I’m all for fond remembrances of former President George H.W. Bush in the wake of his recent death. But to erase Bush’s embrace of the Willie Horton ad, his nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court and his role in Iran-Contra, to name a few of the less than wonderful parts of his record, is to erase significant parts of the man’s life and the person that he was.
On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace gushed, “For years, I have felt George H.W. Bush was the greatest living American.” Wallace is entitled to his personal opinion but as a newsman, he’s not entitled to airbrush imperfections out of Bush’s life and turn him into a legend. But that’s what happened on Fox News Sunday yesterday. To be fair, Wallace and Fox News are hardly alone in such an endeavor. But since writing about Fox News is my job and since Wallace is supposed to be one of Fox’s most respected and fair news anchors, I’m focusing on him.
To commemorate Bush yesterday, Wallace played clips from his two interviews with Bush. Then he interviewed Dick Cheney and James Baker. Before Cheney was George W. Bush’s vice president, he served as H.W. Bush’s defense secretary; Baker served as H.W. Bush’s secretary of state. Predictably, they had only glowing words about Bush. And heck, next to Trump, even W. looks good.
But in the panel discussion that followed, there was no excuse not to mention other aspects of Bush’s record: For one thing, while Bush seemed like a decent, civil man in person, there is no question that he ushered in the beginning of right-wing incivility and indecency, both with the infamous Willie Horton ad and with an attack on opponent Michael Dukakis’ membership in the American Civil Liberties Union. The former suggested that black rapists would run wild in the street if Dukakis became president and the latter suggested that concern for civil liberties made him somehow less American than Bush. He neglected the AIDS epidemic plaguing the county and he was involved in and helped to cover up the Iran-Contra affair. Perhaps worst of all, Bush replaced Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court with Clarence Thomas. Even if you like Thomas, that controversial pick deserved a mention as a counter to all the talk of Bush's bipartisanship.
Nevertheless, Wallace’s panel consisted of Bush-family insider, Karl Rove, Cheney’s daughter, Liz Cheney, and liberal, African American Juan Williams. But even Williams presented a mythical Bush:
WILLIAMS: You know, I—the way I think of it, Chris, is sort of optimism versus pessimism. Morning in America. A kind kinder, gentler America, versus American carnage as a message coming from the leader to the American people. So when I think of President Bush, I think of someone who crossed the aisle.
You know, I was really taken by what Karl just said about his best friend being a Democrat and—while he served those two terms in Congress. And, of course, he followed Reagan’s pronouncement, 11th commandment, speak no evil of another Republican. Versus Donald Trump, who has a polarizing relationship with Democrats, clearly fractured, but also attacks other Republicans who don’t agree or embrace him. And, again, I think also of policy issues, like guns. You know, after Oklahoma City in ‘95, President Bush quit the NRA, quit his lifetime membership. After what happened in Parkland, Florida, you see President Trump not only saying that we should arm teachers, but continue to do business with the NRA.
ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos got it right. The panel’s mostly positive reminiscences of Bush also acknowledged his flaws. Cokie Roberts summed it up nicely when she said, “The truth is that it is more admirable—I always say this about the founding fathers—it’s more admirable to be human than to be a bronze statue. … Because it’s easy for bronze statues to do good things. It’s hard for humans.”
(H/T and thanks to Kevin Koster for his assistance with this post)
crossposted from Newshounds.