President George H.W. Bush Dies At 94

George H.W. Bush,, who served his nation as a warrior, Congressman, Ambassador, Vice-President, and President, has died at the age of 94.

George Herbert Walker Bush, who served his nation in war and as a Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations and China, C.I.A. Director, Vice-President, and President, has died at the age of 94:

George Bush, the 41st president of the United States and the father of the 43rd, who steered the nation through a tumultuous period in world affairs but was denied a second term after support for his presidency collapsed under the weight of an economic downturn and his seeming inattention to domestic affairs, died on Friday night at his home in Houston. He was 94.

His death, which was announced by his office, came less than eight months after that of his wife of 73 years, Barbara Bush.

Mr. Bush had a form of Parkinson’s disease that forced him to use a wheelchair or motorized scooter in recent years, and he had been in and out of hospitals during that time as his health declined. In April, a day after attending Mrs. Bush’s funeral, he was treated for an infection that had spread to his blood. In 2013, he was in dire enough shape with bronchitis that former President George W. Bush, his son, solicited ideas for a eulogy.

But he proved resilient each time. In 2013 he told well-wishers, through an aide, to “put the harps back in the closet.

Mr. Bush, a Republican, was a transitional figure in the White House, where he served from 1989 to 1993, capping a career of more than 40 years in public service. A decorated Navy pilot who was shot down in the Pacific in 1944, he was the last of the World War II generation to occupy the Oval Office.

Mr. Bush was a skilled bureaucratic and diplomatic player who, as president, helped end four decades of Cold War and the threat of nuclear engagement with a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.

Yet for all his success in the international arena, his presidency faltered as voters seemed to perceive him as detached from their everyday lives. In an election that turned on the economy, they repudiated Mr. Bush in 1992 and chose a relatively little-known Democratic governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, a baby boomer, ushering in a generational shift in American leadership.

If Mr. Bush’s term helped close out one era abroad, it opened another. In January 1991 he assembled a global coalition to eject Iraqi invaders from Kuwait, sending hundreds of thousands of troops in a triumphant military campaign that to many Americans helped purge the ghosts of Vietnam.

But the victory also brought years of American preoccupation with Iraq, leading to the decision by George W. Bush in 2003 to topple the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, in a war that taxed American resources and patience.

The elder Mr. Bush entered the White House with one of the most impressive résumés of any president. He had been a two-term congressman from Texas, ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, United States envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and vice president, under Ronald Reagan.

And he achieved what no one had since Martin Van Buren in 1836: winning election to the presidency while serving as vice president. (Van Buren did so in the footsteps of Andrew Jackson.)

A son of wealth and a graduate of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and Yale, Mr. Bush was schooled in the good manners and graciousness of New England privilege and civic responsibility. He liked to frame his public service as an answer to the call to duty, like the one that had sent him over the Pacific and into enemy fire as a 20-year-old. (“The cockpit was full of smoke and I was choking from it,” he told his parents in a letter from the submarine that had plucked him from the sea.)

He underscored the theme of duty in accepting his party’s nomination for the presidency in 1988 in New Orleans. “I am a man who sees life in terms of missions — missions defined and missions completed,” he told Republican delegates in the Louisiana Superdome, acknowledging a swell of applause. He said he would “keep America moving forward” and strive “for a better America.”

“That is my mission,” he concluded, “and I will complete it.”

Tall, at 6 feet 2 inches, with an athlete’s graceful gait, Mr. Bush was genial and gentlemanly, except in the throes of a tough campaign. (Admonished by his mother against self-promotion, Mr. Bush, an inveterate note writer, in his clipped diction avoided the first person singular pronoun.) He represented a “kinder” and “gentler” strain of Republicanism — the often-quoted words he used in his Inaugural Address to describe his vision for the nation and the world — that has been all but buried in a seismic shift to the right in the party.

Mr. Bush’s post-presidency brought talk of a political dynasty. The son of a United States senator, Prescott S. Bush, Mr. Bush saw two of his own sons forge political careers that brought him a measure of redemption after he was ousted as commander in chief. George W. Bush became the first son of a president since John Quincy Adams to follow his father to the White House. (Unlike the father, the son won re-election.) Another son, Jeb Bush, was twice elected governor of Florida and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2016.

As the elder Mr. Bush watched troubles envelop the eight-year presidency of his son, however, what had been a source of pride became a cause of distress, friends said. The contrast between the two President Bushes — 41 and 43, as they came to call each other — served to burnish the father’s reputation in later years. As the younger Mr. Bush’s popularity fell, the elder Mr. Bush’s public standing rose. Many Americans came to appreciate the restrained, seasoned leadership the 41st president had displayed; in an opinion poll in 2012, 59 percent expressed approval. Democrats, including President Barack Obama, praised the father as a way of rebuking the son.

It was a subject Mr. Bush avoided discussing in public but one he finally addressed in conversations with Jon Meacham, his biographer, in a book published in 2015. Mr. Bush was quoted as saying that his son’s administration had been harmed by a “hard line” atmosphere that pushed an aggressive and ultimately self-destructive use of force around the world, and he placed the blame for that on men who had long been part of his own life and who became key figures in his son’s orbit — Dick Cheney, his son’s vice president, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, his son’s secretary of defense, with whom the elder Mr. Bush had feuded.

“I do worry about some of the rhetoric that was out there — some of it his, maybe, and some of it the people around him,” Mr. Bush said in the Meacham book, ”Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”

He was particularly critical of Mr. Rumsfeld. “I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president, having his iron-ass view of everything,” he said, adding, “Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.”

Mr. Bush and his sons did not attend the Republican National Convention that nominated Donald J. Trump as its presidential candidate in 2016, and he pointedly did not endorse Mr. Trump in his race against Hillary Clinton.

During the primary, Mr. Trump had repeatedly belittled Jeb Bush as “low energy.” Mr. Bush, who had entered the contest as the son of a president with an inside track for the nomination, was forced to withdraw by February.


Mr. Bush was president during a shift in the world order that had begun under Reagan. His measured response to upheaval in Eastern Europe drew complaints that he was not seizing the reins of history. But he chose a collaborative approach, working with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to allow for the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The two leaders signed treaties mandating historic reductions in their countries’ nuclear and chemical weapons.

“George H. W. Bush was the best one-term president the country has ever had, and one of the most underrated presidents of all time,” James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s closest adviser for nearly 50 years, said in an interview in 2013. “I think history is going to treat him very well.”

