In his very good biography of George Bush, Destiny and Power, Jon Meacham tells how on winning the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States he received a telephone call from the New York businessman Donald Trump asking if he could join the ticket as the Vice Presidential nominee. Bush swiftly despatched the request, which he considered ridiculous, and dismissed it out of hand. Trump never forgot the snub and it may well account for the vicious treatment he meted out to Jeb Bush years later in the primary contests of that season.
The death at the age of George H W Bush, 41st President of the United States of America, at the age of 94 closes a remarkable chapter in American and world politics. Mr Bush is the last American leader to have fought in World War Two, to be a member of what Americans refer to as the Greatest Generation. He served in various elected and appointed public offices throughout the Cold War and he had the unique responsibility as President to preside over its demise.
George Herbert Walker Bush was the eldest son of Senator Prescott and Dorothy Walker Bush. Mr Bush revered his father but it was his mother who provided the driving competitive energy in the family. At the same time she instilled in her son a strong sense of modesty, saying ‘no-one likes a braggadocios’. Bush deferred entry to Yale to serve as a Navy pilot, volunteering at the earliest possible age. He served with immense courage and distinction in the Pacific theatre of operations, ending up being shot down. In politics he would end up being labelled wet but the truth is George Bush had the greatest track record of personal bravery and distinguished combat service of any modern US President.
On returning from the war he married his childhood sweetheart Barbara Pierce, graduated from Yale and moved them both and their new son, George, to Texas. There he built and sold an oil business the money from which would underpin the career in politics he craved. At the time Texas was a Democrat stronghold and through his work he laid the foundations for that State’s move to Republican politics. He served as a Congressman and this brought him to the attention of his party’s national leaders. Subsequently he served as Chairman of the Republican Party through the Watergate period, Director of the CIA and his country’s envoi to China. It was a considerable track record of public service and formed the basis for a bid for the Presidency. This first attempt failed when he was beaten to the nomination by Ronald Reagan. Reagan invited him to be his running mate and Bush served for eight years as a loyal deputy.
George Bush served only one term in the White House but it was a consequential four years. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait Bush built a UN backed US led international coalition that saw the biggest military operation since D Day drive Iraqi forces back into their own country. He presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending if the Cold War and effectively exercised American leadership through restraint and understatement. A man who had bravely served in one war and successfully led his country in another had no need to brag and bluster about American power.
His success in international affairs was not matched with sure footedness in domestic politics. At the time of the Iraq War he recorded the highest poll ratings of any President before or since. They soon plummeted, not to recover, and he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton. It was a bitter and acrimonious campaign but the two were ultimately to form a close and enduring personal friendship. In their Post Presidential life the two would spend time in each other company, correspond, and on several occasions travel abroad together in support of disaster relief work.
First and foremost George Bush was a family man. His partnership with Barbara was legendarily strong and formed the bedrock of a large and loving family. He was also adept and assiduous at cultivating and maintaining friendships throughout his life through letters, and more recently emails. Every year of his life he would holiday at the family home at Walker’s Point at Kennebunkport. Here he golfed, read, relaxed and spent as much time as possible on a series of powerful motorboats called Fidelity, which he famously drove at high speed.