By Alon Preiss.
As Bush 1 approached his final days – wheelchair bound, illegally groping shocked women and whispering the same lewd joke in their ears (“David Cop-A-Feel!”) – I knew that he would be judged, when he finally succumbed, on one thing.
And I was right.
This, from the New York Times this morning:
[A]t the moment of his passing, it is difficult not to take note of the profound differences between the 41st president of the United States and the current occupant of the White House, Donald Trump.
Has it really come to this? Does every Republican now deserve praise simply because he is not Donald Trump?
Yes, George H.W. Bush was not President Trump.
But let’s remember a few things.
First, his 1988 campaign ushered in the modern era of personal destruction, with its racist Willie Horton advertisements. Contrary to popular memory, this was not merely a Lee Atwater ad to which Bush mildly acquiesced, but it was rather an issue that Bush actively campaigned on. The “pledge of allegiance” non-issue was another wedge that Bush used to paint his opponent, Michael Dukakis, as un-American. (Dukakis was an American of Greek origin.) He let surrogates plant the false rumor that Dukakis had seen a psychiatrist, and stood by as Dukakis was ridiculed as a “cripple.” He ran a similar campaign in 1992 against Bill Clinton, and these two campaigns set the stage for the modern Republican playbook of politics as blood-sport. Presidents Reagan and Ford were tough characters, but they did not run campaigns of character assassination and lies.
So please, as we rush to venerate President Bush, let’s not forget that he ran a presidential campaign that was shocking at the time for its racism, which carried over to his presidency, when he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990.
This, today, from Frank Bruni:
Of course he could be ruthless. He employed one of the nastiest tacticians in politics, Lee Atwater. And that 1988 campaign, against Michael Dukakis, sired the despicably racist Willie Horton ad. But much more remarkable — and much more sustained — was his thoughtfulness.
A repellent sentence if there ever was one. Sure, Bruni acknowledges, Bush intentionally sowed racist divisions in society to win power; but gosh, Bruni assures us, in private, he was such a gentleman! (Other than the compulsive ass-groping, I guess.)
Let’s also please remember opportunism that was stunning in its shamelessness.
When running the primaries in 1979 to 1980, Bush was a pro-choice candidate who called supply-side “voodoo economics.” When tapped by Reagan to be his running mate, he was suddenly a pro-life supply-sider, which he remained throughout his own presidency. (His presidency, incidentally, was not a good one.)
I understand that Bush is dead today, and there is a natural tendency to emphasize the good in a man whom much of the media genuinely liked. And I know that, when we look at the history of the last half-century, my party, the Dems, are not innocent: they made a terrible mistake when they forced Richard Nixon from office, rather than voting to reprimand him. But if you want to understand the root cause of today’s vicious and hopeless political climate, and today’s racist and soulless Republican party, in which non-whites are by definition un-American, and principles are inconveniences to be jettisoned on the path to power, look no further than the man who is being deified in the media today.