In his first year at the White House, Mr. Bush sent troops into Panama to oust its strongman, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. The rapid, relatively bloodless conclusion of the Persian Gulf war of 1991 earned him a three-minute standing ovation and shouts of “Bush! Bush!” when he addresseda joint session of Congress that March. It also sent his voter approval ratings soaring to close to 85 percent during the four-day aerial bombardment of Baghdad, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll. It was the pinnacle of his presidency, yet it lulled him, not to mention some potentially formidable Democrats, into assuming his re-election was certain.

Iraq was not an unalloyed victory. Mr. Bush felt compelled to defend his decision to suspend the assault before it could topple Mr. Hussein, and his critics questioned his earlier effort to give Mr. Hussein financial aid and intelligence data. Still, foreign policy successes were the hallmark of his presidency. Not so his domestic record.

By the midpoint of his term, leaders of both the Republican and Democratic Parties complained that in the midst of the worst economy any American president had faced since the end of World War II, Mr. Bush had no domestic agenda. Many questioned his sensitivity to the worries of ordinary Americans. Though stung by the criticism, he did little to dispel that perception on a visit to an economically reeling New Hampshire during his re-election campaign, when he announced in January, “Message: I care.”

His signal domestic decision was almost certainly the 1990 budget deal, which sought to address deepening deficits by raising taxes on the wealthy. If it helped put the nation back on solid financial footing, it nevertheless reversed one of the most explicit campaign pledges ever uttered by a major-party presidential candidate: “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

That promise had been delivered to roars of approval in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, and the turnabout provoked a chorus of reproach. Conservative Republicans revolted. Democrats found an opening for a bruising attack. And the stage was set for an unexpectedly strong third-party challenge by Mr. Perot, a fellow Texan who had made his fortune in computers. “It did destroy me,” Mr. Bush told Mr. Meacham years later as he assessed the damage he had suffered from breaking his 1988 campaign pledge.

Barely a year after the world had hailed his success in Iraq, Mr. Bush found himself almost losing the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire to the conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan. Mr. Bush won the nomination but was weakened by the Buchanan challenge and accordingly veered sharply to the right. He then lost to Mr. Clinton. Mr. Perot’s 19 percent of the popular vote helped deny both Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton a majority.


George Herbert Walker Bush — he was named after his mother’s father, George Herbert Walker — was born on June 12, 1924, the second of five children, in Milton, Mass., outside Boston. His family moved to Greenwich soon after. His father, besides his two terms in the United States Senate, was a banker who commuted to Wall Street as a managing partner at Brown Brothers Harriman, the white-shoe investment firm. His mother, the former Dorothy Walker, was a native of Maine. It was she who gave George his nickname, Poppy, when he was a toddler.

The children grew up sheltered from the Depression, tended to by maids and a driver. George enrolled at Greenwich Country Day School and Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. They spent summers in Kennebunkport.

Mr. Bush’s high school yearbook testifies to his ambitions and energy: He was president of the senior class, chairman of the student deacons and captain of both the baseball team and the soccer team.

If his father set the tone for Mr. Bush’s career, his mother shaped his values. His daughter, Ms. Koch, wrote in a memoir that he had been admonished to eschew self-promotion. ” ‘Nobody likes the big I am, George,’ my grandmother would say to him,” Ms. Koch wrote. ” ‘Don’t be talking about yourself.’ ”

Mr. Bush once boasted to his mother that he had scored three goals in a soccer match. “That’s nice, George,” his mother replied, “but how did the team do?”

Six months before he graduated from Phillips Academy, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. “I could hardly wait to get out of school and enlist,” he wrote years later.

At 18, a handsome and strapping young man, Mr. Bush did enlist, as a seaman second class in the Navy’s flight training program. Soon he was flying combat missions in the Pacific. In September 1944, on a bombing run from the aircraft carrier San Jacinto, his plane was hit near the island of Chichi Jima by antiaircraft guns. He looked out and saw the wings on fire.

“I headed the plane out to sea and put on the throttle so as we could get away from the land as much as possible,” he told his parents in a letter. “I turned the plane up in an attitude so as to take the pressure off the back hatch so the boys could get out. After that I straightened up and started to get out myself.”

Two men on the plane died in the attack. Mr. Bush hit his head bailing out, he said, but landed safely in the ocean. He floated on a raft for hours, “violently sick to my stomach,” until a submarine rescued him. He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross.

He returned home on Christmas Eve 1944. Days later, he married a young woman he had met at a dance three years earlier: Barbara Pierce, the daughter of Marvin Pierce, the publisher of Redbook and McCall’s magazines. Discharged from the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade, Mr. Bush enrolled at Yale, where he was admitted to the exclusive Skull and Bones club. With the arrival of the couple’s first child, their apartment in New Haven became the home of two future presidents.

Not long after getting married, Bush moved his young family to Texas where he got a foot into the beginnings of that state’s oil boom and, eventually, followed in his own father’s footsteps by entering the political arena:

By 1963 he was living in Houston, and his thoughts turned to politics. There was a contest to lead the Harris County Republican committee, and, by his account, local Republicans pressed him to jump in to prevent the far-right John Birch Society from taking over.

Night after night Mr. Bush drove across the county to make speeches, with Mrs. Bush typically sitting behind him onstage, crocheting. He won, and the victory caught the attention of state Republican leaders, who urged him to challenge Senator Ralph Yarborough, a Democrat seeking a second term in 1964. Mr. Bush agreed.

It was not the easiest way to begin a career in elective politics. Mr. Yarborough had ridden in President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade at the time of the assassination in Dallas the previous year, and the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow Texan who was heading for a landslide election victory, supported him.

Mr. Yarborough tried to discredit Mr. Bush by tying him to Barry M. Goldwater, the conservative Arizona senator and overmatched Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Bush did not resist the association. He criticized the Civil Rights Act that was before Congress, denounced the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty and warned of a welfare state. He lost, but his 43 percent of the vote was hardly embarrassing in a still decidedly Democratic state.

In February 1966, Mr. Bush resigned as chairman and chief executive of Zapata to run for Congress in a wealthy Houston district. Surveying his electorate, he began moving to the center; he now spoke well of the Johnson agenda, declaring in a speech, “I generally favor the goals as outlined in the Great Society.” He told his minister: “I took some of the far-right positions to get elected. I hope I never do it again. I regret it.”

Mr. Bush won the House seat handily, with 67 percent of the vote. In Washington, he was one of 47 Republican freshmen in a Democratic-controlled Congress. In his telling, his most consequential vote there was for the open housing bill of 1968, an extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he had campaigned against. He still had concerns about the act’s constitutionality, he wrote about his evolution, but the “problem of discrimination troubled me deeply.”

