The flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried to a burial plot close to his presidential library for internment on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in College Station, Texas.
Photo: Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool
Photo: Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool

Opinion: Bush, like all presidents, was neither saint nor sinner

“Devil or angel, I can’t make up my mind;

Which one you are I’d like to wake up and find.” – sung by the Clovers

My former boss, CEO of a national healthcare corporation and an MD/LLB, ran Bush Sr.’s California campaign and was a personal friend of his. He loved Barbara and George and raised a tremendous amount of money for Bush.

My cousin was a national leader in the LGBT community, as well as a former top exec with the NYT. He hates Bush with a passion.

Who’s correct? They both are. As opposed to what many in our current politically charged partisan scene would advocate, politicians are not either satanic or angelic (even Trump).

I voted against Bush twice and refused to give him money despite my boss. But Bush did some things right.

Bush Sr. was a patriot who fought for the U.S.A., although he could have easily gotten out of it (bone spurs?). He was subsequently shot down on a bombing mission. I call that being a true hero.

He served in Congress (not always voting his convictions, in my opinion), and as CIA director and Vice President. As President, he took the bold step of endorsing raising taxes to balance the budget, although he had been elected on a platform of no new taxes. By raising taxes, he indirectly admitted that the economic policy of Ronald Reagan (cutting taxes which would theoretically, magically raise tax revenues) had failed miserably. As Bush said when he unsuccessfully ran against Reagan for the GOP Presidential nomination, supply side economics is “voodoo economics” … an important lesson that Trump, Ryan and McConnell apparently never learned.

Americans have largely forgotten that we were in Iraq before Bush Jr.’s Operation Iraqi Freedom began. When Iraq invaded Kuwait back in the 1990s, Bush Sr. put together a true coalition of allies to counter Saddam. Not only did they participate, these allies funded our invasion.

More importantly, the U.S. achieved its stated objectives and then left. Bush Sr. showed true leadership, despite pressure to remove Saddam and take Bagdad.

I heard Bush give a speech to a small group of CEOs in the late ’90s. He outlined why he did not push Saddam out of office. He talked about the loss of lives, the need to maintain troops for many years, the drain on our budget, and the disruption it would cause in the extended Middle East.

It’s too bad his son didn’t listen to his advice. Junior invaded and removed Saddam. Then, it went downhill exactly as senior predicted. In fact, according to one Brown University professor, Iraqis view the Saddam era with nostalgia.

A detailed study done by Brown University in November found: “The cost of the Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria wars totals about $5.9 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars, which will add an estimated $8 trillion in the next 40 years.”

Looking at Iraqi figures alone from March 2003 to October 2018, Brown found 4,550 U.S. military and 3,808 U.S. contractors and civilians dead. When innocent Iraqi civilians, opposition fighters, police and others are added in, the total dead is between 268,000 and 295,000. Bush Sr. avoided this catastrophe, one of the worst in our history.

However, Bush Sr. also did some horrible things. A few stand out.

Bush won election by destroying his opposition. He ran a racist campaign, zeroing in on Willie Horton. Horton was a black convict who was paroled by the Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis administration and went on to rape a woman and terrorize her family. The bigoted message was clear: Dukakis would let these big, bad, black men attack your wives and daughters.

Bush, much like Reagan, also failed to contain the AIDS epidemic and fund efforts to halt its spread. Many died unnecessarily (including a good Atlanta friend of mine, John Howell, for whom a Virginia-Highlands park is named) due to his lack of concern.

In the 1988 campaign, he made homophobic statements like Americans “didn’t want same-sex marriage codified.” Per Barney Frank, he refused to give gays security clearances. By the time of his death, he had reversed his position, attending a gay wedding. But the harm had already been done.

The bottom line is that George H.W. Bush had major flaws and positives. He was neither 100 percent saint or sinner … like all other Presidents.

Jack Bernard, the first director of health planning for Georgia, has been an executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he’s a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission.

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