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Outsiders vs. Insiders: George H.W. Bush’s death leaves conservatives reminiscing and wondering

It’s always jarring when news arrives of a former president’s death and this weekend’s announcement that 94-year-old George H.W. Bush succumbed to Father Time was no different. The first Bush president lived just about as full and meaningful a life as any human being possibly could, though it’s still sad to accept H.W. won’t be around any longer to supply fodder for the occasional media human interest story.

HW Bush legacyBush’s death follows wife and former first lady Barbara’s in April of this year. The wheelchair bound president had been in and out of hospitals for years, gamely battling ailments until finally relenting. He will be missed.

Bridget Johnson reported on the sad news at PJ Media, “Seven months after losing the love of his life, President George H.W. Bush, the 41st commander in chief and a World War II hero, passed away today at age 94...

“As president, Bush launched the ‘Points of Light’ initiative to promote volunteerism and community service across the country. His Points of Light foundation now logs 20 million hours of volunteer service per year, equal to $482 million in work hours.

“President Trump and first lady Melania Trump said in a statement that Bush ‘always found a way to set the bar higher’ and guided the nation with ‘sound judgement, common sense, and unflappable leadership. As President, he set the stage for the decades of prosperity that have followed,’ the Trumps said. ‘And through all that he accomplished, he remained humble, following the quiet call to service that gave him a clear sense of direction.’”

Johnson’s article contains the official statements from the Bush family (as headed by George W.), Obamas and Clintons, all predictably profuse in their praise for the dearly departed former commander in chief and all highlighting their feelings of warm friendship towards the man who presided over the end of the Cold War in the early 1990’s.

Absent from the former presidents’ press releases was any hint of partisan rancor that every one of them is renowned for these days. Thankfully, whenever a senior American statesman dies our country’s political elites manage to stow the proverbial hatchet for a few days…or at least until after the funeral and burial. We saw a similar outpouring of emotion and official grief a few months ago when Senator John McCain passed after a long bout with brain cancer.

The same media that savaged McCain in life was over-the-top in praising him after he’d taken his final breath. The goodwill then evaporated at McCain’s funeral which was laced with anti-Trump jabs and barbs, tarnishing what up until then was an appropriately solemn occasion.

It’s yet to be seen how the media handles H.W.’s passing, though with the Bush family’s well noted antipathy to Trump and Congress’s most ardent Reagan revering limited government conservatives (such as Ted Cruz) it should be similar in tone and pervasiveness to McCain’s. We’ll likely hear bucketloads of pontificating about a “bygone era of bipartisan statesmanship and cooperation.” People forget Democrats treated Bush as a disaffected elitist who didn’t care a lick about the “little guy.” The media frequently intimated Bush was an intellectual and privileged lightweight, an accusation they transferred to his son a decade later.

Let’s also not forget liberals introduced the offensive and derisive term “wimp factor,” (from a Newsweek magazine story in October of 1987 and cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s ‘Doonesbury’ comic strip) which not only followed H.W. Bush throughout his presidency but also was attached to Mitt Romney in 2012. The media depicted Bush – and Romney – as “wimps” to make it seem like they couldn’t handle the strain and down-in-the-dirt nastiness being president entails.

Never mind, now. Some things never change in the DC swamp and H.W., though a lifelong diehard Republican and adherent to the party’s basic philosophy, was first and foremost representative of the ruling class establishment.

It’s the one fact that allows the Obamas and the Clintons to speak so kindly of the Bush family these days, like they’re all chums and members of the same club. It’s because they are. Former occupiers of the Oval Office are a small but collegial fraternity, which will be made larger and eminently more fascinating when Donald Trump joins them in two or six years. Watch the sparks fly!

For now, it’s safe to say conservatives are saddened by H.W.’s death but the movement has mixed feelings about his legacy. Lingering memories of the nasty 1980 GOP primary campaign where Bush famously labeled Reagan’s economic proposals “voodoo economics” and the party establishment erecting high barriers to conservatives’ eventual success in nominating and electing Reagan are difficult to suppress.

It’s hard (for some) to remember how Bush was a compromise vice presidential nominee for Reagan who overcame establishment pressure at the 1980 Republican convention to add former President Ford to the ticket and hence create some sort of “co-presidency”. When Reagan got wind the elites were trying to do an end-around on his hard fought and earned nomination he was furious. H.W. Bush was added to the ticket to pacify the stodgy blueblood types and the rest is history.

But for all the hysteria at the 1980 GOP convention Bush might never have been vice president, likely never would’ve ended up the party’s presidential nominee and therefore would’ve never been president. Today, folks would be reminiscing about the ruling elites’ failure to upend Reagan in the 1980 primaries instead of poring over remembrances of the one-term president who soared to then-record approval ratings during the first Iraq War and destruction of the Berlin Wall and then plummeted back to earth after Bush gave in on his promise not to raise taxes.

Bush’s mixed legacy is due to a perceived (and perhaps real) lack of conservative principles. Whereas no one ever doubted Ronald Reagan’s ideological convictions and dedication to the cause of libertarianism and conservatism, folks constantly questioned whether Bush meant what he said. The issue of raising taxes dogged the vice president all throughout the 1988 campaign, leading to his now infamous pledge to “Read my lips, no new taxes!”

During Bush’s convention speech, he said, “I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And The Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, read my lips: no new taxes.”

