George H.W. Bush, the careful and pragmatic manager of the Cold War’s final dramas, had nearly every tool a great president needs. He had fire and drive, which are indispensable to a great statesman. From his glamorous youth through his momentous single term as 41st President of the United States, Bush was consumed, in the words of one biographer, by “an almost insatiable ambition and competitiveness.” He had experience, gained over decades in private business and public service. He had good judgment, cultivating the quality that Aristotle called “practical wisdom,” but which Bush referred to as “prudence.” He had the courage to make difficult decisions. He was discerning in his choice of strong advisers, and was comfortable with dissenting views. Bush was a natural born leader.
Bush was the last of the World War II generation to serve in the Oval Office. As such, he was steeped in the sense of duty and common purpose that John F. Kennedy once expressed with his call to “pay any price, bear any burden” in the cause of liberty around the world. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought the United States to a position without historical precedent. Bush read the moment as a summons to even greater global leadership. He challenged the country and its allies to “seize this opportunity to fulfill the long-held promise of a new world order, where brutality will go unrewarded and aggression will meet collective resistance.
“Only the United States of America has both the moral standing and the means to back it up,” he continued, a moderate Republican channeling the moderate Democrat Kennedy, linked not so much by wealth and privilege as by common sacrifice. “This is the burden of leadership and the strength that has made America the beacon of freedom in a searching world.”
Bush discovered, to his obvious bewilderment in the campaign of 1992, that a younger generation of voters was less interested in bearing burdens.
Survived by five of his six children, 14 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. He will be buried on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Among many recognitions and awards—including his happy wheelchair ride to midfield of the 2017 Super Bowl to toss the ceremonial coin—he was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented in 2011 by President Barack Obama.
George Bush had a vision of what the world might be after the long twilight struggle of the Cold War. “Out of these troubled times,” he said, “a new world order can emerge: a new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony… A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle.” From the slaughterhouse of Syria to the nuclear menace in North Korea, from the resurgence of nationalism to the persistence of hate, the world he envisioned eluded him, but never left him jaded, because he was unafraid to reach for things just beyond his grasp. In this quality, America recognized herself in him, and came to love him for it.
David Von Drehel, Time Magazine, December 1, 2018 (Abridged)