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Character matters when it comes to the presidency

The nation laid to rest the 41st President of the Untied States this week, George Herbert Walker Bush. Amid the many sincere and heartfelt recollections of President Bush was a theme that appeared over and over, that George H.W. Bush was, in all things, a man of character.

But what does it mean to be so considered? Abigail Van Buren once defined character in this way: The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.

President Bush was a famous letter writer.

When he once used an incorrect name for a news reporter three times in a press briefing, he wrote a personal note to the reporter later that day when informed of his mistake, asking her to accept his apology for using the wrong name.

Did he need to care about this mistake enough to write the note? The reporter may have been disappointed by the mistake, but certainly the error had no impact upon the Bush presidency or how the media would cover the issues of the day. But Bush wrote because he cared about the person behind the questions, the woman behind the task of reporting.

This was the character of George Bush.

President Bush was in office when the Soviet Union fell and the Berlin Wall came down. It was a triumph for Western civilization and for democracy, a victory won by the efforts of  President Ronald Reagan and President Bush, and by the steadfast U.S. policies of deterrence and defense.

It was also a reflection of the strength of the European and American pacts of defense, of NATO and economic cooperation between the free nations. Bush could have taken center stage and publicly demanded credit for the fall of the Soviet empire. He did not.

When asked by his advisors why he would not accept accolades for the fall, George Bush said we would need to work with the Russians to rebuild their formula for governing and taking self-praise might undermine those future efforts.

In both examples, George Bush demonstrated character, by refusing to diminish the Russians when they had lost the Cold War so obviously and by refusing to ignore even a small personal slight to a single reporter.

One cannot help but contrast the character of President Bush with the current president, Donald J. Trump. And in that contrast, few would argue that character is the strength of the current president. Much more likely, supporters would argue that upsetting the norms of  government is what Trump brings to the office of the president.

So, does character really matter?

Dennis Prager wrote: “Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people.”

The Chief Tweeter does not treat other people with kindness or generosity.
The leader of our government will never be known for his honesty and has struggled to demonstrate any degree of kindness towards others in fulfillment of his role as our leader in moments of national disaster, whether blaming California for the fires that cost so many so much, or telling Puerto Rico that its people were not working hard enough to recover 10 days after the hurricane, kindness has not been his virtue.

Perhaps the passing of George H. W. Bush will remind all of us that we experience great loss when character is not at the center of any presidency. In many ways, it is character that grants a president the right to represent the American people.

 

Jim Crawford is a retired educator, political enthusiast and award-winning columnist living here in the Tri-State.