Americans took Bush’s lips and words seriously and weren’t pleased when the president relented on his promise and allowed congressional Democrats to raise rates. When added to his foreign policy adventurism (by carrying through on a vow to kick Saddam Hussein’s military out of Kuwait… was there really a vital American interest there?), Bush successfully alienated many of those Reaganites who’d reluctantly agreed to back him so as to continue the Gipper’s executive achievements.

There were additional insinuations Bush didn’t campaign very hard for reelection in 1992 and thus opened the door for Bill Clinton to slither through as a plurality president without a mandate who then got right to work installing the vast transformation of American culture that’s weighing heavily on our republic even today. If only Bush kept his word and governed as a conservative, Clinton might’ve been sent slinking back to Arkansas to chase women there instead of DC -- and the country and world would be a better place now.

Despite these pessimisms, H.W. Bush is often credited for presiding over the fall of the Soviet Union. But wasn’t it Reagan’s military build-up, negotiations with Soviet leaders and uncompromising style that speeded the unraveling of the Iron Curtain? Bush was just along for the ride, wasn’t he?

Mikhail Gorbachev begs to differ, apparently. Tyler O’Neil reported at PJ Media, “On Saturday, the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, honored late U.S. president George H.W. Bush, citing specifically his efforts to end the Cold War and the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

“’Many of my memories are linked to him. We happened to work together in years of great changes. It was a dramatic time demanding huge responsibility from everyone. The result was the end of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race,’ Gorbachev said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency. ‘I pay tribute to George Bush's contribution toward this historic achievement. He was a genuine partner.’

“Bush … held talks with Gorbachev, now 87, before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and signed a historic arms control agreement with him.”

All true, and history books will show most of the important dates fell during H.W.’s presidency, such as November 9, 1989 (when the spokesman for East Berlin’s Communist Party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West. Starting at midnight that day, he said, citizens of the GDR were free to cross the country’s borders. Source: This date marked the beginning of the end and eventually to the reunification of Germany.

The nuclear arms race had for all intents and purposes ended years earlier during Reagan’s second term. Though unable to reach an agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons, Reagan and Gorbachev set in motion the movement to severely curtail each nation’s warhead stockpiles and all-but terminate the moment-to-moment threat of mutual nuclear annihilation that’d been in effect for decades.

Bush was therefore the recipient of an enormous pre-packaged political gift courtesy of Reagan’s policies. It also left the United States as the world’s lone effective military superpower, freeing up American might to concentrate on smaller targets and regional conflicts.

Would the first Gulf War (and by extension, George W. Bush’s second Gulf War) have taken place while U.S. attention was concentrated on the much larger threat, a hostile Soviet Union? It’s hard to answer, but the American public’s attitudes towards military intervention began to sour around that time (briefly to recover in the post 9/11/01 period).

With the United States still entangled in a multitude of Middle East conflicts (connected to H.W.’s original military adventurism) it’s hard to figure how this story ends. Bill Clinton won two terms, then George W. Bush served two and Obama took over for eight more long years before the ascendancy of Donald Trump. As everyone knows the Clintons are still around, with former first lady Hillary morphing into a perpetual Democrat presidential candidate.

Even after being trounced by Trump in 2016, Hillary’s still being floated by family friends and political allies as a potential contender for 2020. For her part, she’s doing nothing to put down the rumors of desiring another try at White House-inspired immorality. Amie Parnes reported at The Hill, “Hillary Clinton is increasingly weighing in on critical political events, keeping her name in the news and doing little to dampen speculation that she might once again run for president. While Clinton associates insist the 2016 Democratic nominee is not running again, she has refused to rule out the possibility herself in interviews…

“On the 13-city paid speaking tour with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the former Democratic nominee has also weighed in on other news-of-the-day items, a platform that keeps her rivalry with Trump going more than two years after the end of the brutal 2016 race…

“Even those who worked on the campaign and longtime Clinton allies have been left wondering why the Clintons are on the speaking circuit. ‘Stupid tour,’ one longtime ally dubbed it. But some Clinton allies say she deserves to weigh in on issues because of her place in history.”

In other words, nearly two decades after leaving the presidency the Clintons still have people speculating and wondering what they’re going to do. Like a weed resistant to chemical eradication Bill & Hill keep cropping up in the cracks of America’s political sidewalks.

People closest to her swear Hilary’s not crazy enough to endure the humbling and humiliating process again, realizing the Democrat field is already packed to the hilt and her chances of getting the nomination again are slim.

Here’s thinking Hillary’s preserving her option to be “drafted” as an emergency replacement candidate when the rest of the party contenders tear each other to shreds and their negative ratings rise to her level. Face it, the Democrat establishment would never accept a “senile old coot” like Bernie Sanders and the upstart minority candidates (Corey Booker, Kamala Harris, “Pocahontas” Warren, “Beto” O’Rourke, et al.) aren’t electable. Barack Obama they are not.

Naked ambition and ego shouldn’t be mistaken for stupidity. Hillary ain’t going away and the longer she remains in the spotlight the better it is for President Trump and Republicans.

Political scholars are only starting to decipher the lasting political legacy of George H.W. Bush. His death may speed deliberations but it will be years before Bush’s full impact is appreciated (or condemned). For now, it’s enough to say Bush was a fine man and dedicated public servant.

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