Peter Cavanaugh

Brief meeting on Toledo tarmac during 1992 campaign cemented Bush’s reputation

George Herbert Walker Bush is showered with confetti at a campaign rally in Cleveland in November 1992. Earlier in the election season he made an impression on now-Sierra Star columnist Peter Cavanaugh.
George Herbert Walker Bush is showered with confetti at a campaign rally in Cleveland in November 1992. Earlier in the election season he made an impression on now-Sierra Star columnist Peter Cavanaugh. The Washington Post

I was honored shaking his hand on the tarmac at Toledo International Airport on Aug. 27, 1992. That was before he lost his bid for a second term in office to Bill Clinton.

There were hecklers in the crowd loudly jeering credential-holding members of the media. This is what he said:

“We’ve got some good people traveling with us in the press. These are the good guys. Leave them alone. They’re just doing their job.”

That was George Herbert Walker Bush – above all else, a gentle man.

The youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy at the age of 18, Lieutenant Bush was shot down over enemy waters in the South Pacific on Sept. 2, 1944. He was miraculously rescued by a nearby U.S. submarine.

Count his major milestones:

▪ Member of the House of Representatives (1967-71)

▪ U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1971-73)

▪ Chairman of the Republican National Committee (1973-74)

▪ Special envoy to China (1974-75)

▪ Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (1976-77)

▪ 43rd vice president of the United States (1981-89)

▪ 41st president of the United States (1989-93)

George H.W. Bush was an exemplary practitioner of propriety, upholding tradition at each and every turn.

When President Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. on March 30, 1981, Bush was immediately flown back to Washington from an engagement in Fort Worth, Texas. Aides suggested he be transported by helicopter from Andrews Air Force Base to the White House. Bush firmly rejected the idea, stating, “Only the president lands on the South Lawn.” President Reagan subsequently held George Bush, a former rival, in highest esteem, asking Bush to join him for regular Thursday lunches in the Oval Office throughout the Reagan years.

George H.W. Bush was a practical tactician.

After U.S. and coalition forces led by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. swept through Kuwait and southern Iraq with overwhelming force during 1991’s Gulf War, Bush halted the ground attack after the first 100 hours, resisting howling calls for a march on Bahgdad. He correctly concluded that the aftermath of such overkill would ultimately cost the American people far, far more than anyone might imagine. He said that giving an order to overthrow the government of Saddam Hussein would “have incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy and, in fact, rule Iraq.”

Sadly, his successor son, George W. Bush, our 43rd president, proved his father right, but that was a dozen years, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars later.

George H.W. Bush again placed people over the party at the expense of his own political future by agreeing to address a rapidly accelerating national debt with federal tax increases necessitated by pressing circumstance.

Having achieved a popular Gallup Poll approval rating of 89 percent during his dramatic Gulf War win, this amazing number quickly plummeted to just 37 percent – suggesting that people had made it a point to “read his lips” when he had earlier promised not to do so.

George H.W. Bush was inclined to forgive and get on with it.

The man to whom he lost his presidency, Bill Clinton, had been a bitter and determined competitor. Bush himself was not afraid to put on the gloves and give better than he got. After both left office, they became fast friends, working together on many humanitarian projects around the globe.

George H.W. Bush (1924-2018) – the brightest star in “A Thousand Points of Light.”

I still treasure that presidential press pass here in my Oakhurst office.

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