• George H.W. Bush, 41st president and war hero, dies at 94

    By Todd J. Gillman and Carl P. Leubsdorf, The Dallas Morning News -

    WASHINGTON (TNS) — Former President George Bush, a war hero who as the commander in chief presided over momentous global changes and eventually became the father of another president, died Friday at 94.

    Bush died just after 10 p.m. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time, spokesman Jim McGrath said.

    “George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for,” former President George W. Bush said in a written statement. “The entire Bush family is deeply grateful for 41’s life and love, for the compassion of those who have cared and prayed for Dad, and for the condolences of our friends and fellow citizens.”

    His health already fragile, the heartbreak of losing his first lady and wife of 73 years hit hard. Barbara Bush died on April 17 at age 92. He was hospitalized a day after the funeral with a serious blood infection but recovered.

    As the nation’s 41st commander in chief, Bush presided during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the turning back of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, with a deftness honed as a diplomat and CIA chief.

    But he was ousted after one term, his popularity sapped after an extended recession and anger over the breaking of his “no new taxes” pledge – a turning point that continues to reverberate in Washington budget fights.

    For more than two decades after that, he was a senior statesman, forming a friendship with the Democrat who defeated him, Bill Clinton, and seeing his family firmly cemented as one of the nation’s political dynasties.

    As Barbara Bush told friends: “He may not be able to keep a job but he’s certainly not boring,” Susan Garrett Baker, wife of Bush secretary of state James Baker, recalled at the former first lady’s funeral.

    He was frail at the wedding of granddaughter Barbara Bush on Oct. 7, held at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.

    Bush was the son of a two-term U.S. senator from Connecticut. He would become only the second president, after John Adams, whose son followed him to the White House. George W. Bush of Dallas, a two-term Texas governor, became the nation’s 43rd chief executive eight years after his father’s defeat. A younger son, Jeb Bush, served as governor of Florida and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination, an also-ran swept away by the candidacy of Donald Trump.

    Bush viewed government as a “noble calling,” as former President Gerald Ford remarked at the 1997 opening of the Bush presidential library at Texas A&M University, which also houses the Bush School of Government and Public Service.

    “In George Bush’s America, civility is never confused with weakness, nor are political differences mistaken for a holy war,” said Ford, who died in 2006. “In George Bush’s America, there are no political enemies, merely adversaries, who may disagree with you on one day and yet be with you on the next roll call.”

    “His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling,” President Barack Obama, a Democrat, said in February 2011, as he bestowed a Medal of Freedom on Bush – the nation’s highest civilian honor – at an emotional White House ceremony. Obama lauded Bush for “service and sacrifice” and spoke of his “humility and decency.”

    “This is a gentleman, inspiring citizens to become points of light in service to others,” he said.

    When Bush turned 85 in 2009, he jumped from a plane – tandem – landed on his own lawn in Maine, and promptly planted a kiss on his bride. He made one last jump at 90. In later years he became known for colorful socks. He wore a pair adorned with books to Barbara’s funeral, a reminder of her devotion to the cause of literacy, and his devotion to her.

    “Our family has had a front-row seat for the most amazing love story,” Jeb Bush said at his mom’s funeral.

    The incivility of Washington and the coarseness of the 45th president were not pleasing developments for Bush. Trump had belittled “low energy Jeb” during the 2016 presidential race, driving him from the field early.

    Bush told a biographer that Trump lacked the “humility” required of a good president. He called his eventual successor a “blowhard,” and cast his own ballot for the Democrat, Hillary Clinton – a remarkable gesture for a man who’d chaired the national GOP.

    1988 landslide

    Bush won the presidency in a 1988 landslide after serving eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.

    Historians consign him to a modest place in history, calling Bush a footnote to the more significant two-term presidency of Reagan.

    “He really is a third-term president whose basic role was to consolidate the gains of the Reagan era,” said George Edwards, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M and, for a decade, director of the university’s Center for Presidential Studies.

    “In terms of his goals, which were modest, and the situation he inherited, George Bush has to be considered at least an adequate president with a decent record,” Edwards said. “But when it comes to the needs of the times, his rating may fall lower. There were genuine needs, and Bush was not oriented toward meeting them.”

