By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Jon Meacham
Narration by: Paul Michael
President H. W. Bush is a decent man. Dostoevsky said, “There are things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.” However, H. W. Bush seems unafraid. Jon Meacham’s biography refers often to H. W. Bush’s diary. H. W.’s diary appears written by a decent man who knows himself and chooses to divulge all he knows.
“Destiny and Power” is about H. W. Bush’s journey to the American Presidency and the power of the executive branch. It begins with a brief history of the Bush/Walker families that reach back to the beginnings of America. Both sides of H. W. Bush’s ancestors achieve the American dream through hard work, determination, and initiative. The success of the Bush/Walker families sets the stage for H. W. Bush’s public service; his Yale education, his relationship to the wealthy, and his rise to the Presidency.
“Destiny and Power” reveals a candid picture of the 41st President of the United States. It is a story of family love, respect, and duty. It explores a family lineage blessed with wealth, good education, and expectation. H. W. Bush is a decent man who acknowledges his limitations in pursuit of good works.
Meacham notes that H. W. Bush seems a go-along to get-along kind of guy; i.e. a non-confrontational person who is well liked by his associates and subordinates. After Pearl Harbor, H. W. enters the service at the age of 18 to become a pilot. When completing a bombing run, H. W. and his crew are downed at sea. As a downed bomber pilot, H. W mourns his fellow crewmen and wonders if there was anything he could have done differently to save their lives. This life experience marks H. W.’s life. Meacham infers H. W.’s sense of responsibility and how he cares for others is exemplified by that experience. It reminds him of the horrors of war and the hurt felt by those left behind. It is a mark that guides his decision to begin the first Gulf war and insert American troops in Kuwait.
Meacham reveals how H. W. solicits friendship with everyone he meets. This facility for friendship is a key to his success in becoming a Texas oil man. His early success in the oil business appears based on who he knows and how well he cultivates wealthy associates’ interest in risking investment in land-lease oil exploration in Texas. H. W.’s friendliness leads him to politics. Meacham notes that friendliness did not immediately vault H. W. to political success but it paves his way to public service
H. W. is driven to succeed. In a widening circle of contacts, H. W. is welcomed into the Republican Party and becomes Chairman of the Party for Harris County, Texas. He runs for the Senate and is defeated by Texas Democrat Ralph Yarborough. Later, in 1966, H. W. is elected to the House of Representatives and becomes acquainted with Richard Nixon. President Nixon appoints H. W. to the United Nations as Ambassador for the United States. His social skill suited the United Nations Ambassador position perfectly. As the Watergate scandal overtakes the Nixon Administration, H. W. supports Nixon up to the point of undeniable truth of Nixon’s cover-up. As the Republican National Committee Chairman, H. W. asks Nixon to resign.
When Gerald Ford became President, H. W. is asked to be America’s envoy to China. After serving for one year, Ford asks Bush to take the position of CIA Director. One year later, Ford is defeated by President Carter and H. W. returns to the private sector with plans to run for President.
Meacham notes that running for President is something H. W. has prepared for through the course of his life but 1980 is the era of Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s public speaking skill clearly excels the oratorical skill of H. W. Bush. However, Bush’s appeal to a more liberal part of the Republican Party makes him an ideal running mate for the highly conservative Reagan. Bush’s cultivated Republican Party friendships compel Reagan to ask Bush to be his Vice President. Reagan is reluctant to make the offer because of H. W.’s “Voodoo Economics” comment during their primary contest but Bush’s affable personality eventually endears Reagan to his running mate.
By the end of Meacham’s biography one sees Bush as a decent man who wishes to do the right thing. However, it seems H. W. Bush is unduly influenced by the desire to be liked.
This desire makes H. W. avoid confrontation, a characteristic of which Meacham offers many examples; e. g. Bush’s reluctance to confront the public with his decision to raise taxes; his ambivalence about using the bully pulpit to attack political opponents. Though H. W. Bush’s takes responsibility, his inner compass seems to wobble in the face of a desire for comity.
On the one hand, this may be what is missing in the extremes of the political climate of the 21st century; on the other hand, a wobbling inner compass leads to intellectually untested certainty. H. W. Bush’s avoidance of confrontation leads to decisions not tested by debate. All that is left is experience burnished by one person’s judgment. History suggests avoidance of personal confrontation lessens perspective and increases probability of error.
In contrast to H. W. Bush, Trump revels in conflict, but inevitably blames others for what is wrong with America. Some American Presidents take responsibility while others point fingers and blame others.
A surprising note by Meacham is H. W.’s second guessing of his decisions on Saddam Hussein’s surrender after America’s intervention in Kuwait. When Hussein is defeated in Kuwait, H. W. chooses to avoid a formal unconditional surrender by Hussein’s Republican Guard. In retrospect, a demand for unconditional surrender seems superfluous. Arguably, H. W.’s courageous decision to inject the American military into Kuwait changed the course of history. One inclines to believe H. W. will go down in history as the antithesis of Nazi appeasers in WWII.
The most titillating part of Meacham’s biography of H. W. is a father’s judgment of his son’s Presidency. One tends to believe H. W. views George W. more as a beloved son than as President of the United States.
George W., like all human beings, makes his own mistakes. H. W. argues that his son is poorly served by his Vice President and Secretary of Defense. H. W. suggests Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are the principal reason for mistakes in Iraq. One must ask oneself, who hired Cheney and Rumsfeld? In a translation of Plato’s “Republic”, there is a phrase about leadership that suggests “Birds of a feather flock together”.
George W. is his own man. He differs from his father in numerous ways. One may remember George W. standing on an aircraft carrier and saying “Mission Accomplished!” after the defeat of the Republican Guard in Iraq. Meacham’s biography implies that kind of hubristic comment would never be made by H. W. Bush. History will show defeat of the Republican Guard accomplished very little. Defeat of the Republican Guard is the beginning of many future American mistakes in Iraq.
H. W. Bush may not go down in history as one of the greatest Presidents of the United States but he is among the most decent.