Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Poppy Revisited



I can remember the night of the 1992 election vividly. At that time I was a very active Democrat (a malady that I've since completely recovered from). I had only recently moved back to my home town after living all over the country for thirteen years. On that night a small crowd of us were gathered around a television set at the Democratic Headquarters in Goshen. When the news of the election of Bill Clinton was announced late into the evening, I was the happiest guy in town. When the soon-to-be ex-president made his emotional concession speech at around 11:30, I let out a hearty, "Fuck You, George!" My friend, the recently deceased Pat O'Dwyer, rightfully chastised me for my insensitive comment. I was definitely a sore winner on Election Night 1992. If I know me (as vaguely do) I was probably a bit intoxicated as well.
 
Hindsight is a strange thing. I really do wish Bush 41 had been reelected then. Had that happened I would probably (but not certainly) still be a Democrat. The damage that Bill (and Hillary) Clinton did to that party by moving it rightward was a shame that I'm still dealing with over a quarter of a century later. After five years of Clinton I reregistered as a member of the Green Party. When I started this blog in 2006 I became a Blank. I thought it best to have no party affiliations whatsoever.

George and "Bar"
Since the passing of George H.W. Bush on November 30, a lot of misty-eyed nostalgia has been directed at the one term he served as chief executive. It's true that he was genuinely loved by many and for good reason: he was obviously a kind and decent man  who inspired much devotion among his friends and family. It is quite easy to look fondly at his time as president because, since his administration ceased to be on January 20, 1993, the bar has been set so low that it's easy to look back on his presidency positively. The fact of the matter is that the legacy of the elder Bush is not all positive.

I really don't enjoy vomiting into the punch bowl during this otherwise lovely party, but in this morning's paper, the Associated Press took note of the fact that there are very few African Americans filing past the late president's coffin in the rotunda. There's a jolly good reason for that.

Bush, like every other Republican president since Dick Nixon, had been perfectly willing and eager to give a gentle nudge-nudge and wink-wink to white American racists. This can be traced to the 1988 campaign he waged against Massachusetts governor Mike Dukakis (whatever became of that guy?) During that run Bush approved a television ad that showed scores of prisoners - most of them black - walking through a revolving door. Superimposed over this scene was the dark and menacing face of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who, inexplicably, had been allowed to participate in a prison furlough program. He escaped and, before he was captured, he raped a woman and nearly killed her husband. The fact that the practice had been initiated by Dukakis' predecessor - and the fact that he had put an end to the furlough program - didn't matter a bit to the Bush campaign. Although the ad was quickly yanked it had done its job: it scared the shit out of white America.

That is not to imply that Willie Horton sealed the fate of Mike Dukakis; his fate was firmly sealed on the night he was nominated by the Democrats as their standard-bearer for 1988. The truth is simply that he was a terrible candidate, almost as bad as Hillary Clinton would prove to be twenty-eight years later. He was a good person (as was Bush and Clinton I'm sure) but I don't believe that he would have been all-that-great a chief executive. Had he been inaugurated in 1989 I might very well have left that useless party years before I did. One never knows, does one.

One of the worst scandals in American political history was Iran Contra. That some real, consequential crimes were committed is beyond dispute. Bush saw to it that no one connected to it was ever punished for their crimes. When he took office, he issued enough pardons to sweep the matter under the rug of history.

Then there were Poppy's economic policies. Like Ronald Reagan before him, his treatment of the poor and working  classes were (and I'll be polite in choosing my words) misguided. What used to annoy me more than anything was his positive obsession with doing away with the capitol gains tax for a class of people (like himself) who already had more money than they could possibly spend in three lifetimes.

But George H.W. Bush's most lasting and harmful legacy was his numbskull kid. On the night George W. Bush was elected in 2000, I thought that America had hit rock bottom. I was wrong. Apparently, "rock bottom" has a ten-level cellar. Although it is unfair to personally blame the father for the real and lasting damage that the son did to this once-great nation, the fact of the matter is that if he hadn't been elected in 1988 - or, paradoxically, had he been reelected in '92 - George W. Bush might this afternoon be merely a footnote in his father's obituary.

I remember a few years into his son's presidency, Poppy was giving an address to a group somewhere when he started to talk about his son, Jeb. Without warning, the old man became emotional and started to sob. I knew then and there what he was thinking. This was about four years into the Iraq War, and by then it was obvious that it was the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. It was tragically apparent (to me at least) that the father was haunted by the thought that Jeb should have been the son to have been elected to the presidency; that the Bush name would be tarnished throughout all history by young George's corruption and incompetence. It was a gut-wrenching thing to behold. For the first time in my life I felt a sincere sense of compassion and sympathy for George H.W. Bush. 

In late 2015, when it seemed certain that Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee for president the following year, I wrote a piece on this site decrying what a dreadful thing something like a third Bush administration would be for the United States. What a difference three years makes. I would move Heaven and Earth to have Jeb in the Oval Office at this moment.

