There was a time, not too many years ago, when moderates dominated the debate, when politicians of every political persuasion strove to instill respect in America’s institutions and founding ideals.
George Herbert Walker Bush, who envisioned a “kinder, gentler nation,” epitomized that seemingly lost era.
Mr. Bush, the nation’s 41st president, died Friday at 94, just months after his wife, Barbara, died at 92. His body will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda through Wednesday morning prior to a state funeral. The former president will eventually be interred at his presidential library on the Texas A&M campus.
Mr. Bush was the last president of the pre-internet era, serving one term after being elected in 1988 following eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president. He presided over the dismantling of the Soviet empire — a historic event in the quest for human freedom. But he is perhaps best known for his role as commander in chief during America’s quick and decisive victory over Iraq in the first Gulf War.
The military success seemed to put Mr. Bush in position for an easy re-election in 2002. But a slumping economy, along with the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot, clouded his fortunes and boosted Democrat Bill Clinton to the White House.
Mr. Bush eventually saw his son, George W., reach the presidency in 2001. They remain one of only two father-son combinations — along with John Adams and John Quincy Adams — to occupy the Oval Office.
Mr. Bush was a man of great accomplishment. But like many of his generation, he exuded a modesty and humility that elevated restraint and character above bravado. He was the last American president to serve in World War II, flying 58 combat missions in the Pacific. He later became a Texas oilman, a member of the U.S. House, an American diplomat and head of the CIA. In 1980, Mr. Reagan tapped him for the Republican ticket.
Mr. Bush’s commitment to the nation and public service continued following the end of his political career. He shunned partisanship in favor of humanitarianism, teaming with Bill Clinton in 2004 to raise money for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. He remained engaged in various civic and diplomatic endeavors late into life.
The contentious climate befouling the current political debate was a source of dismay for Mr. Bush. He made clear he believed today’s toxic discourse represented a growing stain on the American fabric. For Mr. Bush, disagreements presented opportunities to find common ground rather than to retreat into bubbles built of acrimony and hostility. Honor, dignity and a respect for the office and country were motivating ideals for the 41st president. The nation would be on much better course if today’s activists and leaders embraced those noble convictions.