    Stephen Hess, a former Republican White House aide who studies the presidency at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, said Bush will be remembered as “a transition president. … He came at the end of a conservative cycle in American history and after a very innovative president who will be remembered in history.”

    Unlike many presidents, Bush never wrote his memoirs, and he rarely commented on issues involving his presidency or those that came afterward, in part to avoid complicating his sons’ political careers.

    During the presidency of George W. Bush, some of his father’s former aides were outspoken against the invasion of Iraq. But the elder Bush avoided the spotlight and kept any input or complaints private. Occasional reports surfaced of instances in which his advice had been influential, such as after the younger Bush reached an agreement with China to return the crew of a downed U.S. plane in April 2001.

    And he noted from time to time that the economic boom that buoyed the Clinton presidency started on his watch.

    “The decisions he made have stood the test of time,” the younger Bush told The Dallas Morning News in November 2014, after he wrote “41: A Portrait of My Father,” a unique biography with one president as author and another as subject.

    The research, said the younger Bush, left him impressed by his dad’s “willingness to take risks” – joining the Navy during World War II, heading to West Texas to find fortune, and seeking a Senate seat in Texas when Republicans were nearly nonexistent.

    He described a loving, nurturing home that gave the Bush children room to take risks of their own.

    “Jeb and I would not have decided to run for office had he been a lousy father,” George W. Bush said.

    A few days after his defeat, the elder Bush expressed the hope that “history will record that the Bush administration has served America well.”

    “America has led the world through an age of global transition,” he said. “We’ve made the world safer for our kids, and the real fruits of our global victory are yet to be tasted.”

    For admirers, “gracious” and “decent” were always apt descriptions. He was known throughout his life for personal hand-written notes.

    But his patrician manner left him politically vulnerable. A 1987 Newsweek cover story questioning his ability to overcome “the wimp factor” damaged him, as did his purported amazement at a grocery store price scanner during his 1992 re-election bid.

    The Bushes returned to Houston after leaving the White House, living there during the winter and spending summers in Kennebunkport.

    After a devastating tsunami hit Indonesia, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush worked closely on relief efforts with the man who had ousted him. He and Clinton became so close that George W. Bush began to quip that Clinton had become like the son his father had always wanted.

    In March 2011, at a Kennedy Center gala promoting Bush’s call to volunteerism, Clinton recalled that Bush’s only request after the 1992 election was that Clinton preserve the “Points of Light” initiative – a program that evolved into AmeriCorps.

    “I realized all over again how much we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter,” Clinton said.

    In fall 2017, complaints that he had groped a number of women as he posed with him for photos marred Bush’s image. He’d developed a habit of asking for their favorite magician and then providing the answer – “David Cop-a-Feel!”

    “To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke – and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner,” his office said in October 2017. “Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

    Bush had a number of serious health scares, including a two-month hospitalization in late 2012. His bright pink socks were hard to miss at the dedication of his son’s presidential library in Dallas the next April and that June, when he turned 89 – a milestone many had worried he wouldn’t reach – his own library encouraged visitors to wear “exuberant socks.” Fans posted photos with their wackiest pairs, with the hashtag #41s89th.

    The GOP capitalized on the outpouring by selling socks adorned with elephants and signed by Bush.

    Leadership style

    Critics accused Bush of offering timid leadership on many major issues, especially at home. And Bush acknowledged a preference for prudence and caution.

    Still, he showed a flair for the dramatic.

    He secretly arranged a 1989 summit conference with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He sent troops to oust Panamanian strong man Manuel Noriega. And he presided over the nation’s swiftest, most successful military campaign in decades as a U.S.-led coalition liberated Kuwait after an invasion by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

    Bush also encouraged a series of dramatic changes in Europe, starting with the Soviet Union’s decision to end four decades of control over Eastern Europe and climaxing with the dramatic upheaval that saw the chief U.S. adversary break up into 12 independent republics.

    Bush was elected in 1988 after a bitterly partisan campaign that some said would make it difficult for him to govern. But he quickly forged close working relationships with top congressional Democrats and won strong popular support.

    At home, he combined his predecessor’s conservative policies with his own “kinder, gentler” tone.

    In sharp contrast to Reagan, he proved to be a hands-on president who personally shaped and articulated most of his administration’s key decisions.

    By doing more himself, Bush downgraded the importance of the White House staff. He made presidential interaction with the press routine, holding frequent news conferences.

