Tag Archives: Death

My Dead French Grandfather Helped Me with COVID-19

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After my mother died on February 7th I gathered her valuables and photo albums and drove home to New York. But there wasn’t enough room in the car for everything I wanted to keep.

There were tchotchkes like a silly white ceramic salt and pepper shaker in the shape of Arab kings. It wasn’t my taste but it had been there my entire life so I wanted it. There was a box of birth certificates and other official documents from her parents and grandparents back in France. Her bike. She bought a wooden chair for five dollars at a garage sale, stripped off the hideous paint and discovered it was early 19th century Shaker; I didn’t want to let that go.

One more trip to Dayton was all I needed.

Her house sold faster than I expected. Closing is in a month. The buyers want to move in then. So I’d have to get my stuff out. My realtor was generous. She offered to pack everything up and store it for me until the end of the coronavirus crisis. But as a rule I prefer to do it myself. Things you care about get lost and screwed up when you leave them to others.

COVID-19 be damned, I packed up to drive from New York to Ohio.

It was going to be a cannonball run. Twelve hours from New York to Dayton, one day to pack, twelve hours back. I’d only need to get gas once each way. If I needed to urinate, I’d do it on the side of the Pennsylvania’s Interstate 80. As Gary Numan noted, the automobile is the epitome of social distancing.

Aside from the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, my plan entailed the risk of being trapped at some checkpoint or forcibly quarantined as lockdowns continue to spread. Ohio has a “shelter in place” order. There are rumors that nonessential travel verifiable by documentation has been prohibited. The White House wants anyone who leaves New York to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of this writing, however, the highways are supposedly open. But will they be on Friday?

I couldn’t sleep last night.

What if I got sick somewhere in western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio? I wouldn’t have any clue where to go. Would I be able to drive the remainder of the way to Dayton? Would I get stuck there? If I were on my way back, would I be in good enough shape to make it back to New York? There were too many variables to feel good about making the trip.

It’s not like I am particularly risk-averse. I’ve filed conflict reporting, including from Afghanistan. But something kept telling me I was being stupid.

Then my grandfather spoke to me. Not literally. He died over 30 years ago. But I could hear him in my mind, telling me a story for the umpteenth time, so clearly that I re-remembered the timbre of his voice.

The story concerned his best friend.

When France fell to the Germans in 1940, the country was partitioned. The western Atlantic coast and northern France including Paris were subjected to direct Nazi occupation. The center and the south became known as the absurdly misnamed “Free Zone,” governed for the first couple of years of World War II by the treasonous collaborationist regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain. My grandfather and his family lived in the free zone. His boyhood best friend lived in Paris.

A member of the French Resistance, he learned that Jews and others deported to Eastern Europe would never return, that they were being mass murdered by the Germans. He determined to save his friend, a Jew living in Paris.

Using forged papers that could have gotten him shot on the spot had they been discovered, he illegally crossed the line of demarcation into the occupied zone and made his way to his friend’s apartment in Paris.

You and your family, he told his friend as they smoked together, must leave at once. I have arranged forged documents for you. I will take you over the mountains to Spain where you will be safe.

His friend trusted him implicitly. I understand, he said. Then he went to talk to his wife.

After a time, his friend returned to the living room to inform him that they would not be leaving with my grandfather. They had a beautiful rent-controlled apartment, nice furniture. He specifically mentioned a fine china cabinet. Holocaust rumors seemed so over-the-top. Perhaps, he told my grandfather, everything will be alright.

After liberation, my grandfather returned to Paris where he learned that months after their meeting, his friend, his friend’s wife and their two daughters had been deported to Auschwitz. They almost certainly were gassed upon arrival.

The apartment was bare, the door wide open. Someone, neighbors probably, had taken everything, even the china cabinet.

“My friend died over an apartment and some stuff,” my grandfather remembered. He was still angry. “Never die over stuff. Society can collapse in an instant. Accept the truth, pivot and never look back. It’s the difference between life and death. Never risk death over a stupid china cabinet.”

COVID-19 isn’t World War II and driving to Ohio is hardly on par with waiting out the Nazi occupation of Paris. Yet my grandfather’s lesson was pertinent. I nearly risked myself and everyone that I came into contact over stuff.

Stuff doesn’t matter. People matter.

I’m sure my realtor will pack everything up diligently.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Yvonne Rall, Educator and Passionate Advocate of French, Dead at 84

            Yvonne Rall, a brilliant and demanding educator who left her mark on thousands of high school French students, died February 7th in Kettering, Ohio. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

            She was 84.