Mr. Bush was re-elected without opposition in 1968. The next spring, President Richard M. Nixon encouraged him to challenge Mr. Yarborough again for a Senate seat, although it would mean giving up a safe House seat and a post on the Ways and Means Committee. With Mr. Yarborough appearing more vulnerable this time, Mr. Bush took the challenge for the 1970 election.

Once again things did not turn out as planned. Representative Lloyd Bentsen challenged Mr. Yarborough in the Democratic primary and, in an upset, won. Mr. Bush, suddenly confronting a much tougher opponent, lost by more than 150,000 votes.

Twice defeated as a Senate candidate, and with his term in the House about to expire, Mr. Bush was looking for work. He was shortly summoned to the White House, where H. R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief of staff, talked to him about a White House staff job. Mr. Bush, however, wanted to be the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Nixon agreed.

His nomination drew a tide of criticism — his qualifications, as a former two-term congressman, were not immediately apparent — but Mr. Bush won confirmation in February 1971.

His United Nations service began with an embittering defeat in a vote on whether to seat a delegation from China. The United States had wanted both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China to be represented, but the United Nations General Assembly voted to expel Taiwan to make way for China. Delegates danced in the aisles, delighted to see the United States humiliated. When Mr. Bush rose to speak, he was hissed. “Gladiatorial ugliness at its worst,” he later called it.

In 1972, after the break-ins at the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, Nixon had a more urgent need for Mr. Bush: to lead the Republican National Committee. He took the job, he wrote, certain of Nixon’s innocence in the scandal, and he defended Nixon, though it was not easy.

Meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Post at the newspaper’s offices, he talked about the pressures he felt even from within his own party. “I had two stacks of mail,” he said. The first asked, “How come you’re not doing more to support the president?” The second asked, “How come you’re keeping the party so close to the president?”

But as the scandal deepened, his support for Nixon began to erode, particularly after the Supreme Court ordered the president to turn over 64 tapes, including one that recorded him ordering Mr. Haldeman to block an F.B.I. inquiry into the break-ins. “This was proof the president had lied,” Mr. Bush wrote in “All the Best, George Bush.”

“The man is amoral,” he said of Nixon in his diary.

After Nixon resigned, ceding the presidency to Vice President Gerald R. Ford, Mr. Bush hoped to fill the vice president’s office. Ford called him in Kennebunkport two weeks later to tell him that he had chosen former Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York for the job.

Mr. Bush went instead to China, as head of the United States Liaison Office, serving as an unofficial ambassador at a time when the two countries did not have full diplomatic relations. He would describe the period as a sabbatical, free of stress and obligations.

Ford brought him back for another assignment in 1976: to lead the C.I.A., which was still reeling from accusations that it had abused its power under Nixon, including plotting to assassinate foreign leaders and overturn governments. Mr. Bush was credited with restoring morale at the agency, but it was another short-lived appointment, lasting just under a year. Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter that November, and Mr. Bush returned to Texas.

There he turned his sights toward running for president. “I am determined to make an all-out effort for 1980,” he wrote to Nixon in January 1979.

That bid for the Republican nomination would prove to be unsuccessful, but Bush was offered and accepted the position of Ronald Reagan’s running mate in 1980, providing the conservative who had defeated him for the nomination with a running mate with deep foreign policy credentials that Reagan himself lacked. After a landslide victory in 1980, Reagan and Bush forged a close relationship as President and Vice-President that in many ways helped to redefine the office of the Vice-Presidency into the far more active position that we are familiar with today. At the end of President Reagan’s second term, that close relationship served to make Bush the heir apparent and front-runner for the Republican nomination in 1988, a nomination that Bush won after a bitter but short primary battle with Kansas Senator Bob Dole that showed a side of Bush as a political fighter that he had not displayed previously. Bush went on to surprise the political world by selecting the younger, and relatively inexperienced, Indiana Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate. While many saw this as a misstep on Bush’s part, it proved not to have much impact on his race against Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis in what measured up as a near-landslide as impressive as the victory that he and Ronald Reagan had achieved eight years earlier.

Denied the presidency earlier and overshadowed by Reagan for eight years, Mr. Bush was triumphant as he stood at the West Front of the Capitol on Inauguration Day in January 1989, a throng of well-wishers spread out below. He was 64 years old and eager to move into the office down the hall and around the corner from the quarters he had occupied as vice president — so eager that he exclaimed “I” before Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had finished asking him if he would solemnly swear to faithfully execute the office of president.

In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Bush pledged “to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.” He talked about a “thousand points of light,” a reference to community and charitable groups, “spread like stars throughout the nation.” But he soon met obstacles to that lofty ambition — some political, some economic, some of his own doing and some beyond his control.

The most immediate difficulty came from operating in Reagan’s shadow. Mr. Bush had replaced, and would be judged against, a two-term president who had come to embody a new era of Republicanism while presiding over what was, at the time, the longest period of economic growth in history. If things went wrong for Mr. Bush, he would not be able to blame his predecessor.

And clearly he did not approve of everything Reagan had done as president. The heavy budget deficit Reagan had left promised to complicate anything the new president might want to do.

As it turned out, Bush would rise to the Presidency just as the world as we had known it since the end of World War Two was on the cusp of changing significantly. America’s relationship with the Soviet Union had changed significantly with the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the relationship that Gorbachev had developed with former President Reagan continued into the Bush Presidency even as the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact were, as we would learn shortly into Bush’s Presidency, were coming to a quick end, but that wasn’t all that was happening as the “new world order” that Bush would come to speak of began to form:

In the spring, the Bush presidency turned to foreign affairs, where it stayed for much of the next two years. In Panama, Mr. Noriega claimed victory in an election in May that independent observers said had been stained with fraud. Mr. Bush declared the election stolen and called for international pressure to make the Panamanian strongman step aside. It would take almost eight months to accomplish that goal.

The Soviet bloc was in even greater upheaval. Mr. Gorbachev, who had come to power in 1985, had begun a campaign for economic and democratic change, shaking the foundations of communism across Eastern Europe. Mr. Bush found himself under pressure to respond with equal boldness.

In April 1989, he went to a Polish enclave in Michigan to salute the Polish government for its political liberalization, including providing for the labor union Solidarity to regain its legal status. “The winds of change are shaping a new European destiny,” Mr. Bush said. It was time, he declared in Texas a few weeks later, to “seek the integration of the Soviet Union into the community of nations.” And at a NATO meeting in May in Brussels, where many world leaders wanted to see if he could hold his own, he presented Mr. Gorbachev with a proposal for conventional arms cuts.

