“The outpouring of affection and gratitude for George Herbert Walker Bush raises two fascinating questions about our media and political culture.
Is the praise for the 41st president driven in part by attempts to disparage the 45th?
And how is it that a decent man so widely celebrated in the wake of his death was often depicted as a weak and passive president?
History, of course, is sometimes kinder to former presidents as we gain a critical distance on their record and they step out of the punch-and-counterpunch arena. Bush’s universally acknowledged qualities of graciousness, civility and restraint seemed unremarkable, even boring, during his time in the Oval Office. But in the current age of hyperpartisan politics, they foster a sense of longing and nostalgia for a quieter and more unified time. That is especially evident in the lifelong friendships he forged with Bill Clinton, who defeated him in 1992, and Barack Obama, who visited him during his final days.
It’s obviously true that Donald Trump has a far more pugilistic style than Bush, often denouncing the opposition party and the mainstream media while making himself the focus of the coverage. But the polarization that defines our politics intensified long before Trump, from the Clinton impeachment to the 2000 recount involving Bush’s son to the battles over the Iraq War and ObamaCare.
And yet many in the media are constantly drawing the contrast, summed up by yesterday’s Washington Post headline: “‘Honorable, gracious and decent’: In Death, Bush Becomes a Yardstick for President Trump.”
On and on it goes: Bush was a force for international unity, Trump was isolated at the G-20. Bush was a World War II hero, Trump got a Vietnam draft deferment. And much the same thing happened after John McCain’s death.”