SYNDICATED COLUMN: No One Should Be Sad When George H.W. Bush Dies (Probably Soon)

            The curtain is about to fall on George Herbert Walker Bush, known colloquially as Bush 41, or simply 41. The patriarch is, if not exactly dying, no longer doing well enough to want to be seen much in public. The final taxi, as Wreckless Eric sang memorably though not famously, awaits.

Do not believe the soon-to-be-everywhere hype.

Dubya’s dad is and was a very bad man.

No one should forget that.

The old Skull and Bones man has skillfully set the stage for — not his rehabilitation exactly, for he was never shamed (though he much deserved it) — his rescue from the presidential footnotery familiar to schoolchildren, that of the Adamsian “oh yeah, there was also that Quincy” variety. The centerpiece of this so-far-going-splendidly historical legacy offensive is his authorized biography by Jon Meacham, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” a demi-hagiographic positioning of HW as a moderate last half of the 20th century Zelig.

This has been done before, compellingly and brilliantly, in Robert Caro’s soon-to-be five-volume (!) biography of LBJ. Caro uses LBJ as a window into his times; that’s what Meacham is up to too. But there’s a big whopping difference between the subjects. LBJ was a man of principle who was also a cynical SOB; Vietnam tarnished his amazing civil-rights legacy. He knew that and regretted it until he died. Dude was complicated.

There is, sadly, little evidence that Bush ever had a big ol’ destiny in mind, good or bad. He may be the first of that crop of presidents who followed them (excepting, perhaps, ironically, his son after 9/11) whose main goal in life was accomplished when he won a presidential election. Clinton and Obama and perhaps Hillary next, they all figured they’d figure out how and why to change America after they took office and some stuff to react to happened (OK, that includes W).

“Mr. Bush may never have achieved greatness. But he’s led a long and remarkable life, which has spanned the better part of the 20th century. He fought in World War II. He started a successful oil business. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives; he served as ambassador to the United Nations and as American liaison to China; he ran the Republican National Committee and, far more important, the C.I.A. He was vice president for eight years and president for four. At 90, he jumped out of an airplane,” Jennifer Senior writes in the New York Times Book Review.

Pardon my shrug. Dude’s a boy Hillary. Great résumé. What did you accomplish at all those gigs? Even at the CIA, he’s remembered for…


Where there’s a record starts with his 1988 run for president. Neither the advantages of incumbency as Reagan’s vice president nor his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’ awkwardness on the campaign trail were enough for him; he felt it necessary to deploy scorched-earth tactics to obliterate a good man, albeit a politician not prepared for the national stage against a GOP that had turned rabidly right under Reagan. Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” ad remains a colossus of scurrilous race-baiting, a dismal precedent that paved the way for Bush 43’s racist whispering campaign targeting John McCain’s adopted daughter in the South Carolina primary and Donald Trump’s glib desire to subject the nation’s Muslims to an Americanized Nuremberg Law.

We won’t hear about Willie Horton during “ain’t it sad HW died” week.

“His campaign tactics may have been ruthless, but in person he was unfailingly decent and courteous, commanding remarkable levels of loyalty. Character was his calling card, not ideas. To the extent that he had one at all, his governing philosophy was solid stewardship: leading calmly and prudently, making sure the ship was in good form, with the chairs properly arranged on the decks,” Senior writes.

Of course he was polite. He’s a WASP. But does it matter? A public figure isn’t notable for what he does behind closed doors.

And Hitler liked dogs and kids.

Bush deserves, as do we all, to be judged for what he set out to do.

It is by his own standards — his wish to leave the ship of state ship-shape when he left for Kennebunkport in 1993 — that he falls terribly short.

It was the economy, stupid…and he was the stupid one. After the stock market crashed in 1989, HW sat on his hands, waiting for the recession to magically go away. As the invisible hand of the marketplace dithered and dawdled, the housing market crashed too. Millions lost their jobs. Countless businesses went under. Lots of misery, much of it avoidable. Much of which could have been mitigated with a little action from the Fed and a Keynesian stimulus package. He did little.