Still, Mr. Bush was criticized, even by allies, for having responded tentatively and tepidly to developments behind the Iron Curtain.

After the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, reporters asked Mr. Bush why he seemed subdued. “I’m just not an emotional kind of guy,” he replied.

He bristled at the criticism. “If we mishandle this,” he said, speaking of the rebellions in Eastern Europe, “and get way out looking like an American project, you could invite crackdown and invite negative reaction that could result in bloodshed.”

Mr. Bush had been similarly cautious in June that year, when Chinese troops cracked down on students demonstrating around Tiananmen Square in Beijing and opened fire, killing hundreds. He announced sanctions against China but said he did not want to cut off diplomatic relations.

That fall, Mr. Bush announced that he and Mr. Gorbachev would meet, albeit with no formal agenda, on vessels off the coast of Malta, in the Mediterranean. The summit meeting took place in early December 1989. Rough waters forced the cancellation of a negotiating session, but when the seas abated, the two leaders met and vowed to conclude treaties on long-range nuclear weapons and conventional arms by the end of the next year. They agreed, Mr. Gorbachev said, that “the characteristics of the Cold War should be abandoned.”

At the time, Mr. Bush was frustrated by Mr. Noriega’s resilience. In October, dissident Panamanian defense forces had been crushed in an attempted coup that received some, but not enough, American support. Mr. Noriega appeared before cameras in a taunting show of defiance.

On Dec. 20, the United States invaded Panama in a swift overnight operation involving 11,000 troops; 23 Americans died. Mr. Noriega fled, eventually turning up at the residence of the Vatican’s representative in Panama City before surrendering to the United States to face narcotics-trafficking charges. Mr. Atwater, the chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time, said the capture was a “political jackpot” for Mr. Bush.

The defining foreign policy event of Bush’s Presidency, though, began on the first day of August in 1990 when the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait, sending the leadership of that nation into exile, giving Saddam Hussein control of Kuwait’s oil reserves, and placing a large Iraqi Army on the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia within striking distance of the Saudi oil fields. Prompted in no small part by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who convinced Bush that a strong Western response was essential to maintaining the international order even as that order was transforming itself thanks to the slow collapse of the Communist bloc. Bush responded by putting together one of the largest and most impressive international coalitions since the end of World War Two and sending troops to Saudi Arabia for an operation that, at least at first, was defined as being a defensive posture to protect Saudi Arabia from Iraqi invasion. Eventually, though, it became clear that this defensive force would shift to an offensive mode if the Iraqis failed to withdraw from Kuwait. That point came in early 1991 when Operation Desert Shield became Operation Desert Storm, and the United States and its allies began an offensive that, in the end, utterly obliterated the Iraqi military and liberated Kuwait from Iraqi control. To the surprise and criticism of many at the time, Bush and his advisers chose not to take the war into Iraq and to seek the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein from power, a decision Bush defended at the time and thereafter by pointing out that the goal of the mission all along had been to liberate Kuwait, not to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. It would be another ten years before the United States returned to the Persian Gulf region to launch a war based on Hussein’s alleged failure to comply with the terms of the treaties that ended the Persian Gulf War, a decision that continues to shape the Middle East.

Domestically, Bush did not have nearly the same good fortune as he did on the international front. Early on, Bush found himself forced to walk back his “no new taxes” pledge by entering into a budget deal with the Democratic-controlled Congress that was meant to deal with mounting budget deficits that had become commonplace in the Reagan years. That decision would cause widespread outrage inside the Republican Party and lead to the beginnings of the transformation of the party with the rise of a populist brand of conservatism that would soon become the predominant political force in the Republican Party. When 1992 rolled around, Bush faced a stronger than expected challenge from far-right columnist and author Pat Buchanan that, while not successful, helped to create enough damage inside the GOP that it would have a significant impact inside the Republican Party. At the same time, the economic recovery that had begun in the early years of the Reagan Administration was coming to an end and this had a rather obvious impact on President Bush’s re-election chances. Additionally, Bush found himself facing a new generation in the form of Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and an upstart third-party campaign in the form of H. Ross Perot. As a result, Bush became just the third President in the 20th Century to lose his bid for re-election.

The nearly thirty years of post-Presidency that followed Bush’s defeat in the 1992 election would see the former President continue to give back to his nation and the world as he had done for most of his life. Just eight years after leaving office, Bush would become the second President in American history to have a son win the Presidency in his own right, and the elder Bush would become the first President to actually see his son win that election and achieve the dream that his father had been denied in winning a second term in office. The elder Bush would also become something of a pop culture icon thanks to things such as paying homage to his military experience by skydiving on the occasion of his 80th, 85th, and 90th birthdays. In the wake of the 2004 tsunami that decimated parts of Indonesia, he was asked by the younger President Bush to join forces with the man who had defeated him, former President Bill Clinton, on a fundraising tour that proved to be both successful and the beginning of a friendship between the two men that endured until the end of Bush’s life and which became for many symbolic of an era when people were able to put political differences to the side and become friends simply because they respected each other. Most recently, Bush was the focus of national attention upon the death of his wife and love of his life just eight months ago, a moment perhaps best summarized by this photograph posted by his daughter the night before Barbara Bush’s funeral:

Earlier this month, we got our final public glimpse at the 41st President as he voted:

In addition to the obituary in The New York Times excerpted above, which is worth reading in full, the former President is also eulogized in The Washington Post, The Wall Street JournalPolitico, The Los Angeles Times, The Houston Chronicle, CNNNBC News, Fox News, and ABC News. Each of these sites also has additional memorial material that will no doubt be updated as the day and the weekend go on. Additionally, there will no doubt be a lot of coverage of the former President’s legacy on cable and broadcast news in the coming days and weeks, especially as we approach what is expected to be a Presidential funeral not entirely dissimilar to the one we saw after former President Reagan died in 2006 with full state honors and all the other things that are common for such events. In Bush’s case, they will be honors that are well-deserved for a man who has served his nation in one respect or another since he was 17 years old and chose to enter the Second World War rather than take a position a Yale University that had already been granted to him.

Additionally, memorials have been pouring in from family and elsewhere:

By the time he had passed away, Bush had earned the title of the longest living former American President, a title he earned after former President Gerald Ford passed away at the end of 2006 and a title that now passes to former President Jimmy Carter, who is just a few months younger than Bush, having turned 94 two months ago. It is difficult to summarize a life such as Bush’s in a blog post, and there are many memorials of the former President that will be far better than anything I can come up with.