            She was my mother.

            A native of France who arrived in the United States at age 25 in 1961, my mom became a memorable presence at Centerville High School near Dayton, Ohio for her stylish wardrobe, commanding presence—she was 5’9” with hazel eyes that could transition from a kind glint to piercing contempt in an instant—and passionate advocacy of French language and culture.

            During her tenure from 1973 to 2005 Rall initiated the school’s advanced-placement French program, began a French Honor Society and was named Teacher of the Year in 2001. She held a bachelor’s degree from Wright State University and a master’s from the University of Dayton, both in education.

            She was as feared as she was fondly remembered. Students recalled a sharp-tongued teacher who enforced a zero-tolerance policy toward slouching, laziness and the use of English in class. She was also kind. She arrived early and worked late each day in order to tutor students who needed extra help. She inspired several of her students to become French teachers.          

            Née Yvonne Touzet in Mugron in the southwest department of Landes, she was born on May 3, 1935 to Charles Touzet, an orphan, merchant mariner and fisherman who suffered from alcoholism and had trouble holding a job, and Marie Le Corre, her mother. Marie apprenticed to wash and fold the distinctive bigoudène lace headdress of Brittany but that work dried up after a government campaign to unify the country by eradicating expressions of Breton, Basque and Provençal culture.

            Born at the height of the global Great Depression, Yvonne’s childhood was defined by abuse, poverty and deprivation. “My parents repeatedly told me I was an accident and that they didn’t want me,” she told me. Weeks after her fifth birthday, Germany invaded France. As the army disintegrated and the government crumbled before the Nazi advance, Marie dispatched Yvonne and her older sister Janine to the town well to fetch water for the stream of refugees now called l’éxode. “They passed by our house for months,” she recalled. “No one said a word.”

            World War II was traumatic. Touzet’s second-grade teacher, accused of resistance activity, was executed by a Gestapo firing squad in the school courtyard as she and her classmates were forced to watch. A member of the Communist Party, her father joined the Resistance. His long absences left the family without a breadwinner. German authorities targeted the family members of the maquis for reprisals, which forced the Touzets to move from town to town in the Vichy-administered “free zone.” Seeking work meant exposure to arrest. Hunger was constant. Her 1943 Christmas present was an egg.

            On a hot day in July 1944 Yvonne found herself alone in a village main square when she noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. As a column of vehicles drew closer she saw that the lead tank carried an American flag. To alert the townspeople that liberation had arrived she raced into the village church. Forty years later a resident recognized her: “You’re the girl who rang the bell!”

            “I fell in love with America that day,” she said.

            A voracious reader—she loved history, politics and anthropology—blessed with a steel-trap memory, she drew on her encyclopedic power of recall and curiosity to rise to the top of her classes. But the French economy remained hobbled during the postwar years. She couldn’t afford to attend college.

            She moved to Paris in search of work. At age 25 in 1960 she landed at NATO headquarters as an office worker. There she met her future husband, Fred Rall, Jr. A bright aeronautical engineer who has been called “the father of the modern Air Force,” Rall was on assignment as an officer. The two were married in Chicago in 1961. They lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts while he studied at MIT before moving to Kettering, Ohio after he was reassigned to Wright-Patterson air force base. She worked as a homemaker and, after I was born in 1963, as a mother.

            My parents were a poor match. Like many men of his generation, Fred was a dry, laconic workaholic and political conservative who viewed his wife as subservient. Urbane, charismatic and witty, Yvonne did not believe in limits when it came to the American Dream. She described Fred as cold and authoritarian. After Fred expressed approval upon learning of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the marriage disintegrated. The couple separated in 1965 and divorced in 1968.

            In divorce negotiations my mom traded away alimony in exchange for college tuition. Active in social-justice movements, she protested the Vietnam War and marched for women’s and gay rights. She volunteered for Democratic campaigns. She chose the teaching profession because the workday ended at 3 p.m. so she could be home when I came home from school. She became a leader of her teacher’s union.

            She became a U.S. citizen during the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations. In addition to teaching, she was a published poet and paid translator.

            Always unorthodox, she engaged with citizenship in her own way.

            A devout Roman Catholic and opponent of abortion, she nevertheless supported Roe v. Wade. “It’s not the government’s business,” she said. She worked for the release from prison of a teenager who murdered her child after concealing her pregnancy and secretly delivering it.

