george h. w. bushAlthough I try to avoid politics in my posts, any casual visitor to LeftCoastCowboyland can’t fail to notice that we lean just a little bit, as the name would imply, well, not exactly to the Right. So I’m sure you are shocked to hear that I have a favorite Bush. But not surprised at all to discover that it’s not Dubya.

I just finished watching HBO’s documentary 41 and it reminded me that there are some things I really do like about George Herbert Walker Bush. First let me clear up a couple of points. 41 is not a balanced inquiry into the George H.W. Bush’s administration. It’s a look at the man as narrated by the man and filmed and produced by an unabashed fan. But there is a place for that. Many have dissected his presidency and certainly there will be more analysis to come. But Bush has always been famously closed and private. So the worth of this documentary is that he opens up. This is the most intimate portrayal you will probably ever see of him.

George Herbert Walker Bush, fighter pilot

Bush Senior left a life of privilege to become one of the youngest fighter pilots in World War II. Including a dramatic parachute from a burning plane. His account of that incident is harrowing.

Let me also put on the record that I never voted for him. And I still retain profound discomfort over some of his actions. Among them his probable involvement in the Iran Contra scandal and the pardoning of key players before it seemed we’d gotten to the bottom of that mess. His tenure as head of the CIA during a particularly dark time in that agency’s history when we were supporting — even aiding and abetting — repressive regimes in Central America. Ditto the racebaiting Willie Horton ads he ran against Michael Dukakis.

Call me naive, but I still kind of like the guy personally. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a great proponent of writing to Presidents. I’ve had long-standing correspondence with all Presidents since Jimmy Carter. Well, one-sided correspondence as none of them ever write back. With the exception of George Herbert Walker Bush. I wrote to tell him that, while I didn’t vote for him and disagreed with most of his policies, some piece of legislation he’d championed or something he’d done (I can’t remember now) had made me proud that he was my President. He sent a personal letter back. Well, maybe a staffer sent a personal letter back. But it answered my letter point-by-point so somebody bothered to read it. And for years after that, he and Barbara sent me their Christmas card. Okay, it’s a small enough thing, but it did make me feel that he had some sort of directive to his staff that all letters, not just from supporters, were to be answered. Which is an indication of someone who took seriously the charge to be President of all Americans, not just those who voted for him. (How different from his son who wouldn’t even take Governor Gray Davis’s calls when California was being screwed by Enron!)

In fact, my overwhelming reaction to the documentary was that it made it even more unbelievable that a Dubya could have emerged from the shadow and influence of a father like George H.W. Bush. More and more evidence mounts that Dubya was a dilettante with little regard for the American people and an agenda of enriching or empowering his friends while putting as little into the job as he could get away with. By contrast, George Bush Senior seems like a man who places a premium on service and really believes the adage that “from those to whom much is given, much is required.” I think, in some respects, a Kennedy or Shriver would be a more likely son for this man. For a time, Bill Clinton had the wisdom to seek Bush Senior’s help and support. The dynamic between them seemed almost father-son. More so than you usually saw with the real father and son — on the rare occasions when Dubya allowed his father into the limelight of his presidency.

The saddest part of the documentary is the sense that Bush, whose faculties are as sharp as ever, sees himself now as on the sidelines of history. This is a shame. The man has a wealth of experience, especially in foreign policy. I also sense that he’d be ready to discuss his mistakes candidly as well as give advice. What a valuable resource is being wasted. Sadly, this squandering of a national treasure started with Bush Junior, who famously stated that he seldom consulted his father on matters of state — deferring to a Higher Authority. Setting aside the question of whether Jesus spoke directly to Dubya on matters of public policy, that one act to me sums up the man’s arrogance and fly by the seat of his pants approach. Imagine having the resource of George H. W. Bush close at hand and refusing to use it!

In fact, I’d like to see Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner get their people on a fleet of air conditioned buses and scoot them up to Kennebunkport post-haste. I think George H. W. Bush would have some interesting advice for the lot of them. I suspect he wouldn’t pull any punches and would lay out straight what he knows, what he wish he’d known, what he would do, what he wishes he’d done differently and how to move forward. And judging from his remarks on the John Birch Society, I don’t think he’d do any pandering to the Tea Party.

So, yes, George Herbert Walker is my favorite Bush. If more Republicans were like him, maybe I’d vote for some of them. Wait, more of them used to be like him and I have, on occasion, voted for them. (Senator Olympia Snowe and Senator Bill Cohen spring to mind.)

In any case, Poppy, thanks for your service. And keep those Christmas cards coming. My love to Bar.