Suffice it to say, though, that, while I may have been critical of him during his Presidency, the one thing I will always remember is the fact that he brought to the office a kind of quiet dignity that is sorely missed. This was perhaps best epitomized by his leadership on the international front both during the Persian Gulf War, which I was admittedly but incorrectly skeptical of at the time, and amid the vast changes that swept the world in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc and, later, the Soviet Union himself. Rather than becoming a cheerleader pumping his fist over an American victory, Bush approached the latter two situations calmly and in a way that was clearly designed to ensure that whatever would come to follow the Cold War would hopefully be a world order in which the world was no longer divided as it had been during the Cold War. Thanks to his own experienced in the foreign policy area, and a team of advisers such as James Baker, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and others, Bush was able to guide the nation and the free world through a process that easily could have devolved into chaos. Regardless of the fact that he was not re-elected, as it turned out he was the right man in the right position at the right time amid a world that was changing before our eyes. For that, he deserves the thanks of a grateful nation, and he deserves to be remembered as a man who, like the late John McCain, put his country first and showed all of us what it really means to be a great American.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jen says:

    This saddens me. Godspeed, Mr. President.

    I read Richard Ben Kramer’s tome, “What it takes: The Way to the White House” years ago, and came away with a deep respect for G. H. W. Bush. He was probably the best-qualified person we’ve had in the White House in recent history.


  2. Ben Wolf says:

    Another criminal down.

    Now for the real prize: Kissenger.

  3. Franklin says:

    Condolences to his family and friends. He wasn’t half bad for a Republican. 🙂

  4. Hal_10000 says:

    He was what the Republican Party used to be: a true conservative. Agreed to raise taxes to balance the budget, exercised prudence in foreign policy and practiced laissez faire economics. I remember when tech companies wanted subsidies to develop HDTV, he refused. Somehow, HDTV happened anyway. His moves to balance the budget and helped set the course for the 90s economy. He executed both the Gulf War and the invasion of Panama expertly. Very under-rated President.

    I knew when Barbara passed, he wouldn’t be far behind. RIP.

  5. Ben Wolf says:

    @Franklin: Yes, burning El Chorrillo to the ground was a step up from the usual class of villain we get in the White House.

  6. Scott says:

    H.W. was always in my political wheelhouse. I voted for him in the primaries in 1980 and for President both times.

    He lived a good and honorable life and is well deserving of the praise he will get in the next few days.

    I just hope his send off doesn’t become the circus like McCain’s was. And please, let’s not make this about Trump.

  7. Ben Wolf says:


    He lived a good and honorable life and is well deserving of the praise he will get in the next few days.

    Here are all the women who have accused George H. W. Bush of sexual harassment

  8. Moosebreath says:

    A pretty good President, and the best Republican of my lifetime.

  9. Daryle and his brother Darryl says:

    The last competent Republican President.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    I didn’t always agree with him politically, but always accepted that he was trying to do right by the country. An honorable man

  11. dennis says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Ben, why do you have a hard-on for GHWB? I would give a lot to have another GHWB in the White House! Despite policy differences and his narrow minded view on atheists, I’d vote for him today over any of the purported Dem 2020 hopefuls. I would’ve voted for him over Obama if they had been competing in 2008.

    So, school me: why do you scorn him so much?

  12. gVOR08 says:

    We’re going to see a lot of hagiography of HW in the next several days. I normally wouldn’t mind, but in a couple years Republicans will all be running on the claim it was all Trump and now that he’s gone you can trust us to be the reasonable, moderate conservatives we’ve always pretended to be. The most balanced view of HW I’ve seen today is by Erik Loomis.

  13. Slugger says:

    When a person makes it to 90+ years, their passing to me at least is more a time for reflection than for mourning; of course, I sympathize with the feelings of the immediate family. This death is a man breaking the tape at the end of a race, a race that must be reckoned as a personal victory.
    My reflection goes to the 1991 war in Iraq. Ultimately was this a wise move? We reversed the conquest of a Saudi satrapy by Iraq, but the region is certainly unstable now and in the foreseeable future. Saddam Hussein was an evil man, but in thwarting him we didn’t establish the rule of good and wise rulers in the region. We paid heavily in blood and dollars, and empowered the monopoly controlling petroleum.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I don’t approve of bowdlerized history, not even when some famous person dies. That was a good, fair piece at LGM. On balance he scores a C but that’s grading on a curve against some real losers.

  15. de stijl says:


    The most balanced view of HW I’ve seen today is by Erik Loomis.

    That was a good piece at LGM by Loomis. Honest, accurate, fair. Thanks!

    Bush, as a President, was not as actively evil as others in his party would have been. Compared to Reagan, he was two steps up the decency and honor scale. Compared to his son, he was an order of magnitude better.

    He was less odious than his contemporary peers, and was capable of a modicum of empathy and professional competence. His manner and behavior was not that of a deranged, cartoonishly evil, cackling villain. He was less actively evil than we could have had. His Iran-Contra denials and pardons were deplorable. He replaced Brennan with Souter and that wasn’t awful; but he also replaced Thurgood Marshall with Thomas which was awful. He appointed Dick Cheney as SecDef. He chose Quayle as VP. He gave us John Ashcroft. His campaign against Dukakis was dirty racial politics led by Lee Atwater.

    Of R Presidents in my life-time, he is just a smidge behind Ford as “best” (aka “least bad”). But that’s a pretty low bar.

  16. Kathy says:

    @Daryle and his brother Darryl:

    The last real republican president.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Somewhere I have a picture of my wife and I standing with a small demonstration outside Bush’s Kennebunkport compound. My sign read, “One Term George.” Inevitably we are remembered for the worst of our actions as well as the best. The name Willy Horton sticks to Bush, and it should.

    When I die I hope I’m not buried in bullshit the way the MSM is treating Mr. Bush. I did some good, I did some bad, it’s all me, all part of a truthful picture. My view is (predictably) that our lives are the most important book we write, and I don’t understand the point of leaving out the scary and awful parts.

    “He was a man, take him for all in all,
    I shall not look upon his like again.”

    Nicely ambiguous, that.

  18. Stormy Dragon says:

    *gets popcorn for when Trump doesn’t get invited to funeral and throws a fit on Twitter*

  19. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Apparently Trump and Melania will attend the Washington service. It’s customary for the current president to deliver the principal eulogy at a former president’s funeral.

    I hope that custom is eschewed this time around.

  20. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    That’s a nice part of Maine. Yeah, there’s old money buttcrap, but also tumultuous massive cold Atlantic waves Romantically smashing against a rocky coast. Old money knew where to build summer homes. (all Old Money was, at one point in the fairly recent past grasping up-jumped nouveau riche – George’s grandfather was born to an Episcopal priest and a housewife.)