    Where Reagan’s initial focus had been on domestic programs, Bush put his emphasis on foreign policy – something that came as no surprise, considering that his long resume included stints as ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China and CIA director.

    He spent countless hours on the phone, building personal ties with world leaders. He hosted foreign leaders in novel ways, taking Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to a baseball game and Jordan’s King Hussein on a Potomac River yacht cruise. He brought French President Francois Mitterrand and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, among others, to his home in Kennebunkport.

    The networking paid off in 1990 and 1991. With support from even the Soviet Union, Bush made unprecedented use of the United Nations in laying the basis for the campaign to liberate Kuwait.

    Economic slump

    Bush proved less successful in continuing the economic prosperity that marked much of Reagan’s tenure.

    National economic growth hit lows not seen since the Hoover administration 60 years earlier. The last two years of Bush’s term were marred by the most stubborn recession since World War II, and his approval rating plummeted from 90 percent at the end of the Persian Gulf War to below 50 percent.

    He tried to jump-start his popularity – and the economy – by calling in his 1992 State of the Union speech for Americans to bring the same common purpose to economic problems as they did to the war.

    But public doubts remained. He faced a spirited primary challenge from conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, who held Bush to a lackluster victory in the kick-off New Hampshire primary. Buchanan dropped out without a single win.

    More damaging was the challenge from independent candidate Ross Perot, the Dallas billionaire businessman. Once Clinton secured the Democratic nomination, Bush’s lead vanished. On Election Day, he drew just 37.4 percent of the vote, the worst showing by a president seeking re-election in 80 years.

    Perot drew 19 percent – enough, in the view of many Republicans, to have cost Bush the election. Clinton drew 43 percent and a comfortable 370-168 Electoral College victory.

    Before turning over the White House, Bush had work to do. He sent 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia to guarantee the safety of food shipments, and he completed a second strategic arms reduction treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

    New England upbringing

    George Herbert Walker Bush was born in Milton, Mass., on June 12, 1924.

    Though they had New England roots, Bush’s parents grew up in the Midwest. His father, Prescott Bush, was born in Columbus, Ohio, and met his future wife, Dorothy Walker, in St. Louis, where he was working for Simmons Hardware Co. after graduating from Yale and Harvard Law School.

    She had been born in Maine, where her family had the big summer home that became Bush’s favorite vacation spot.

    Like predecessors Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, Bush had a privileged upbringing – education at Greenwich Country Day School, Phillips Academy at Andover, Mass., and Yale University.

    His boyhood heroes were Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and well-known athletes. Bush was the first baseman and captain for his Yale baseball team and played in the first College World Series. He often went with his father to Yankee Stadium to watch his idol, Lou Gehrig.

    His mother, Bush later recalled, taught him “Christian values. She was very religious in that sense. And she taught us sportsmanship, to do your best, work hard. Kindness. And she’s interested in the other person.”

    Bush picked up on that early, becoming known for his generosity even as a boy. Young George would turn to the person next to him and say, “Here, have half,” and his mother nicknamed him “Have Half.”

    Another nickname that stuck was “Poppy,” acquired apparently because that’s what Bush would call his grandfather.

    The main thing he got from his parents, he made clear in a 1986 interview, was not money but values.

    His father, who died in 1972, “was a tremendous influence on my life,” Bush said. “He taught me such things as: Do what’s right. Stand for something. Put something back into the system. Help others. The whole philanthropic thing, doing stuff for the community and the country.”

    It’s an idea that he brought to his presidency when he launched the “Points of Light” program to encourage and reward volunteerism.

    Bush’s father represented Connecticut for 10 years in the Senate. But when he was growing up, Bush noted, his father was involved mainly in local politics.

    “Everybody always says, ‘You learned politics at the knee of your father,'” Bush said. “But I wasn’t involved in that at all. And he didn’t run (for public office) until 1950, and we were in Texas by that time.”

    Bush said that as a boy he didn’t have a clear sense of what he wanted to do in life. “But I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to stay in the financial markets in New York. I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to achieve something,” he said.

    World War II service

    Bush had already been accepted to Yale when he returned to Andover to finish a year he had missed because of strep throat. But the onset of World War II kept him away for another four years. On his graduation day, Bush enlisted in the Navy’s Pre-Flight program.

