• 57°

The need to bridge the political divide

On Nov. 3, 1992, Bill Clinton, the Democratic governor of Arkansas, defeated George H.W. Bush, the incumbent Republican, in the U.S. presidential election.

Once considered a lock for re-election when his approval topped 80 percent during Operation Desert Storm, Bush had seen his popularity plummet as the economy entered a recession and a previously little-known governor bested him only a year and a half later.

The campaign was an ugly one, with attacks coming fast, culminating in a terse exchange in a presidential debate when Clinton called Bush out for questioning his patriotism.

Those close to the president said he took the 1992 loss hard, but, as time passed, wounds healed.

When Clinton assumed office, he found a handwritten note from Bush on his desk, wishing him well in the position.

“Your success now is our country’s success,” Bush wrote. “I am rooting hard for you.”

Bush and Clinton eventually became friends, touring the world together in 2004 as they raised funds for nations devastated by that year’s tsunami.

This led to further charitable initiatives and work together.

“I will be forever grateful for the friendship we formed,” Clinton said of Bush in a statement this week.

The rhetoric of the 1992 campaign was long behind them.

“I just can’t stay mad at that guy,” Bush said of Clinton to a reporter.

When Clinton underwent a bypass operation in 2004, then-President George W. Bush made a joke at that year’s Gridiron Club Dinner that illustrated just how close the one-time rivals had become.

“He woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea … and my dad,” the younger Bush said.

In our divided times, Bush and Clinton setting aside their differences and earning each other’s respect should stand as an example of what our politics could be.

As America pays tribute to the former president this week, it is our hope that our current leaders can learn from their story and go forward and replicate it, not just in their personal exchanges, but in forging solution for the problems affecting our nation.