By the time he left, everyone, not least Wall Street traders, breathed a sigh of relief that there was going to be someone at the wheel going forward.

There were, of course, the wars. There’s his good war against Iraq, for which he gets credit for merely slaughtering Saddam’s army as they retreated down the “highway of death” and not going on to kill everyone in Baghdad, as his stupid bloodthirsty son tried to do. Mainly, the Gulf War is a plus because few Americans died in combat (some “war” dead were killed in forklift accidents). Still, it was a war that needn’t have been fought in the first place.

In a now largely forgotten episode, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — then a U.S. buddy — asked permission to invade Kuwait, which was “slant drilling” into Iraqi oilfields and undercutting OPEC cartel prices. It being August, all the big names were away on vacation, so Saddam took the word of a low-level drone at the State Department that everything was cool.

It wasn’t.

If Bush had been a decent manager — the kind of guy who arranges the deck chairs — he would have had better people handling his pet tyrants.

Then there’s the truly sorry invasion of Panama. No one remembers now, but this was Bush’s first personnel dispute with a dictator. General Manuel Noriega was getting uppity, HW decided to put him in his place, the Marines slaughtered thousands of Panamanians. Really, for no reason.

Certainly without justification. Noriega was sent to a US prison, having spent more than two decades on trumped-up cocaine charges. Which you might care about. Noriega wasn’t a nice guy, right?

The trouble is, treating a sovereign head of state like a common criminal scumbag sets some bad precedents.

Now, when the US approaches guys like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to suggest that he leave office, he digs in his heels for fear of winding up in prison or worse. Back in the pre-Panama days, you could convince a guy like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to fly to Hawaii with a duffel bag full of bullion, so everyone could move on.

There’s the goose-gander thing. Why shouldn’t Assad be able to argue that Obama ought to be imprisoned for breaking Syrian law, like those against funding terrorist groups like ISIS?

Bush’s biggest boner may have been his hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than help Russia and the other former Soviet republics come in for a soft post-socialist landing, as in China after Mao, Bush’s guys quietly rejoiced in the mayhem.

Clinton gave us “shock economics,” Yeltsin, mass starvation, the destruction of Grozny and the oligarchs — but Bush set the stage for a mess with which we, and more importantly the Russians, are dealing today.

Any way you look at it, George Bush Senior left the world worse off than it was.

The possibility that he may have been courteous to his minions and henchmen doesn’t change that.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


13 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: No One Should Be Sad When George H.W. Bush Dies (Probably Soon)

  1. You’ve got a better opinion of ol’ #41 than I do, Ted. I lay the Iraq war solely at his feet – his flunky did give Saddam a green light to invade, just as you say. But I sincerely doubt she (?) did so without Bush’s tacit consent, and even if so there was plenty of time to step in before Saddam actually crossed the border.

    Bush’s polls were slumping, what better way to bolster them than with a war? What are a few measly war crimes in comparison to reminding the Muddle East who the boss is?

    He’d been Saddam’s good buddy for years, defended him to the UN, sold him the helicopters and chemicals used to gas the Kurds and then stabbed him in the back. No wonder Saddam tried to have him killed.

  2. Coddle dictators like Marcos and sweep the bones of their victims under the rug. Are you really going to excuse a third-world dictator’s death-squads and still froth over Dubya walking away from his shady dealings? Is this some sort of low-expectations bigotry – yeah he’s a murdering, embezzling thug but he’s brown and can’t help himself so let him walk – or are you feeling more leftist self-loathing than usual?

    • Might I suggest a course in reading comprehension?

      Or are you seriously proposing that it’s preferable to kill thousands of innocents in order to get one bad guy? Look how well that worked out with Hussein; Bush #2 killed far more Iraqis than Saddam ever did. He murdered hundreds of thousands of Afghans while *not* getting UBL.