    It was his 18th birthday.

    Friends say that was typical of his deep sense of duty. To him, it was a simple choice to put off college. He would end up flying 58 combat missions.

    “I just wanted to go in there and do my part,” he recalled.

    In the winter of 1942, he began flight training in Corpus Christi, his first visit to Texas.

    Bush went to the Pacific as a bomber pilot assigned to the USS San Jacinto, a cruiser that had been converted into a carrier. On Sept. 2, 1944, he was shot down by intense anti-aircraft fire during a raid on a Japanese radio station at Chichi Jima.

    According to the Navy citation that accompanied his Distinguished Flying Cross, Bush was hit at the start of his dive. Though his plane was on fire, Bush “continued on his dive and scored damaging bomb hits on the radio station before bailing out.” The citation notes his “courage and complete disregard for his own safety.”

    Bush banged his head on the tail of the plane as he bailed out. Bleeding and in shock, he spent two hours in the water, paddling a raft to avoid washing ashore on the enemy-held Bonin Islands, where cannibalism was among the reported atrocities. The American fleet was set to sail south the next day.

    “Your life kind of shoots in front of you,” he said later.

    At Barbara Bush’s funeral, biographer Jon Meacham recounted the close call, and Bush’s quip to his bride when they were reunited: “Bar, I could have been an hors d’oeuvres.”

    Marriage, early career

    Returning home for Christmas in 1944, Bush married Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall’s magazine.

    They had met three years earlier at a dance when, Barbara Bush recalled, Bush asked a friend to introduce him to “that girl in the red dress.” When the band started playing a waltz, she said, he asked if she minded sitting down because he couldn’t waltz.

    When he left the Navy, he resumed life at Yale. He majored in economics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and joined the Skull and Bones secret society.

    “I felt confident that I wanted to go out and make a living, be in business, do something,” Bush remembered. “And I felt that liberal arts and training in economics would be a good thing for that, a more practical background than training in history or English or the more liberal of the liberal arts.”

    Bush was interviewed by Proctor & Gamble Co. for its training program, and he considered trying for a Rhodes scholarship and spending a year at Oxford.

    “But I didn’t see how we could do that and ask the family to support us. So I said, ‘Well, I’ll just go out and get a job and go to work,'” he said. “But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”

    Neil Mallon, a close friend of his father and head of a Dallas-based company called Dresser Industries, offered advice. “‘What you ought to do is to go out to West Texas and start in the oil fields.’ And that’s what I did,” Bush said.

    He began as a $375-a-month oil field supply salesman in Odessa.

    People who knew Bush then didn’t expect him to pursue politics as a career.

    “My dad has just retired from the Senate,” Bush said. “I’d gone up there from time to time and met some of the senators. I just got increasingly fascinated with it, though from afar.”

    Democrats dominated Texas, and Harris County Republicans turned to Bush in 1962 as their chairman.

    Thomas L. Ashley, a friend from their days as Yale classmates and later, a Democratic congressman from Ohio, recalled no particular political agenda.

    “He happened to be rather conservative in his economic thinking and rather moderate in his social approach. He felt an obligation to his country,” said Ashley, who died in June 2010.

    As he would in later campaigns, Bush faced conservative opposition within the party in 1964 even as he espoused conservative positions. He campaigned against the limited nuclear test ban treaty, Medicare and federal aid to local schools, and he called the 1964 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional.

    But it would be years before Democrats lost their grip on Texas. Bush lost to Yarborough, taking 43 percent of the vote.

    James Baker, later Bush’s top political adviser and campaign manager, had been Bush’s partner in doubles tennis at the Houston Country Club. He was still a Democrat at the time.

    “I’m not even sure I voted for him in ’64,” said Baker, who later served as Reagan’s White House chief of staff and Bush’s secretary of state. “I just wrote him off as an aberration.”

    Instant hit in Congress

    Two years later, Bush won a newly created U.S. House district in Houston. He was an instant success in Congress, making friendships that lasted throughout his political career.

    As a freshman, he was elected to the House’s tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, where he was a staunch defender of the oil industry. To avoid any conflict of interest, he sold his holdings for $1.2 million; a little more than a year later, the assets would have been worth more than $8 million.

