The passing of President George H.W. Bush should bring with it a measure of sadness, reflection and gratitude.
Not sadness that this old man had a long life, surrounded by those he loved the most, in a nation he cherished and honored with a lifetime of service.
At 94 years of age, with his wife having left this earthly place eight months earlier, I imagine that President Bush was prepared to leave his body behind and reconnect his soul with Barbara.
The sadness I feel is his memory, work and lifetime of service will be celebrated brilliantly for the next few days and then replaced with the ugliness and selfishness of our current day political reality.
We should reflect on this man’s service — and the values he instilled in his children, and his children’s children — to do more, to do better and to do always.
I write this blog as I sit next to my 18-year old son, surrounded by men and women who have served this nation, at the International Symposium and Conference on World War II in New Orleans at the World War II Museum.
In front of me are a few scant living men and women from World War II — the same generation as George H.W. Bush — who listen to a history they fought and lived and survived almost 75 years ago.
I reflect on their service, as does my son, and we are honored and privileged to be in this place with them – in a country they served — for a cause they fought for —and a world they saved for us to inherit every single breathing moment since then.
George H.W. Bush served, fought for and saved America all the days of his adult life.
He will not be remembered as the best President, nor the worst, but he may well be remembered as being one of the most selfless men to hold the office.
He wielded the power of President in a way brought nations together in war, and in peace, and should remind us that leadership matters. Always.
President Bush lost his re-election campaign for a lot of reasons.
He made promises he did not keep. He lacked political skills that his opponents possessed in spades. He was a Cold War Warrior in a world in which Americans were tired and worn out by foreign conflict and existential threats.
At the time he was President I don’t know that I thought he was a great guy. In fact, I thought he was a disaster as President.
I joined thousands dancing to Fleetwood Mac in New York when Bill Clinton was nominated to run for President by Democrats and was captivated by his youth, energy and enthusiasm.
The contrast between the two could not have been more stark.
George H.W. Bush was the past. Bill Clinton was the future.
I don’t regret my vote for Clinton. Every generation comes and goes in America.
It has always been that way. It will be that way again.
Those who swept Donald Trump into power in 2016, kept Republicans in the Senate in 2018 and replaced them with Democrats in the House, will soon find their political will replaced by a new generation of Americans.
I don’t have any specific memory of George H.W. Bush that springs to my mind this morning. No picture of me shaking his hand. There’s not an event I went to that lit a fire that moved me to reflect on the life of this American President.
Death brings closure to life. From death springs reflection on the life of those who go to their eternal rest. That’s where I find myself at this moment.
Reflection that at this brutal and vicious time of political life in America we desperately need a “kinder, gentler nation.”
A nation in which our political leaders remember that public service is supposed to be about serving the public. That building America’s future requires we bring all Americans along. An America in which an election shouldn’t be reason to settle old scores, and start new divisions.
George H.W. Bush climbed into a plane, nearly 60 times, and flew combat missions because he so loved America he was willing to give his life for it.
He ran for President because he so loved American he was willing to serve it.
When he lost the most powerful office on the face of the Earth, George H.W. Bush didn’t trash his office — break keyboards — unplug computers — or belittle the man who would soon occupy the place he once sat and controlled the enormous levers of Presidential power.
Instead he left a handrwritten note for Bill Clinton that ended like this: “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is now our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good Luck.”
Bush knew then, as I am sure he knew in his last moments on Earth, that America’s promise is not kept by one man. Or one election.
It’s held by each and everyone of us.
The country we want is the country we are going to leave behind. Each and everyone of us. What we do. What we don’t do. What we decide to do with and for one another will define America’s future.
This morning, on my right sits my 18 year old son, PO3 Owen Francis Mische of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadets and Deputy Brigade Commander of the Cretin-Derham JROTC Raider Brigade — on my left sits World War II Veteran of the Merchant Marines LTJG Ralph Krump.
Seventy-six years separate these two men — one young, one old — but what brings them together is the same thing that has brought Americans together time and agile again: The powerful idea that freedom and liberty is something that is the birthright of all human beings.
George H.W. Bush leaves behind an America that is no less of that idea for billions of human beings across the world.
What we, each of us, do to keep that idea alive long after his death may be the best way for us to honor his memory and his service and his sacrifice.
We can find a way forward to work with one another to live up to the promise of our Founders. To send a message to our critics across the world that the light of freedom and democracy may dim from time to time but it will never be extinguished.
George H.W. Bush once called for Americans to be like a “thousand points of light.”
All it takes is for one of us to be willing to be the first one to light the wick.