Bush honorably put country first

Much is being said — and will be said in the days ahead — about the exemplary life and the honorable presidency of George H. W. Bush, this nation’s 41st chief executive, who died late Friday.

But beyond reacting to the former president’s death, this also is a time when Ameri­cans should reflect on what Washington was like during the years when Bush was commander in chief, compared with the rancor-filled, divisive landscape that exists in the nation’s capital at this time.

During the Bush 41 presidency, politics was much more civil than today, even with the differences that existed. And, for the most part, Americans united behind their leader, even if they weren’t members of his political party or disagreed with his handling of certain issues.

After the election, for the most part, party name — and whether one considered himself or herself a conservative, liberal or whatever — became secondary to supporting the leader in whom the voters had placed their trust on Election Day.

The new leader was respectful toward his predecessors and was rewarded with the knowledge that he could count on support from those still living, regardless of their political party affiliation.

For all of them, the nation’s well-being came first; politics was second.

Overall, after the election, the country basically united on the common purpose — ensuring the nation’s health and safety — that emanated from America’s founders more than 200 years earlier.

George H. W. Bush didn’t do everything right when he was president; there even were detractors who considered him as a wimp. How­ever, he was committed to working as hard and long as possible to keep the country on the right course, knowing full well that he would err along the way.

He didn’t keep every campaign promise that he made, and one that he failed to keep — “Read my lips: No new taxes” — helped defeat him in his bid for re-election.

But the break from that promise in response to troubling economic circumstances was not weakness, but instead just another example of his courage — courage planted when Bush, the son of a U.S. senator, enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday during World War II, subsequently becoming the youngest Navy combat pilot during that conflict.

During the war, he flew 58 combat missions and had a brush with death when his plane was hit during a Pacific bombing run.

After the war, he built an impeccable government-service resume: congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. envoy to China, CIA director and then eight years as vice president during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Despite successful leadership in overseeing Panama­nian dictator Manuel Noriega’s removal from power and, what’s regarded as his greatest success, creating and leading the coalition that was successful in ousting Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the economic problems at home and opting to break his tax promise derailed a second term.

It was a defeat he accepted in an honorable way, without the kind of rancor that is consuming the federal government and dividing the American public today.

Bush was a one-term president, but he was a president of whom Americans could be proud — and grateful for the opportunity to have had him as their leader.