            Sitting on a jury for the trial of a young man charged with selling drugs and assaulting the police officers who arrested him, she pointed out to fellow jurors that the cops were each twice the defendant’s size. “It was ridiculous,” she said, “the assault charges were just not credible.” Hers was the lone vote to acquit. She refused to change her mind. He walked.

            After the man was released she asked his lawyer to arrange a meeting. “You’ll never get another juror like me,” she warned him. “Next time it will be a bunch of white Republican racists. So straighten up.”

            My mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s was the subject of a National Public Radio profile in 2019. She lived independently, as she preferred, until the last year of her life, when she suffered serious injuries from a fall.

            Yvonne Rall is survived by her son, the political cartoonist and writer Ted Rall and her grandson, Erick Rall. She never remarried.

            Donations may be made in Yvonne Rall’s name to The Montgomery County Drug-Free Coalition, an organization fighting the opioid crisis in Dayton or, alternatively, to the Bernie Sanders for President campaign, which she supported.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: George H.W. Bush Hagiography is the Elites’ Finest Accomplishment

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Even by the recent can’t-believe-your-eyes-and-ears standards of American elitist hagiography this week’s over-the-top-of-the-top praise of George H.W. Bush was astonishing.

What separated Bush41apalooza from such previous pseudo-griefathons as those for Ronald Reagan and John McCain was that there was so little to work with. Not that it stopped the media.

I knew this was an insane historical benchmark when a major network interrupted its coverage of the G-20 summit with the BREAKING NEWS that George W. Bush had issued a statement about his dead dad: “George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.” Stop the presses!

When a right-wing Republican like Bush dies you can count on a Democrat to deliver his most fulsome praise. “America has lost a patriot and humble servant,” said Barack and Michelle Obama. “While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude…George H.W. Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.”

Trump lies constantly but it took the death of Bush 41 for American “leaders” and their media mouthpieces to fully commit to speaking an English language whose words have no meaning whatsoever. In this dystopia I’d call Orwellian save for the fact that old George’s prophecy didn’t anticipate its hilarious absurdity, a man who ran for president three times qualifies as “humble.” A commander-in-chief who ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of innocent people in one of the most gruesome war crimes ever recorded—the “Highway of Death” following the ceasefire that ended the Gulf War—is described as having great character—yet no one upchucks all over the camera lens as if it were a Japanese prime minister.

A steward of the economy who refused to stimulate a tide or raise any boats in the middle of a brutal six-year-long recession can be called many things but not—before the Obamas—“joyous.” Preppy, I’ll give you. Joyous, no.

John Sununu, Bush’s chief of staff, explained in 1991, that doing “tremendous good” was actually contrary to Bush’s governing philosophy: “The President feels very strongly that the free-market system operates best when it does not have its hands tied by government, is not shackled by a system that erroneously thinks it can improve it by command and control.” Bush chimed in: “I do not want to see the government pick winners and losers.” Except his government did create losers: his refusal to fund AIDS research killed tens of thousands of gay men.

I’m in favor of behavioral change,” Bush said to justify his policy, a brazen sop to the Christian Right. “Here’s a disease where you can control its spread by your own personal behavior.” Memo to gays: don’t have sex. So “joyous.” So much “tremendous good.” Guess we’ll never get that apology now.

Fawning over dead presidents and the occasional dead presidential candidate is always repugnant considering they’re such a callous and bloodthirsty lot of greed-dogs. But Bush 41—his death dance is different.

Like him or not, Reagan was a consequential person with undeniable political acumen. Even under Democrats Clinton and Obama we have continued to accept the Gipper’s redefinition of the social contract from a culture of looking out for one another to every man for himself. His easy aw-shucks vocal delivery made the most liberal voters sleep through eight years of budgetary, tax and military mayhem—no easy feat.

Likewise John McCain was a deeply—mostly—flawed man who nonetheless had enough of an engaging story, his experience as a POW in Vietnam, for the hagiographers to blow up into a fairly credible heroism narrative, overcoming the uncomfortable fact that the war he volunteered to kill in is understood to have been immoral and illegal.

Bush, on the other hand, has always been a former president universally understood to be a do-nothing failure. Screwed up the economy, set the stage for his son’s Iraq War, refused to turn post-Cold War Russia into a friend and ally, preferring to watch the former USSR plunge into chaos and mass starvation so his big banker backers could swarm in and loot state-owned enterprises. You could call him the Republican Jimmy Carter but Bush—unlike Carter—was never rehabilitated by history or the electorate. Whereas Carter (actually humbly) dedicated himself to Habitat for Humanity during his long post-presidency and so earned respect, Bush 41 just—what? Showed up for presidential reunion photo-ops? He just nothinged. Even Republicans didn’t much care for him.