    This thread is a pointed exercise in damning with faint praise.

    Bush 41 wasn’t a bad guy. He had a strong sense of civic duty and public service, tainted, as always, by wanting to move up the ladder. He acquitted himself well in the war. He was a professional and competent CIA manager. He was also flawed and did some shitty stuff.

  21. de stijl says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Here are all the women who have accused George H. W. Bush of sexual harassment

    which links to a Business Insider article which is fair and accurate reporting of women who have accused Bush of groping and worse.

    His link has, as of now, 0 up-votes and 7 down likely due to his previous provocative “hot takes” up-thread.

    Just because you don’t like someone’s previous statements shouldn’t mean that you dismiss a legitimate and fairly reported article that he linked to. There is no “too soon”. If Bush was a groper, let’s talk about it and listen to the accusers with open ears.

    Ben Wolf, out of the gate you went with a wrong tone. But your link deserves at least one up-vote.

  22. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: There’s a really nice trolly museum up in Kennebunkport. Totally worth the trip if you haven’t seen it, and a side trip to protest at the Bush compound is convenient.

  23. de stijl says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    *gets popcorn for when Trump doesn’t get invited to funeral and throws a fit on Twitter*

    I hadn’t thought of that.

    Politicians’ funerals are now internet beefs. It’s like Bhad “Cash me outside” Bhabie vs. Lil’ Tay.

  24. de stijl says:




  25. dennis says:


    Good article. Thanks for the link. Now, for some psychological introspection on why I, as a black man born in ’62, not only voted for The Elder, but continue to look back on his presidency with fondness and longing, notwithstanding the fact that I protest-voted for Perot (like a dumbass) because I believed Bush “grew” out of touch with “the people.” Oh, how politically naive was/am I …

  26. dennis says:


    I hope that custom is eschewed this time around.

    As do I. The man is despicable, indeed.

  27. Gustopher says:

    When I was young and naive, I totally bought George HW Bush’s statements about wanting to guarantee equality of opportunity but not results. And he talked a good talk on education. And, four years later, he had the virtue of not being Bill Clinton.

    A few things, good and bad, that I will always remember about him:

    – I never believed he was out of the loop on Iran-Contra. If you don’t include the former head of the CIA in that, you’re missing a lot of expertise.

    – Willie Horton. I have conflicted feelings on this, as the ad appealed to racists, but it also happens that the guy was black and the Dukakis program was either a bad idea or at least poorly executed.

    – Raising taxes was the right thing to do. He was very pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, and I liked that.

    – pardoning people for Iran-Contra was the wrong thing to do. We should stop pardoning people involved in Republican administration crimes.

    – Iraq and Panama were well done, but both had us turning on our former client states. I can’t help but think we could have prevented the need to invade by being more active before hand. (And, apparently the US ambassador to Iraq made a statement that Saddam Hussein took as a green light to invade Kuwait)

    – Somalia… kind of a shitty thing to do right as you are leaving office, creating a quagmire for your predecessor. But, it was also done with the hope and belief that as the world’s last superpower, we could use that power for good and restore order to a country that had no functioning government and where people were suffering.

    – His kids were a mess. Neil Bush was involved the the S&L stuff, and would also enter beginners tennis tournaments just to win them (he was not a beginner at this point). George W was a terrible President. Jeb is mostly harmless so far (please clap).

    Overall, a mixed bag. I’ll watch “The Big Lebowski” to honor his memory.

  28. de stijl says:


    My reflection goes to the 1991 war in Iraq. Ultimately was this a wise move? We reversed the conquest of a Saudi satrapy by Iraq, but the region is certainly unstable now and in the foreseeable future.

    Iraq War 1 (aka Gulf War in 1990) modestly benefited the Saudis and other Arabs. It also modestly boosted Persian interests.

    Iraq War 2 *massively* benefited Iran. To the point where I’m firmly convinced by evidence that “Curveball” was a plant, and Ahmed Chalabi was a double agent for Tehran. Iran induced us into attacking, invading, and occupying Iraq because Bush 43 (well, Cheney, actually) had a hard-on for Hussein and wanted to clean up Daddy’s missed opportunity to reshape the ME in our interest and favor.

    Bush 41 knew when to stop. His son did not.

  29. Ratufa says:


    Saddam Hussein was an evil man, but in thwarting him we didn’t establish the rule of good and wise rulers in the region.

    That’s a good example of why the elder Bush was a much better President than his son — he did not try to overthrow Saddam. Nowadays, one might hope that after seeing the consequences when we did overthrpw Saddam, our ongoing and likely losing effort in Afghanistan, the mess that is Libya after Gaddafi, the rise of ISIS and the ongoing slaughterhouse that is Syria, people would not blithely talk about the US “establishing the rule of good and wise rulers” in the Middle East or anywhere else.

  30. Kathy says:


    It’s customary for the current president to deliver the principal eulogy at a former president’s funeral.

    What’s the custom as regards the current usurper?

    I’m sorry, but flaws, faults, mistakes, blunders and all, Bush the elder deserves a lot better than Cheeto at his memorial service.

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    My first ever vote was for Nixon in 1972. My shame trumps yours.

  32. de stijl says:


    Willie Horton. I have conflicted feelings on this, as the ad appealed to racists, but it also happens that the guy was black and the Dukakis program was either a bad idea or at least poorly executed.

    Get unconflicted. You can criticize a bad policy poorly executed without employing a Southern Strategy of explicitly inciting racial fears. Of Whites towards thuggish, murderous Black men.

    This is the Willie Horton ad: (33 seconds)

    Imagery, context, subtext.

    People get stuck on the text because that is definable and can be measured and rationally analyzed to a certain extent. But the stuff that prompts the text, and surrounds it, and magnifies it, and what it implies, mean as much if not more so.

    Willie Horton was chosen for this attack for a specific reason.

    Black men in America are simultaneously uneducated, stupid, lazy and incompetent… and also the most hyper-competent criminals and cunning miscreants the world has ever known.

    It’s baffling!

    (And I consciously avoided the sex component. Mandingo+white slavery is a feverishly imagined fear in the R core. Baseless stupid fear, but widely extant.)

  33. dennis says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Lol. That’s why I love you, MR: never one to be outdone!

  34. Franklin says:

    @Ben Wolf: True enough. It’s no excuse, but he was from the era that thought “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was a nice family-friendly holiday song.

