Character and Leadership

Published: December 1, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle.”      – George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. President

There are people in our lives who, despite not personally knowing, cause you to feel connected to them. It comes through their words and their character.

President George H.W. Bush was that kind of man and president. And you can see it, right from the beginning, in his inaugural address.

We meet on democracy’s front porch. A good place to talk as neighbors and as friends. For this is a day when our nation is made whole, when our differences, for a moment, are suspended. And my first act as President is a prayer.

How many presidents had their first words in office begun with a prayer?

Nonetheless, his words cause us to re-imagine a world of new opportunities where democracy was taking root around the world.

For the first time in this century, for the first time in perhaps all history, man does not have to invent a system by which to live. We don’t have to talk late into the night about which form of government is better. We don’t have to wrest justice from the kings. We only have to summon it from within ourselves. We must act on what we know. I take as my guide the hope of a saint: In crucial things, unity; in important things, diversity; in all things, generosity.

He saw America for what it was, a model of freedom – resolute, forthright.

America today is a proud, free nation, decent and civil, a place we cannot help but love. We know in our hearts, not loudly and proudly but as a simple fact, that this country has meaning beyond what we see, and that our strength is a force for good.

And this, perhaps, is the sum of the Bush Doctrine.

America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world. My friends, we have work to do.

He spoke openly of bipartisanship as a true partnership.

To my friends, and, yes, I do mean friends — in the loyal opposition and, yes, I mean loyal — I put out my hand. I am putting out my hand to you, Mr. Speaker. I am putting out my hand to you, Mr. Majority Leader. For this is the thing: This is the age of the offered hand. … But when our fathers were young, Mr. Speaker, our differences ended at the water’s edge. … the Congress and the Executive were capable of working together…. The American people await action. They didn’t send us here to bicker. They ask us to rise above the merely partisan. ‘In crucial things, unity’ — and this, my friends, is crucial.

In closing, Bush urges all of us to commit to optimism and “high moral purpose.”

Some see leadership as high drama and the sound of trumpets calling, and sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity — shared, and written, together.

American has lost a man who served the highest ideals of the presidency: thoughtful, respectful, dedicated to service to country; a man of grace, character and leadership.

It might be helpful for congressional Republicans to re-read President Bush’s words to understand what they all once stood for and can again.


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