American Leadership

Published: December 5, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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Words of tribute for our 41st president, George H.W. Bush, continue to lead the news.

Generous. Humble. Caring – a president who favored consensus over partisanship; “His kindness and civility cloaked a competitiveness,” son Jeb Bush and close friend James A. Baker III write in The Washington Post (Dec. 4). “The two of us never met a man as remarkable as George Herbert Walker Bush. We never will again.”

An email from a friend and former Bush White House staff member read:

“I remember President Bush as a kind man, who led with dignity, compassion, integrity and great honor. A forgiving man. I only knew him on the periphery, a few interactions but ones that touched me deeply.”

We have lost two eminent leaders this past year: Senator John McCain and President George H.W. Bush; both Republicans, both formidable in their own way.

Both were war veterans: Bush from World War II; McCain from Vietnam.

Both nearly died during their service: Bush in a plane crash which took the lives of the two men who flew with him; McCain suffered torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors.

Both served for decades in Washington: McCain as a congressman from Arizona before serving as a six-term Senator.

Bush served as a congressman from Texas for 14 years, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. before being appointed Chief U.S. Liaison Office to China. After losing the presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan, he became Reagan’s vice-president for two terms before successfully achieving the presidency in 1988.

Both Bush and McCain enjoyed a sense of humor:

“…this morning I’ve dismissed my entire team…. All of their positions will now be held by a man named ‘Joe the Plumber.’ ” – John McCain

“I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” – George H. W. Bush

Both could be inspiring:

“Be bold in your caring, be bold in your dreaming and above all else, always do your best.” – George H.W. Bush

“Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them again.” – John McCain

Upon learning of the death of McCain this past August, Mr. Bush wrote:

“John McCain was a patriot of the highest order, a public servant of rarest courage. Few sacrificed more for, or contributed more to, the welfare of his fellow citizens — and indeed freedom-loving peoples around the world.”

On the death of H.W. Bush, Meghan McCain wrote:

“A member of the greatest generation and a hero in his own right. A true friend to the entire McCain family.”

Both men were two of only 32 individuals who have lain in state in the U.S. Capitol.

McCain specifically requested that President Trump not attend his state funeral. In spite of a combative relationship between Trump and the Bush family, Mr. Bush requested that President Trump attend his service.

“For Bush 41, Trump is the president,” historian Douglas Brinkley writes, “and he does not want to stiff a sitting president, so in his own way, it is magnanimous that he is having Melania and Donald Trump come.”

This year, the country lost two patriotic, and principled men whose commitment to public service remains two of the best examples of American leadership.

Who will take their place?


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