We heard over the weekend from Carolyn Oakley, the former state legislator from Linn County, who called to share thoughts about former President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday at the age of 94.
Oakley had met Bush perhaps a half-dozen times, and she echoed the plaudits that you've heard over the last few days for the nation's 41st president. She recalled a man who was decent, accessible, kind and armed with a quirky sense of humor. At one point during a conversation, he joked to Oakley: "I didn't know there were any Republicans left in Oregon."
Oh, there are, Mr. President. You just need to know where to look.
It says something about the fundamental decency of Bush that even President Donald Trump, who has not always been on his best behavior in similar occasions, has had nothing but praise for the former president since the news of Bush's death broke on Friday. And Trump even has managed to keep it civil on Twitter: “Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush,” Trump posted Monday.
It's a telling (if perhaps temporary) truce between Trump and the Bush family. Those relations have been frosty at least since the 2016 campaign, when Trump easily defeated former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida (along with many other Republican hopefuls) for the GOP presidential nomination in a contest that turned nasty. On the campaign trail, The New York Times reported, Trump mocked George H.W. Bush's "thousand points of light" slogan touting volunteerism.
Bush, for his part, told the author Mark K. Updegrove that he voted for Hillary Clinton in the fall of 2016. Still, Bush did not follow the lead of Sen. John McCain, who pointedly insisted that Trump not attend his memorial service; that simply wasn't Bush's style.
At Wednesday's service, Bush will be eulogized by his son George W. Bush and two friends, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada and former Sen. Alan Simpson, the Wyoming Republican. Jon Meacham, the historian and Bush biographer, also will speak.
All those men likely will echo some of the points that Oakley made when she recalled her meetings with Bush: the commitment to public service, the decency, the courtesy (after all, this is the man who instead of publishing an autobiography gave the green light to publish a collection of his voluminous thank-you notes and who often asked his Secret Service detail to stop at traffic lights).
Some of those speakers on Wednesday may reflect on the words from his inaugural address in 1989, in which Bush said this: "America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world."
Or this, from the same speech — words that sound unfortunately as fresh today as they did back then:
"We need compromise; we've had dissension. We need harmony; we've had a chorus of discordant voices. For Congress, too, has changed in our time. There's grown a certain divisiveness. We've seen the hard looks and heard the statements in which not each other's ideas are challenged, but each other's motives. And our great parties have too often been far apart and untrusting of each other."
That does have a certain resonance these days, doesn't it? In fact, it almost seems nostalgic.
But the outpouring of accolades we've heard since Friday suggests that there's nothing out of date about the qualities that Bush, at his best, exemplified: Public service. Courtesy. Decency. Kindness.
Here's Bush again, on that day in January 1989 when he took the oath of office:
"Some see leadership as high drama, and the sound of trumpets calling. And sometimes it is that. But I see history as a book with many pages — and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning." (mm)