    When Richard Nixon won the 1968 GOP presidential nomination, Bush’s name surfaced as a potential running mate, though he probably wasn’t a serious contender. He nearly gained the job years later when Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president, though Ford wound up choosing Nelson Rockefeller.

    By then, Bush had lost a second bid for the Senate, served as ambassador to the United Nations and, after the 1972 election, spent two uncomfortable years as Republican national chairman as the Watergate scandal unfolded.

    It was a difficult period, but “he never let it show,” said Dallas-Washington lawyer Robert Strauss. “He’d say to me: ‘You think you’ve got problems?’ But he didn’t whine and complain.”

    Strauss, as Democratic Party chairman, formed a close working relationship with Bush and later served as his ambassador in Moscow; he died at age 95 in March 2014.

    Despite hundreds of speeches defending Nixon, Bush emerged politically unscathed and with the gratitude of GOP officials. Many repaid his loyalty by backing him for the presidency in 1980.

    Ford made Bush the top U.S. envoy to communist China. Bush returned to take over the CIA, which had been badly shaken by disclosures of illegal operations, a post he held for just over a year.

    White House runs

    After Democrat Jimmy Carter ousted Ford in 1976, Bush returned to Texas and was itching to run for president. He told an interviewer that he’d had the thought to do so for so long that “I can’t remember when it first occurred to me.”

    A long-shot, Bush burst to the fore by winning the 1980 Iowa caucuses, thanks to working the state earlier and harder than other contenders – and Reagan taking the state for granted. He derided Reagan’s proposals to cut taxes to boost growth as “voodoo economics” but as the strongest also-ran, earned a place on the ticket.

    He played a low-key role during the early Reagan years. That changed when Bush became a leading Democratic target in 1984. It was, Gold said later, a first serious encounter with negative press coverage that left him “more suspicious, more cautious.”

    Strauss once said: “Bush is a far more likable person than he lets himself be perceived by the public. Maybe he’s played it too safe.”

    As he approached his 1988 race for the White House, Bush resisted the temptation to separate himself from the Reagan presidency too much, though he did indicate that he would place greater emphasis on ethics and such issues as education, child care and the environment.

    GOP rivals were especially critical of his role in the Iran-Contra affair – Reagan’s approval of a deal to sell arms to Iran in return for help in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon. Disclosure of the failed effort created a political storm midway through Reagan’s second term.

    Bush captured the GOP nomination after a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, after being routed in Iowa by Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.

    By late spring, polls showed Bush trailing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor, by a wide margin. He went on offense.

    To stir the GOP base, Bush stressed crime and his rival’s veto of a measure requiring the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts schools. The most memorable and infamous attack centered on Willie Horton, a black murderer who raped a woman while on a weekend furlough, during Dukakis’ term as governor. Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater made good on a vow to make “Willie Horton … a household name.”

    By Labor Day, the race was tied, despite a major flap over Bush’s selection of a youthful Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle as running mate. Dukakis faded, and Bush ultimately won 40 states.

    First 100 days

    With the harsh contest behind him, Bush moved quickly to set a different tone. He reached out to Democratic leaders in Congress and pledged in his inaugural address “to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

    Within his first 100 days in office, Bush moved to deal with some of the problems he had inherited.

    He proposed a major bailout package for the savings and loan industry, and Congress passed it essentially unchanged. He reached compromise agreements with Congress on policy toward Central America and on a budget that made only minimal progress toward reducing the federal deficit but kept intact his campaign pledge of “no new taxes.”

    Foreign affairs dominated the first half of his presidency, in part because of partisan stalemate on the deficit and other domestic issues. In a candid moment during the 1990 Persian Gulf crisis, he acknowledged the widespread belief that he preferred that focus.

    “When you get a problem that has the complexities that the Middle East has now and the Gulf has now, I enjoy trying to put the coalition together and keeping it together,” he said. “I can’t say I just rejoice every time I go up and talk to (House Ways and Means Chairman) Danny Rostenkowski, my dear friend, about what he’s going to do on taxes.”

    Bush brokered a settlement of the long struggle between the Contra rebels and the Marxist government of Nicaragua.

    Critics accused him of a weak response to China’s crackdown on democratic dissidents. But for the most part, he drew praise on foreign affairs, and he visited 36 countries as president, a record.

