George H.W. Bush is dead. This is the first time since Gerald Ford’s death in 2006 that America has lost a president. Bush Senior was the longest-lived president in American history, and was one of only two father-son presidential duos in our nation’s history. (The other being John Adams and John Quincy Adams.) It may be easy for some people to overlook George H.W. Bush; it would be easy to look at the fact that he was a one term president between two very popular two term presidents, the fact that he served as Ronald Reagan’s VP, and that his son had a longer career in office, and say that Bush Sr. was the poor man’s Reagan. But that is not fair; the elder Bush occupied a special time and place in American political history. The world was changing. The Cold War was ending (and finally ended under his administration), and the age of the Internet was about to dawn. He served as the Vice President under Ronald Reagan, one of the most impactful presidents ever, he was our commander in chief for the end of the Cold War, and he fathered George W. Bush. Reagan and Bush Jr. arguably changed the American political landscape more than any other presidents before 2016. Reagan introduced Reaganomics, greatly expanded the military, and changed Cold War foreign policy. Bush Sr’s legacy lies in government surveillance, seemingly endless war in the Middle East, and his iconic line “Read my lips: No new taxes.” (Which he famously reneged on while in office).
Professor Roger Martin [Equinox co-advisor] actually met Bush in 1980. Bush came to New Hampshire during the primary season to campaign while he ran against Reagan.
“Bush was actually the frontrunner at the time, but that same week they had the presidential debate in Nashua, where Reagan made that famous ‘I paid for this microphone’ statement when someone tried to cut him off, and that went viral. After that, Reagan’s campaign took off, and George’s campaign slipped. He was speaking at a rally in Jaffrey after which they offered sleigh rides. I jumped into one of the sleighs, and it happened to be his,” Martin said.
Martin said he was impressed by what Bush was like in a more personal, non-scripted setting, “He was just talking about his family. He couldn’t wait to meet his grandchildren, Jeb’s children. He said ‘I can’t wait to meet my little grandchildren.’ It was so obvious, the love and sincerity he had for these grandchildren. I thought, ‘This is a man that’s real, the personality he puts forth as a gentleman is not phony.’ I knew it was genuine, and that changed how I saw him as a person and as a candidate after that. Ronald Reagan was an actor, so he portrayed characters very well. But George Bush was a gentleman, he always spoke his mind. That always impressed me.”
“Reagan was wildly popular, he had a folksy way, he knew how to make people at ease. I was just never convinced it was him. It was hard to tell where the actor began and the person ended. With George H.W. Bush there was no question that the person you saw on the stage was very much what you saw at home or on the street, and I really admired him for somehow managing to keep that, through all of those decades of public service.”
Martin also expressed his admiration for Bush’s respect for political opponents: “He put politics at arm’s length so that it never became personal. When it was over, that wasn’t held over whoever he was running against, he didn’t hold anything against those who said bad things about him. The fact that he invited the current president to his funeral says a lot about him.”
Bush was more than just the forty-first president. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bush decided to postpone his university studies and enlist in the Navy on his 18th Birthday, where he was one of the youngest American aviators. After leaving the Navy, he attended Yale University before he moved to Texas and became an oil baron. Before he became President, Bush also served as an ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, and a congressman. In 1988 he defeated Michael Dukakis to become the first incumbent Vice President to win the presidential election in over 150 years.
In the wake of Bush’s death, President Donald Trump declared December 5 to be a national day of mourning. All flags in the United States are to be held at half-staff for thirty days after Bush’s death (which will be December 30.) The United States Federal Government held his funerary rites in three stages from December 3 – 6. The first stage was a small, closed ceremony at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Texas. When the ceremony ended, Bush’s remains were loaded onto a plane bound for Joint Base Andrews. Here, Bush was given the Twenty-One gun salute by the U.S. Army Presidential Salute Battery, and the U.S. Air Force Band played “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Bush’s body was brought to the Capitol where he lay in state (when the body of an official is placed in a government building to allow the public to come pay respects) until the morning of December 5. His body was then transported to a funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral. After this, Bush’s remains were flown back to Ellington, where they were then transported by train to the George Bush Presidential Library for a private interment ceremony. This is the first time that the remains of a president have traveled via funerary train since Eisenhower died in 1969.
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