Were you surprised that Bush died because you didn’t know he was still alive?

There was once a time when, when presidents died, you imagined that at least some of the network news talking heads believed some of what they read to you, that some of the mawkish tributes were heartfelt. No more.

The fakery is so phony they don’t even bother to hide it anymore.

Like Winston Smith at the conclusion of “1984,” the bullet in the back of the rotting head of BS American democracy comes almost as a release.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Please Speak Ill of the Dead

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“Too soon!” That was a standard response to my criticisms of John McCain following his death.

My cartoon and social media posts reminded readers that McCain had volunteered to bomb innocent civilians in an illegal war of aggression to prop up a corrupt and reviled regime at the time of his capture. The real heroes of the Vietnam War were the tens of thousands of draft dodgers forced to give up their lives to flee to Canada and the many conscripted veterans who came home appalled by what they saw and did and spent the rest of their lives fighting for peace.

McCain, on the other hand, learned nothing from his experience. He never met a war — or a possible war — he didn’t like. McCain voted for war against Afghanistan and Iraq. He criticized Bill Clinton for limiting his war against Kosovo to airstrikes; he wanted ground troops too. He supported arming the Islamist jihadis in Syria and Libya, expanding the civil wars there. He threatened war against Iran. He sabre-rattled against Russia. North Korea and even China were in this deranged right winger’s sights.

These were not minor failings in an otherwise distinguished life. They were defining acts that erased the myths on which McCain built his career — his military service and his “maverick” persona. The war he fought in was disgusting and now widely considered a mistake. McCain was a run-of-the-mill right-wing Republican warmonger. His straight-talk shtick was fake as hell.

Media accounts sanitized the myriad of very bad things McCain did throughout his life. So I did my part to help counter the tsunami of BS.

“Do not speak ill of the dead.” This dictum, attributed to the 6th century BCE philosopher Chilon of Sparta, may be appropriate at your uncle’s funeral; who wants to hear that the dead man’s widow discovered foot-fetish websites in his browser history?

Public figures are different.

In cartoons and the written word I have attempted to counter the fulsome praise that followed the deaths of people like Ronald Reagan. I wasn’t trying to be mean to Nancy Reagan. Though I doubt she read my work.

Reagan hurt and killed a lot of people. As much as Reagan’s admirers didn’t enjoy my reminders that he (we believed at the time) murdered Moammar Gaddafi’s daughter or that he didn’t care about victims of HIV-AIDS, Americans who lost friends and relatives to the “gay plague” deserved to be acknowledged in assessments of Reagan’s life and legacy. The media pretended Reagan’s crimes never happened. I corrected the record.

The “too soon” and “can’t you wait until the body is cold?” arguments fall flat. What better time to point out and discuss a dead leader’s flaws than the time immediately following their death? That’s when obituaries appear, the eulogies are said and the nation is focused on the issues and policies they affected and effected. A few weeks later, no one cares.

Presumably referring to himself, former president Theodore Roosevelt argued in a 1910 speech that men of action — those “in the arena” — matter and their critics do not.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Roosevelt said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Soaring oratory! But self-serving and obsolete.

If effort and taking chances is all that matters when assessing a person’s life, the firefighter who enters a burning house to save a baby has no more worth than the serial killer who sneaks inside to kill it. Hitler and Stalin and Osama bin Laden all had grand visions they strove valiantly to turn into reality. They were daring. They achieved. They counted, but so what?

These days it’s the “timid souls” who stand aside, keeping mum while the mass media wallows in sordid orgies of mawkish praise for problematic figures like Reagan and McCain. Adding perspective and nuance to assessments of mass adulation requires courage. In this age of relentless propaganda and unmitigated BS, the critic is in the arena just as much as a dead senator.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Sheryl Sandberg is the World’s Most Annoying Person

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It’s that time of the year again: Sheryl Sandberg is telling us how to live our lives.

Invariably promoted as launching a “movement” — as opposed to shilling books — the Facebook executive’s publicity blitzes are impossible to avoid. There’s the inevitable, inevitably self-involved New York Times op-ed. (The words “I,” “me” and “my” appear 15 times in the first 143 words.) She’s in Time and Fortune and USA Today and The Washington Post and HuffPo, which tells us “Why Sheryl Sandberg Decided To Speak Openly About Losing Her Husband (uh, to sell books?).