  35. Kathy says:


    (And, apparently the US ambassador to Iraq made a statement that Saddam Hussein took as a green light to invade Kuwait)

    I wonder how much the words of April Glaspie mattered. I’d like to take a look at primary sources from the period (a big job), but I fear a lot remains classified.

    More relevant, perhaps, was the ongoing support for Saddam when he was at war with Iran. A war which, it’s worth noting, Saddam started. Remember Saddam use chemical weapons in the battlefield. Chemical weapons are banned. the support didn’t end.

    And I’ve no idea at all how the incident with the USS Stark figures into the picture. Briefly, an Iraqi jet hit the US Frigate in 1987.

  36. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: I watch the ad, and I don’t see the racial component that much — were there other prisoners who got weekend passes and kidnapped and killed people? Maybe some white prisoners? Am I missing a larger question about why they focus on this particular prisoner?

    You need a picture of either the prisoner, or bodies of victims for the ad to be effective.

    Sometimes people are just black. Sometimes those are terrible people.

    And sometimes, we are so used to our privilege and sheltered, naive little lives that we have to take other people’s words for it. Black folks say the ad is racist. I tend to think it’s just a case where the facts (murderer who was released and killed again was black) happen to fit into an ugly stereotype (black men are scary and dangerous). I mostly defer to the folks who say it’s racist, but I’m uneasy with it.

    But, it definitely appeals to those who already believe the stereotype.

    I think there is a difference between something being racist, and something happening to appeal to racists.

    You can try to limit the second, but what can you do when the bad guy happens to be black? Television is a visual medium, you need pictures.

    If they happened to find a picture of Willie Horton with his arm around a white girl, eating a slice of watermelon, I think we would all agree that it was racist AF — there would be no reason to hunt down and use those particular photos. But mugshot and arrest photos? Those just seem relevant.

    What am I missing?

    (I work in software — often customer facing, community oriented stuff. One thing I have learned is that you need a bunch of different people looking at mockups early, as we all have blind spots to what is offensive or bothersome, and you want to catch problems like that early. I assume I have a huge blind spot when it comes to this ad.)

  37. Gustopher says:

    @Gustopher: I ramble a lot. That was long.

  38. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    My first vote was for Mondale. (I missed 1980 by 13 months.)

    I later got to be good friends with his son by just happenstance – roomie was in the same law school class. He’s a good cat. And met the rest of the brood, too, and mom and dad. They have a nice place on a bluff above the St. Croix north of Stillwater. And one verrry bored Secret Service dude. This was way after ’80. I imagine you’re way down the ladder to get guard-dog duty for a former VP. Walter went to Macalester back in the day so Hamline me had to give him shit about that.

    One of his sisters was dating an active Chicago Bear player back then, so there was much mocking in Viking land. Way later in 2005, she married an old friend of mine I’ve known since forever. Social circles are weird. I’ve known Chan since 1980.

    If I had a time machine, I could walk up to Chan then and say, “25 years from now you will marry the daughter of the Vice President. No shit, no foolin’.” E died in 2011 from brain cancer and is sorely missed.

    This is Chan with The Suburbs (pop-punk band)
    The Suburbs – Tape My Wife to The Ceiling

    Chan is the keyboard / singer here. Beej usually sang what he wrote and Chan sang what he wrote. This was shot in a big-ass vacant for sale mansion on Summit Ave. in St. Paul. Please don’t judge the fashion choices too harshly in hindsight – I know those folks. Do not judge the extras! I might be one of them.

    Chan later went solo, did a collab with Theatre de la Jeune Lune and formed The New Standards with folk from Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare. He’s a good guy!

  39. de stijl says:


    You’re seeing text.

    I tend to think it’s just a case where the facts (murderer who was released and killed again was black) happen to fit into an ugly stereotype (black men are scary and dangerous). I mostly defer to the folks who say it’s racist, but I’m uneasy with it.

    Think context, subtext, pretext.

    Lee Atwater was Bush 41’s campaign manager. The man that invented The Southern Strategy.

    Willie Horton is not a man with a factual background in this ad, he is an avatar. A scary mugshot image of what is coming for you, White America, if you don’t vote for Bush!

    I can lead you in this direction, but I can’t make you drink. Have you ever felt “othered”? Do you know the concept? Can you see beyond the dog whistle?

  40. Teve says:

    I am sure the residents of the fine trailer parks of South Cackalacky received the message.

  41. de stijl says:

    @de stijl: @Gustopher:

    You see the ad as about Dukakis and a factual policy critique with Horton as the poster boy.

    It isn’t.

    It really, really isn’t.

    I understand your heart is in the right place, but c’mon!

    Willie Horton is to Republicans as previous iconography is to …

    You are ignoring actual trees because you are intent on seeing the forest.

  42. dennis says:


    What am I missing?

    It took me a minute to step back and tell myself that not everyone sees the obvious the same way.

    You are correct: the facts of the case are not racist; they are what they are. The motive behind the creation and use of the ad aren’t racist. Still, it reinforces a racist stereotype against men like me that makes traversing this American experiment unnecessarily daunting. I still have to take those extra steps to prove I’m not some “black thug” who’s going to snatch your purse as I overtake you on the street, or violate you in the elevator. It takes a lot of skinnin’ and grinnin’ to make fearful folk comfortable in your presence, dontchaknow?

    The ad isn’t in itself racist, but it perpetuates a racist caricature of black men that makes it much more difficult to negotiate this life. That’s my perspective, anyway.

  43. de stijl says:

    The Willie Horton ad is the ur source for scary Black Man is coming to kill you and rape your wife in contemporary American political advertising.

    What is the intent? Who is the audience?

    Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign with a pro-states’ right speech in, of all possible locations, Philadelphia, Mississippi. What prompted Reagan to choose that location? Why that particular message delivered there?

    Again. What is the intent? Who is the audience?

    In 2010, the population of Philadelphia, MS was ~7400. Why would Reagan choose such a place to launch his campaign?

    What’s louder than a dog whistle?

  44. SC_Birdflyte says:

    All Presidents leave a mixed legacy (Lincoln’s body was hardly cold when some of his political opponents were almost gleeful, thinking Andrew Johnson would be easy to manipulate). All in all, H.W. was the best president we could have had for the end of the Cold War. My primary concern with his Middle East policy was that Desert Storm seemed so effortless it convinced Cheney and Rumsfeld (as well as W, who could plead lack of experience) that we could take down Saddam Hussein any time. Domestically, he suffered for a lot of sins that really were Reagan’s.

  45. de stijl says:


    I’m from a Swedish family in the Scandanavian part of the Upper Midwest so I am schooled and disciplined and utterly inculcated on politeness and deference.

