Nothing improves a reputation like dying.
Last week, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was laid to rest after 94 remarkable years of life. The praise for Bush was effusive, and mostly well deserved. Consider the guy’s public service record: eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, two terms as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, director of the CIA, head of the Republican National Committee, ambassador to the U.N. Oh, and he was a decorated Second World War fighter pilot, having joined the navy at age 18, flying 58 combat missions, and surviving being shot down (which Donald Trump would consider the sign of a loser). The eulogies correctly pointed out his accomplishments as a politician and as a person (Brian Mulroney gave one of the eulogies, becoming perhaps the only person in history to give eulogies in two presidential funerals, the other being Ronald Reagan’s – and he spoke at Nancy Reagan’s funeral for good measure). That’s what eulogies are for, after all.
Oh, and he was also a wimp. Yes, a wimp.
When Bush announced that he was running for the presidency, Newsweek magazine (anybody remember Newsweek?) put him on the cover, with a headline “Fighting the Wimp Factor”.
“Bush suffers from a potentially crippling handicap — a perception that he isn’t strong enough or tough enough for the challenges of the Oval Office,” Newsweek opined. “That he is, in a single mean word, a wimp.” (The writer of the wimp peace wrote an apology this past week, deciding – a little too late – that Bush wasn’t a wimp after all.)
I’m not sure exactly how the wimp narrative came about. Bush was clearly a patrician, a guy who lacked the common touch, but servicing in WWII as a fighter pilot should have provided immunity against a wimp charge.
It’s strange to think of a politician in this day and age being called a wimp. If you were to suggest today that a politician isn’t manly enough to be a leader, you would be crucified by the liberal media and the trolls on social media for suggesting that you have to be ‘manly’ to be a leader.
What also went unmentioned in the gushing praise was the fact that Bush was a one-term president, losing in his bid for re-election to a hick from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. One-termers are widely seen as losers; one-term dud Jimmy Carter for example, was hilariously depicted at “history’s greatest monster” in an episode of The Simpsons. There have only been a dozen one-term presidents, most of them during the 1800s.
The canonization of GHWB was aided immeasurably by the very presence of the current occupant of the White House, the human monster named Trump. Everyone looks better compared to Trump – the first George Bush, the second, much worse George Bush, the sad sack Jimmy Carter, everyone. Much of the praise for Bush was not-so subtly used as criticism of Trump, and why not? Bush may not be considered a success as a president, but compared to the orange monster, he was everything you would want in a leader.