Let's give President Bush his due: Newsweek's infamous "Wimp Factor" headline from 1988 was inappropriate at all levels. The man enlisted in the Navy on June 12, 1942, his eighteenth birthday, and flew quite a number of dangerous missions; getting shot down and almost killed at one time. He only survived by the astronomically improbable fact that a nearby American submarine took him in. Agree with him or not, he was a dedicated public servant who might have spent the rest of his life holed up at his pad in Kennebunkport getting richer still. One more thing needs not to be overlooked. During the GOP convention of 1988 he famously said: 

READ MY LIPS; NO NEW TAXES!
 
The economic mess he inherited from Ronald Reagan forced him to break that pledge two years into his presidency. It was a brave thing to do, and it more-than-likely cost him the election in 1992. Because of this, Clinton inherited the first economic surplus in decades. Did the JFK Library ever tender to Bush 41 their annual Profiles In Courage Award? I hope they did. He deserved it.

I don't think that George H.W. Bush was a "great" president. Like all chiefs executive he leaves behind a mixed record. But he was underappreciated (at least by me) during his time on this earth, and he deserves, at the very least, a tip of the hat. Compared to what's come along in the thirty years he left Washington, he's starting to look pretty good.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Kevin Kelly
January 4, 1957 - November 17, 2018 

When I was in grade school I was fortunate enough to meet a kid called Kevin Kelly. Kevin inspired me by his love of the beauty of the printed word, the English language and the joy and wonder of knowledge and learning. Kevin also exposed me to the brilliance of the great practitioners of the lost art of radio comedy‚Äôs golden age - particularly Fred Allen and Jack Benny. He instilled in me my passion for history. No one, I think, had a greater influence on my early life and the direction I would take as a writer than he. Kevin Kelly passed away at 2:30 PM, November 17, 2018, at his home in Vinton, Ohio. He is survived by his wife of twenty years, Beth.

Give me some time to adjust to this.

9 Comments:

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...

"Hindsight is a strange thing. I really do wish Bush 41 had been reelected then. Had that happened I would probably (but not certainly) still be a Democrat. The damage that Bill (and Hillary) Clinton did to that party by moving it rightward was a shame that I'm still dealing with over a quarter of a century later."

I agree with you on this Tom...except it is not the direction they moved their party but the selfish corruption they introduced into American politics that is the shame.

The first person to mention the Massachusetts furlough program that Dukakis used was in the 1988 presidential campaign by Al Gore.

 
At 6:25 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"One of the worst scandals in American political history was Iran Contra. That some real, consequential crimes were committed is beyond dispute. Bush saw to it that no one connected to it was ever punished for their crimes." ~~ Tom Degan

Tom, when I read the title of your post, my first thought was, oh Jesus, here we go with another non-stop honorary tribute to an ex-president who had plenty of crimes and skeletons in his secret closet.

I was pleasantly surprised that you touched upon the dark and sinister side of 41. What else would one presume of a former CIA director? I mean, really.

 
At 7:02 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I'll always remember him for being instramental in passing, and eventual signing of the ADA, a civil rights issue to be sure.

 
At 8:35 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...

I noticed there were more people at GHW Bush's service than attended the Clinton Magical Money Tour.

 
At 5:10 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"...it is not the direction [the Democrats] moved their party but the selfish corruption they introduced into American politics that is the shame." ~~ Just the Facts! (aka Majormajor, and in daily life as Timothy L. Trueblood)

So I assume you agree that Donald Trump and the GOP have escalated that "selfish corruption" to soaring heights? Yet, you continue to revere and support. [head shaking]

It's the prejudice and hate, isn't it? That's the icing on the corruption cake, right? ;-)

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger TB3 said...

I noticed there were more people at Obama's inauguration than Trump's.

What's your point, JTF?

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

I recall Bush 41 falsely saying he was "out of the loop" of the Iran Contra mess.

I also recall his suppression of Casey's pre-election meeting with Iranians in Madrid. This was their famous "October Surprise" collusion.

It is what Republicans do. They are almost all cheaters and liars.

 
At 7:00 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

"I'll always remember him for being instramental in passing, and eventual signing of the ADA, a civil rights issue to be sure." ~~ Unknown (better known as "T. Paine")

He was forced to, after his callous and mocking statement toward the hearing impaired during the 1992 Republican Convention: "Read my lips, no new taxes"

For more than the obvious reason, he should have fired Peggy Noonan as his speechwriter after that insensitive remark.

 
At 6:25 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

My apologies. 41 signed the ADA legislation near the beginning of his term in office - before his insensitive "read my lips" remark.

I wonder what his motivation was to sign this legislation into law? Republicans have never been the type to care about the less fortunate, the downtrodden, or those handicapped due to injury, war or genetic reasons -
especially if from lower socioeconomic strata and/or of color.

There had to be some other reason. I'm guessing there was a political trade-off.

 

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