Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,
Jon Meacham, author; Paul Michael, narrator
It is obvious from the start of the book that Jon Meacham has respect and genuine affection for George Herbert Walker Bush. That is not a good reason to dislike or fail to appreciate the excellent job he did of defining Bush 41’s, life, unless you are an ideologue who cannot accept any positive presentation of a member of the Republican Party. For me, the book was well researched, informative and interesting. Although it is quite long, and sometimes repetitive, I found it to be a steady paced commentary on the life of the 41st President of the United States, with the information presented taken largely from the his diaries and the diaries of the First Lady. Bush is a man who represents the past, a time of far better manners and decorum both in and out of the White House. That is a fact that I believe cannot be disputed. The narrator did a fine job modulating his voice so that even though it could have been slow going to read such a tome, it was always engaging.
Raised with old-fashioned values and a code of ethics largely no longer in existence, he is the last of a dying breed. He was taught to respect women and to care about those less fortunate than he. He was taught to “always do the right thing”. He was taught to honor and love his country and those were the same values he and his wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Pierce, tried to inculcate into their own children. Bush fell in love with Barbara while still in his teens and they married before he finished his term of duty during WWII when he was 20 and she, only 19.
Bush enlisted in 1943, at age 18, after graduating high school. He believed it was the honorable thing to do, to serve his country, and he found it hard to reconcile the fact that the President following him into the Oval Office had actually actively avoided the draft and service to his country. However, Bill Clinton was only the first of those to follow who saw no need to give to their country but rather to have their country give to them, which was quite a contrast to the request of former Democrat and President, John F. Kennedy, who requested that we “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” The times have definitely changed in today’s America.
I am not sure if he has been given the credit that is due him by his adversaries. He was criticized for not doing enough on the domestic front, yet he passed the American Disabilities Act, improved the Clean Air Bill and approved the Fair Housing Act. He also ushered in the end of the Cold War and successfully liberated Kuwait when it was invaded by Iraq. He has been unfairly maligned because he raised taxes, breaking his promise when he said “read my lips”. However, the deficit could not be curbed in any other way, and he chose to do what was best for the country, not himself or his future in politics. Also, one must not forget that both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democrats, at that time, so he had little choice to do otherwise. He could possibly fight them and shut down the government, or he could compromise. Always the gentleman, he chose to compromise and put the needs of America first.
As the ultimate gentleman, he resisted going negative when campaigning, even though it meant he would lose. In his heart and mind, he always hoped and thought he would win, believing in the integrity of the electorate, sadly, a mistake, because they believed the lies that the biased media disseminated. During his run for reelection in 1992, the press coverage of Bush was 96% negative, proving that the fourth estate, once the watchdog, was now dead, or at the very least, under-performing. The media prejudice has since been proven, but the practice has continued. Shortly after he lost, his approval rating rose 15 points because they stopped hammering him and/or his associates with false accusations and innuendo.
Bush was a man uniquely qualified to serve as Chief Executive. His past experience was broad and prepared him well. He was Republican Party chairman in Texas, and the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, he was a member of the House of Representatives, he was US Ambassador to the United Nations, he was the U.S. Envoy to China, he was director of the CIA, and he was Vice President before being elected to the highest office in the land. He served only one term, losing to a younger, more charismatic candidate, a man he eventually grew to like and respect, but a man who disappointed him because of his behavior and draft dodging. Still, Bush believed that Clinton’s private life should not be politicized and publicized as it was with the Lewinsky scandal. He knew that the President had important business to conduct and saw first hand that Europe was shocked by what they believed was the unnecessary attention given to the scandal. He understood the stress caused by the vitriol of the press when it was unleashed, but perhaps not the actual transgression. In the face of adversity, Bush always turned his attention to the future, not the past.
To put it succinctly, this is a good book about a good man that was written by a good author! Meacham has presented an even handed picture of a man who put service to his country before service to himself, a man even held in high esteem by Barack Obama, a progressive Democrat, who honored him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and praised the man and his service in the highest terms, noting his “humility and decency, and his seven decades of devotion to the United States.