      In case you hadn’t noticed – those actions set the stage for ISIS today.

  3. Boy, do these diskush’ins go way off track, eh? Now let’s take a look around the world at other places where creeps like this finally die. In many parts of the world, people celebrate. It’s part of showing that people are happy to say good riddance to bad rubbish, and also, what better way to show Dubya, Cheney and his ilk what people think of them and what lies in wait for them when they shuffle off this mortal coil! Now, I know that ain’t PC, but PC is used too much for hiding real feelings, intentions, and whitewashing the truth.

    • > Boy, do these diskush’ins go way off track, eh?

      Of course they do – otherwise our discussion would be limited to “I Agree with Ted” or “I disagree with Ted”

      As an example, the article didn’t say anything about PC-ness, Dubya, or celebrations. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate your comment.


      • d’Oh! Two seconds after I hit ‘post’ I noticed that the article did, indeed, mention dubya peripherally.

        : blush :

  4. You suggest Pappy’s reign at the CIA was “uneventful.”

    First, one must expect the worst things that any CIA chief has done, are intended, by nature of the institution, to remain generally unknown.

    Yet, however short Pappy’s tenure at the CIA (30 Jan 1976 – 20 Jan 1977-Carter inauguration) it had far reaching effects for him and the country.

    All should read the book “Killing Detente: the right attacks the CIA” by Anne Hessing Cahn to get a look at the CIA tenure of the eminently execrable Pappy Bush.
    Cahn’s wiki:

    Her book describes the standardization, if not the creation, of the process of “reassessment” of intelligence findings for political purposes. This project was initially assigned by Gerald Ford to then CIA chief Colby who refused to do it. Pappy was determined to be depraved enough for the task and was appointed new CIA chief.

    In this instance, the so-called “Team B” was assembled to overturned the prior CIA assessment that held the Soviet Union was essentially crumbling and, therefore, no real threat to the US.

    Reagan used the new, false fear mongering of the “reassessed” intelligence, to wildly increase war spending (tripling the national debt in the process) while knowing that ultimately he could take credit for conquering the “evil empire.” I’d suggest that Pappy Bush was given his VP post as reward for his Team B efforts.

    The point is that this brazen manipulation of intelligence to fit the policy was undertaken, in the late ’70s, by the fledgling, sociopathic neo-cons (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Abe Shulsky, etc) who developed the techniques they would later use to push us into Baby Bush’s second Iraq war (ironically following up an another Pappy Bush project started in 1990.)

    Team B wiki summary:

    • I agree, he started a lot of wars. Hilary is more mediocre and benign.

      I would argue that he started the modern version of war we now have where TV is used to get the public on board. He sucessfully broke the usefulness of the media that had (somewhat) turned the public against the Vietnam quagmire. He figured out how to manage the media. Reagan managed the media but was a much more genuinely public personality. Bush figured out how to hide a war and make it seem to be a genuine humanitarian human rights crusade until about 5 years after when finally it becomes too obvious that imperial war is not about human rights. But since Panama and later Kuwait, we’ve had very ‘popular’ wars.

  5. He was the 2nd president of 4 to support the economic engine of destruction known as Alan Greenspan.

  6. LBJ was a monster and a tyrant who exploded the size of government and was responsible for far, far more deaths than H. W. That said, there isn’t much else I disagree with here except I’d add “Pappy’s” close ties to the Saudis as perhaps my biggest reason to hate him. And his involvement in Iran-Contra. When I read Ben Bradlee Jr’s Guts and Glory in high school, one of the things that struck me then and sticks with me today was that so many in the Reagan administration at first did not accept Bush Sr., but that they were won over eventually and so impressed that he was the kind of guy who could know a secret and “act out of the loop.” That’s it. That’s what he was known and respected for. Not competence or politeness. Keeping secrets and acting a fool.

    And I do think one of the best points Ted makes on foreign policy is the effect treating opposing heads of state poorly has on our future dealings.