew the importance of doing the right thing, despite the odds. Whether it cost him political mileage and popularity, though at one time he enjoyed an approval rating of 84%, and whether it meant turning popular opinion against him, he stuck to what he believed was in the best interest of the American people, the American Empire, and, most importantly, democracy.

This is the reason why I think George H. W. Bush is one of the most important Presidents of our times and is surely one of my favorites. He took it upon himself despite strong opposition on Capitol Hill to initiate action against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and managed to build an international coalition. He also showed the world of the right way to do it through the Security Council and withdrew once Iraq surrendered in Kuwait, even though criticized for letting Saddam regime survive in Baghdad, probably unfinished business that his son would complete in 2003.

His realization to do the right thing also guided him to be open to bipartisanship, leading to a number of important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air Act and balanced budget deals despite his unrealistic campaign promise of no new taxes. He was not exactly a libertarian Republican out of touch with fiscal realities, after all, a hint many might get if they revisit his primary run against Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was also instrumental in negotiating the landmark North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, later to be concluded by President Bill Clinton.

While his approach to domestic issues can be considered rather vague, emotional, and hollow, with perhaps an exaggerated focus on “a thousand points of light,” one which a progressive Democrat could easily destroy as Clinton did in 1992, his vision for the world was unmistakably clear and resolute. Something that the opposition has barely had an answer to since Ronald Reagan. Carrying forward his legacy, George Bush knew what he was doing from the moment he took the oath.

In today’s America that is rapidly falling into the pit of isolationism and nationalism that borders on fascism, the words and actions of President George Bush remain as relevant as they were at the end of the Cold War. A great moment in history, albeit inevitable but one that he worked on in the Reagan administration. He had warned us about the threat of rising terrorism. He had warned us about the threat to liberal democracies. But most of all, he told us about the value of freedom, free speech, and free markets. The ideals of republicanism.

It is important to remember President George Bush because he was a great Republican leader. A party of great ideas that has descended today in petty populism and defending a disgraced Presidency. It is important to remember his stress on a gentler and kinder Republican party in which conservatism need not be synonymous with heartlessness. Today, people are reminded of his Presidency as a time of decency compared to the vicious circus of the Trump administration.

But most important of all, he took action when it mattered. One of the most underappreciated aspects of his leadership was his brilliant foreign policy and its continued legacy in terms of American leadership. He offered his internationalist vision of a new world order that aligned with American values and interests, something which appears to be fading since the end of his son’s term.

Having inherited massive deficits from President Reagan, his fiscal pragmatism, despite his rather misleading rhetoric of “read my lips,” his bipartisan budget deals helped pave way for Clinton’s golden fiscal era of budget surpluses. His letter to President Clinton initiated a beautiful Presidential tradition, indicative of his bipartisanship and fair-mindedness. Many liberals praise him today, but his legacy is still as misunderstood as the more liberal side of conservatism is. That precious centrism is sadly evaporating from the American politics which is giving way to more vicious, albeit passionate, forces on both extreme left and right. What remains underappreciated is the commitment of centrists like him to find the most reasonable path to social harmony and economic prosperity. This talk from Council on Foreign Relations featuring Jon Meacham and John Sununu sheds light on areas often ignored about George Bush.

George Bush for all his qualities and an extremely qualified resume, remained flawed in his handling of domestic affairs, inappropriate in expressing empathy at times, failing to inspire when the economy was down, and being convincing enough to retain the Presidency. However, his name will always remain a shining beacon of a quality that America has been losing for the past decade.

America’s moral leadership.

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