    He capped his first year in office with a shipboard meeting with Gorbachev off the Mediterranean island of Malta, forging a strong relationship with the Soviet leader that later led to significant arms reduction pacts. Later in December, he sent troops into Panama to force Noriega out.

    At the same time, Bush was taking a cautious approach to the crumbling of the 40-year Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

    Many analysts give the more confrontational Reagan more credit for the end of the Cold War. Columbia University historian Alan Brinkley said that Bush “was slow to recognize Gorbachev’s weaknesses and to extend help to the Soviets.”

    In the short term, however, the events in Eastern Europe helped to elevate Bush’s standing abroad and his popularity at home. Approval of his presidency remained high until well into his second year in office.

    But in late spring 1990, it began to drop, especially after the president abandoned his controversial 1988 campaign pledge – “Read my lips: No new taxes” – to facilitate a deficit-cutting agreement with Congress.

    That reversal came with a high political cost, a lesson that has served as a warning to a generation of Republican politicians and continues to echo in debates on taxes and spending.

    War in Iraq

    As his popularity slumped, Bush confronted the most significant foreign crisis of his tenure when, on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq launched a lightning takeover of the neighboring oil-rich principality of Kuwait.

    Bush’s initially condemned the move but said he was “not contemplating” U.S. intervention. But he began to move more strongly after meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Aspen, Colo.

    By Aug. 5, he vowed: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

    During the next five months, Bush sent more than 500,000 U.S. troops to the region and mobilized an unprecedented international coalition of more than two-dozen nations.

    On Jan. 17, 1991, after Iraq had defied a U.N. order to withdraw, Bush ordered the start of an aerial and naval assault on Kuwait and Iraq. Five weeks later, he followed up with a ground invasion that routed the Iraqis and brought the war to a stunningly swift conclusion.

    “Kuwait is liberated,” Bush proclaimed to the nation on Feb. 27. “Our military objectives are met.”

    It was the peak of the Bush presidency. With his public approval at 80 percent, top Republicans urged Bush to use his leverage to press Congress on a wide-ranging domestic program, and thus demonstrate the same bold leadership that he had shown abroad.

    But Bush, never as comfortable on domestic policy, settled for an appeal for Congress to pass long-stalled measures to curb crime and revitalize the nation’s transportation system.

    “Reagan set the policy agenda from the day he took office,” said Edwards, the A&M professor. “George Bush wasn’t able to do this. … He was not very good at adapting to the new circumstances in which he found his presidency.”

    Not all of Bush’s problems were of his making, as several historians noted.

    “He had a Democratic Congress and a more hostile Congress than Reagan had,” Brinkley said. “He was elected to carry out the policies of the Reagan years, but conditions changed and made these policies obsolete. But presidents are judged on whether they succeeded in doing anything important.”

    Affection from public

    Even as public approval of his performance sagged, Bush retained considerable public affection, in part because of his success in setting the “kinder and gentler” tone that he had pledged in his August 1988 acceptance speech.

    Indeed, to an unusual degree, Bush won the personal affection of his political rivals.

    In 1986, he discovered that his vice presidential predecessor, Walter Mondale, planned to attend a law partner’s Maine wedding on a weekend Bush was going to Kennebunkport. Bush phoned and invited Mondale, who Reagan had crushed in the 1984 election, to fly with him on Air Force Two.

    “He’s a nice guy. He went out of his way to be nice,” Mondale later recalled.

    Gold, the former aide, theorized that Bush’s failure to win similar affection from the general public came from Bush’s innate resentment at anything he thought self-serving or self-aggrandizing. Photographers found that Bush often turned from the lens at just the wrong moment.

    “His mother told him: ‘Don’t be boastful. Don’t brag on yourself.’ Some of it is a conflict between the political person who likes attention and something that fights anything that’s staged,” Gold said.

    In the end, his failure to do enough to meet the nation’s domestic needs doomed him to a single term.

    He gained some measure of vindication when his son defeated Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, in 2000. That, in his waning years, was part of the “extraordinary ripple effect” Bush had in his life, Obama said in honoring Bush.

    “He didn’t call for one blinding light shining from Washington. He didn’t just call for a few bright lights from the biggest nonprofits,” Obama said. “He called for a vast galaxy of people and institutions working together to solve problems in their own backyards. Twenty years later, think for a minute about the impact that he’s had.”

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