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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

Remembering George H. W. Bush

December 7, 2018
Weekly Columns

George H. W. Bush led an extraordinary life defined by personal decency and public service. Perhaps the greatest member of America’s “Greatest Generation,” he began his service as a Navy combat pilot in the South Pacific during World War II. Later as our 41st president, he led our country to final victory in the Cold War, won the Gulf War and departed office leaving America as the world’s only unchallenged superpower. Over a long life, Bush served the nation in many ways—soldier, congressman, diplomat, CIA director, vice president, president and presidential envoy. No one in modern American history can match the range, depth, duration or quality of the public service that Bush rendered to our country.

While I would never claim to be a Bush intimate, our paths crossed many times over the course of my own political career. I met with him when I served as both Executive Director and Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party. In 1988, I cast Oklahoma’s delegate votes at the Republican National Convention for then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. He returned the favor by personally endorsing me in my state Senate race that same year, sending in future Vice President Dan Quayle to campaign on my behalf. It mattered. Bush won my district by several thousand votes. I won by 311.

During the last two years of “41’s” presidency, I served as Executive Director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. And when his son, George W. Bush, ran for president, I served as Chief of Staff for the Republican National Committee. Neither Bush ever forgot those who helped and worked with them. So I was not surprised when George W. Bush endorsed me in my hard-fought first congressional race. At the height of his popularity, he filmed a television commercial with me and dispatched Vice President Dick Cheney to campaign on my behalf. Next to my own mother, I owe the Bush family more than anyone in my political life.

George H. W. Bush was the most grounded and least egotistical politician I ever met. His personal character and commitment to his family were both obvious and legendary. When Bush engaged you in conversation, he always made your thoughts and concerns the center of the discussion. No one ever doubted that he was a true gentleman in every sense of the word.

Bush’s decency and wisdom were often overlooked because he refused to boast about himself and his many accomplishments. He personified the values of the generation that won World War II and made America an economic powerhouse and a beacon of freedom that was the envy and hope of the world.

Politics is an unforgiving business, and George H. W. Bush lost a hard-fought re-election campaign to Bill Clinton in 1992. But he never became bitter. Indeed, in time he and President Clinton became firm friends. Over the course of a long life, Bush never failed a friend, and he never missed an opportunity to befriend an opponent.

As Americans have reflected on the presidency of George H. W. Bush, their opinion of the man and his administration have changed for the better. Americans now admire and appreciate Bush’s decency as a person and his accomplishments as a president. In a recent national survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports, 77 percent of the public expressed a positive opinion of the late president—compared to only 17 percent who held an unfavorable view.

In his well-received eulogy of President Bush, historian and presidential biographer Jon Meacham called him “America’s last great soldier-statesman.” And, Meacham added that while Bush was “an imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.” All that is certainly true. But to me, George H. W. Bush was quite simply the finest man I ever met.