George H.W. Bush Reunion: 'Kinder, Gentler' View of History

Monday, 07 Apr 2014 02:22 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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The 25th anniversary of George H.W. Bush's inauguration as president of the United States was celebrated amid heaping plates of barbecue, loud country music, and some nostalgic attendees looking forward to a potential rekindling of a Bush-Clinton battle for the White House in 2016.

The weekend gathering at Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas — described by Bush's longtime political adviser Ron Kaufman as "a combination between a college reunion and 'The Big Chill,'" — drew more than 600 of the former president's friends, family, and former administration officials for a reunion that served largely as a rosy reminiscence of his one term in the White House from 1989 to 1993.

In recent years, the 89-year-old Bush, who is confined to a wheelchair by a form of Parkinson's disease, has become more remembered — if not revered — for his role in the significant events in American history that coincided with his presidency than for the reversal of his oft-quoted line, "Read my lips, no new taxes," which led to his re-election bid in 1992 when he became the biggest incumbent loser since William Howard Taft.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served as CIA director under Bush, said the 41st president is "beginning to get the credit for the way he managed," most notably the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait, the reauthorization of the Civil Rights Act, the updating of the Clean Air Act, and the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to Time, when asked about the flood of warm words he received during the celebration, Bush called it "hard to believe," and said of the softening revisionism of history that, "It's 'kinder and gentler' all over the place."

While rekindling memories of Bush's "compassionate conservative" style of governance, many began recognizing similar traits in his son Jeb, who is mulling his own presidential run in 2016.

According to The Washington Post,  the younger Bush said that before deciding whether to jump into the race, he will take the remainder of the year to weigh whether a candidate today could "run with a hopeful, optimistic message, hopefully with enough detail to give people a sense that it's not just idle words and not get back into the vortex of the mud fight."

He added, rhetorically, "Can one do it joyfully without being tied to all the convention of the here and now?"

Bush sounded much like his father in saying to Fox News' Shannon Bream, "We need … candidates that are organized around winning the election, not making points. Campaigns ought to be about listening and learning and getting better. I do think we've lost our way."

Should Jeb Bush enter the race, it could set up a battle with presumed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, whose husband Bill defeated the elder Bush for the presidency. With nostalgia in the air, several attendees this weekend seemed keen for another round of American politics' version of the War of the Roses.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi told the Post he was surprisingly impressed with Jeb Bush after hearing him speak.

"You know, I used to think, 'Oh my God, Hillary Clinton and a Bush, here we go again,'" he said. "But I'm really starting to think that might be the best way to get an actual debate about the issues."

"I never lost the excitement about this family," Bush ex-Chief of Staff John Sununu, who is also a former governor of New Hampshire, added. "I suspect we'll be seeing Jeb come visit us in New Hampshire after a while, and that's when the real excitement will start."

Although a recent ABC poll found half of Americans would not vote for another Bush as president, Kaufman said that with time's softening of the legacies of the elder Bush, and even George W. Bush, who this weekend unveiled his post-presidential paintings, he does not feel a presidential campaign would be hurt by the family's political past.

"I've never actually believed that his name would drag him down," Kaufman told The Post. "Americans are so tired of a very broken system that they'd do anything, and give their vote to anybody — even Attila the Hun — if they think that person will bring competent leadership to Washington and the White House."


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