As far as I can tell, the only media outlet not to be shilling Sandberg’s pabulum is ISIS’ online magazine, proving that terrorists aren’t all bad.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience” is the bestselling sequel to her bestselling 2013 tome “Lean In,” which is a bestseller because every media outlet is pushing it and advises women in the workplace to get ahead the same way she did: be born the child of a well-off medical specialist in a rich enclave, go to Harvard without having to take out a student loan, suck up to a future U.S. Treasury Secretary (who thinks women are dumb) while you’re there, snag an MBA, and become best friends with Facebook megabillionaire Mark Zuckerberg.

“Option B” is about her rich tech giant husband’s “unexpected” death, how she’s been coping and how she’s helped their kids cope.

First, a couple points of clarification.

Dude fell off a treadmill at age 47, possibly due to cardiac arrhythmia. He was overweight. If you’re fat and male and in your late 40s, you’re at risk of a heart attack. Obviously it sucks for Sandberg and their kids and especially for Dave Goldberg that he’s dead. But his passing is not “unexpected” and therefore tragic and shocking in the way that the passing of an 8-year-old girl who gets blown up by a drone after a different drone blew up her brother, or a boy shot by some cop while he’s playing outside his house, is so unexpected and tragic and shocking that, all by itself, it justifies overthrowing the entire United States government.

Goldberg was one of two or three million Americans who croak every year. He was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. Unlike Prince or Bowie, he did not touch our lives or make a difference or make the world a better place. Goldberg was not any more special than your deceased friends and family members or mine.

Second, Goldberg died just two years ago. Sandberg’s children are preteens. Even setting aside the fact that this spectacularly wealthy and powerful woman has access to top-notch psychologists and other experts to help her kids navigate their grief, it’s too early for Sandberg to claim success as a parent. (Given publishers’ lead times, she probably started writing the book less than a year after he died.)

Get back to us in a few decades, Sheryl.

Judging from the flood of negative comments posted to articles about Sandberg and her books, I’m one of many people who find Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer pompous, pedantic, pretentious and generally insufferable. Like them, I can’t hate people without moral standing, credentials or unimpeachable experience who rise, Cicero-like, to share wisdom that turns out to be a series of “like, duhs:”

“And every kid faces challenges.”

“We can start by showing children that they matter.”

“Giving children undivided attention — something we all know is important but often fail to do — is another of the key steps toward building their resilience.”

Just.

Shut.

Up.

Coming the same week I’m reading about the inner workings of Hillary Clinton’s dysfunctional, out-of-touch campaign in the book “Shattered,” I had to ask myself if, as a middle-aged white male, my annoyance at Sandberg (and Hillary) owes something to misogyny.

Perhaps. I hope not.

What I keep coming back to is not Sandberg’s gender but her habit of individualizing experiences that ought to be universal.

“Lean In” addressed the serious economic and social problem of patriarchy by sidestepping its root causes with the Big Lie that if she could overcome, so could Jane Everywoman. “Option B” ignores how capitalism and employers make the passing of a loved one harder than it needs or ought to be in favor of vacuous declamations that boil down to “love them, time heals all wounds, it’ll all be fine.”

Times commenter “L.F.” articulates how our economic system brutalizes survivors: “The death of a breadwinner would plunge most American families with children into terrifying poverty. Dear God, the medical bills alone from a spouse’s final illness…and the loss of health insurance, which stops when the employed person takes their last breath or can’t keep working… I’ve literally known a family that landed in a homeless shelter after one parent passed away. The mortgage bank doesn’t give a damn about your need to teach the kids coping skills, and your boss might give you a week of bereavement leave, if you’re very, very, very lucky. Most American families don’t have $400 for an emergency. When people in my circles lose someone, they have to ask around for help from family, friends and church just to see them buried.”

Sheryl Sandberg helps run a company that makes America immeasurably worse off. Facebook prefers to hire cheap foreigners than hire un- and underemployed American tech workers. Though staggering rich, Facebook is cheap and thus intentionally understaffed to the point that the Facebook Killer’s snuff video stayed online for hours, as have pornographic photos of children, because there’s no way to reach them by phone.

Facebook is worth eight times as much as General Motors — yet employs fewer than one-tenth (17,000) as many full-time employees (207,000). That proportional shortfall of more than 1.5 million jobs could easily include the 272,000 journalists out of work in significant part due to Facebook.

If Sheryl Sandberg wants to help American parents, she should hire some.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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…

Yeah.

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 ANewDomain.net, 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.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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