41: Reflections from a College Republican
On the evening of November 30, 2018, President George Herbert Walker Bush was reunited in Heaven with his beloved wife Barbara, and his daughter Robin. He was 94. His service to the nation remains unparalleled. He served as a member of the House of Representatives from Texas, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the United States Liaison Office to the Republic of China, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, 43rd Vice President of the United States, and 41st President of the United States. In the following, I intend to share what we, as young Republicans, can learn from the decades of service that George Bush gave to us. First and foremost, we can observe his unflinching devotion to family. His “darling Bar” was the love of his life. George and Barbara Bush were in the public eye for decades, and they persevered through trials and triumphs with class second to none. Their love was evident on and off camera, and their love was transferred down to their posterity as they raised six beautiful children. Whether it be the care he gave to their ill daughter Robin or the guidance afforded to his son George W., President Bush loved his family above all else. We can learn from this — to be people of and for our families. We can learn from George Bush as he continually went against the grain. Whether it be bucking his family’s wishes and enlisting in the US Navy immediately after his high school graduation, or putting himself at odds with Republican orthodoxy on more than one occasion, we can observe a man who was driven by something far greater than himself. He was driven by what he believed was right for his country. He was so driven by this love of country that his instincts often cost him friends, allies, and elections. From George Bush, we can learn that following your heart is not always akin to outright rebelliousness. We can learn to be people of convictions, convictions that may only be held by a few. George Bush was indeed a man of service. He was always concerned with rolling up his sleeves to do his job. This often resulted in an awkward public persona, but that didn’t matter to him. From George Bush we can learn to orient ourselves on a course of service. When his aircraft was shot down in World War II, he wondered why his life was spared; he was determined to live the remainder of his days in steadfast service to the nation he loved so dearly. When he was President, he led the fight against AIDS and sought to educate the public on the misunderstood disease. He persevered through economic crises. He responded to foreign affairs with a steady hand — from tactful diplomacy that ended the Cold War to gathering a coalition to militarily liberate Kuwait from the throes of tyranny. George Bush was a servant to his country and to the world. We can learn from George Bush to be people of cheerful service. Perhaps most importantly, President Bush held a vision of America that was resoundingly positive. Though he would likely acknowledge the flaws of our social order and our political system, President Bush maintained that America, and Americanism, was the greatest source of good for the world. As author Arthur Brooks would say, this was his “conservative heart.” Historians have examined 41’s Presidency as an era that lacked domestic vision. However, this is is a mischaracterization. George Bush’s vision was two-fold: off our shores, a new world order, complete with American hegemony, was now in place. He sought to animate the world with the American ideals of service, pluralism, and personal & economic growth. And at home, he believed that in order to ensure the successful permeation of American ideals abroad, we must take the path of prudence and responsibility so as to not disrupt the American way of life. In other words, his domestic agenda was rooted in the belief that too much change and too much partisanship would cause our nation irreparable harm in the long term.
President Bush’s firm conviction to American exceptionalism was quite clear in all he did. Perhaps his vision was best described by one of his favorite descriptions of flying conditions, and the code word used to notify people of his passing — CAVU: ceiling and visibility unlimited. He had a plaque in his office with this saying, and he believed it represented his life and his vision for America. The sky was the limit, there was no mountain that could not be climbed, and there was no cause too obscure to fight for.
We live in a time of great uncertainty. President Bush represented and envisioned a much different Republican Party than we have today. As College Republicans, it is important to ruminate on this kinder, more compassionate party. As we celebrate the life and legacy of President Bush, we must take a deep look at our own personal and political qualities. Can we firmly state that we, as individuals, are a part of the thousand points of light? Can we surely assert that our contribution to contemporary discourse represents a compassionate conservatism? Can we say that we, in the words of President Bush, commit ourselves to “a new engagement in the lives of others -- a new activism, hands-on and involved, that gets the job done”?
Personally, I hope to see our party embrace the enduring values that George H.W. Bush exhibited throughout his career: duty, honor, and sacrifice. When I was young, I studied the Presidents. As I came to know and appreciate their various accomplishments and shortcomings, I came to realize that the quality that so many Presidents lacked was prudence. President Bush was mocked for his use of the word, but it’s the quality that I find most attractive about him. He recognized that the interests of the country often didn’t lie in some broad, ambiguous, hyper-partisan vision. He knew that a steady hand could steer our ship of state toward a more perfect union. To some this is boring; to me, it represents a desire to do what is right, even at the expense of political victory.
President Bush gave the American people his life. We owe him our thanks and our attention to the many lessons and examples that will long outlive his earthly being.
Following his death, the United States Navy wished him “Fair winds and following seas, sir. We have the watch.” May we all commit ourselves to live as George Bush did, and may we always have the watch.
John Olds is a sophomore from Merrimac, MA and serves as the Treasurer of the GW College Republicans. The opinions expressed on this blog are his own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official views of the GW College Republicans