    But I just need to be polite and keep my yap shut. Rice fears my whiteness. In January, I’m technically invisible.

    If I had to be constantly on – respectful+polite+charming+friendly+”safe”, I would go quickly insane. You face a social burden that I can see, but not really feel the weight of it.

    I wish it were not true.

  46. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    What’s to mock? They’re good.

  47. de stijl says:


    There’s a really nice trolly museum up in Kennebunkport.

    When I first read this, I initially saw “trolly” as troll+ly for a second or two and imagined displays of Drew’s and JayTea’s and Guanari’s and whatever pseudonym they use now, and their outlandish provocative comments printed out and blown up to 3’x5′ poster size displayed under flawless white light for the world to see.

  48. Michael Reynolds says:


    The ad isn’t in itself racist, but it perpetuates a racist caricature of black men that makes it much more difficult to negotiate this life. That’s my perspective, anyway.

    Well, let me just whitesplain’ that for you, black man.

    Here’s how I saw it at the time and still do, and forgive me while I get metaphorical. There’s a monster out there. That monster packed your people onto boats for the middle passage, and my people onto trains for the trip to Dachau. The monster takes many forms, has many homes, wears many disguises, but it’s still the same monster. We don’t seem to able to kill it, but we can, with effort, keep it weak and under control.

    Step one in doing that job is this: don’t feed the fcking monster. Don’t feed the fcking monster just to win an election. The Willy Horton ad fed the monster. It reminded white people that while their black grocer or black dentist might be a fine fellow, black people are at least as much Willy Horton as they are grocers or dentists.

    The arguments that this did actually happen (it did) and that the Dukakis policy was reckless (it was) are true. Nor do I think George H.W. Bush was sitting around thinking, “I hate n–ers and thus I will deploy this ad while cackling and rubbing my hands.” But Lee Atwater knew exactly what he was doing, regardless of whether he personally was a racist or not. He needed votes from the people who love the monster, so he fed the monster.

    White people – pretty much any people, but let’s stick with my folks – weigh the evidence one way for a white face and another way for a black face. (This will not surprise you.) A white Willy Horton would have had far less impact on the target audience. Atwater and Bush didn’t make Horton black, he just was, but when they ran that ad they knew damned well they were feeding the monster.

    I’m a forgiving guy (for obvious reasons of self interest) but I have a hard time forgiving deliberate malice, the conscious commission of what you know to be an evil act. Tell me you did a crime for money, or for a thrill, tell me you didn’t consider the consequences, you were young, you were high, whatever, I am ready to forgive. But tell me you knowingly contributed in however small a way, to the greatest evil man has endured? That’s a different thing.

  49. dennis says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t dispute any of that. Maybe it’ll clear it up for @Gustopher

  50. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The vid I plugged was substandard. Not a shitty song, but they did waaay better.

    The Suburbs were awesome at what they did. If you like early ’80 pop-punk

    The Suburbs – Music For Boys
    Super slinky bass. Chan is the narrator guy in the stupid hat

    The Suburbs – Love Is The Law
    This is hard and tight. And Hugo banging hard. Man, that guy is a good drummer. I can’t do that to save my life, my beat just wobbles randomly. You do not want me on rhythm ever.

    After they did Love Is The Law its was just accepted that The Suburbs would get picked up and go national and would blow the fuck up.

    Name me a better pop song than that from 1984.

  51. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Well, let me just whitesplain’ that for you, black man.

    That was awesome whitesplaining. That was just straight up no foolin’ good.

    I kept trying to get @Gustopher to see the light, and then you just clicked the switch.

    Atwater and Bush didn’t make Horton black, he just was, but when they ran that ad they knew damned well they were feeding the monster.

    There is a reason that professionals are justly compensated. You earned every penny.

  52. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    There was no mocking! Everybody thinks that punks are aggro and petulant. When did I mock? Show me!!! Answer me! Why would anyone think that punks are aggro!!!???! That’s so fucking weird!!?!*!

    (I kid.)

    If you saw any mocking, that burden is totally on you my friend. The Suburbs aren’t punk – yeah, so what? Those folks were really good at their jobs and knew how to write a poppy song. That is an indisputable good thing.

  53. de stijl says:

    The idea that angry aggro aging 50 something punks are really into Italic is stupid and it just means he forgot to close the …


    Seriously, that looks way more assertive than intended. I did not mean for that to happen.

  54. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You did okay this time – better than “okay” you did fantastic – but whitesplaining has a short shelf-life.

    If you shut up now, no one will realize you’re actually agoraphobic, avoidant, and riddled with anxiety.

  55. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Two out of three for sure. I’m inoculated against anxiety having had it so much worse.

  56. Gustopher says:


    The ad isn’t in itself racist, but it perpetuates a racist caricature of black men that makes it much more difficult to negotiate this life. That’s my perspective, anyway.

    That’s how I’ve always tended to view it. Not actually racist on its own, but appealing to racists. Hitting its target, Dukakis, but also reinforcing bad stereotypes.

    The only question is intent, where I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt if there is a plausible version. I’ve always seen this ad as far more hitting Dukakis than anything else — largely because it is so effective at hitting Dukakis.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A white Willy Horton would have had far less impact on the target audience. Atwater and Bush didn’t make Horton black, he just was, but when they ran that ad they knew damned well they were feeding the monster.

    That makes perfect sense. I half suspect Poppy Bush as being a bit out of touch, and not thinking about it, but Lee Atwater knew.

    Tough on crime almost always means tough on black people, but poorly thought through programs are legitimate targets for attack ads, and this has that too.

    Maybe I’m just viewing it from a 21st century perspective where it’s obvious the Republicans embrace the racists, and they shout it at the top of their lungs rather than leaving it to background.

    @de stijl:

    Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign with a pro-states’ right speech in, of all possible locations, Philadelphia, Mississippi. What prompted Reagan to choose that location?

    Ok, there’s no text to that. That was clearly just subtext and appealing to racists.

    There’s nothing Philadelphia MS has other than dead civil rights workers (or was it lynchings there? So much horror through the south, it’s so hard to remember what happened where). He wasn’t planning on announcing in the city of brotherly love and got his travel mixed up and found himself in the wrong state.

    I can be naive, but I’m not stupid.

  57. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: Stay classy, Mr. Wolf! Always good to gloat upon the deaths of perceived enemies.

    And what will you have won when Henry Kissinger dies of natural causes in a few years?

  58. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You know that comment was about me, not you, yes?

    This is a safish place of discourse, I think. Well, “safey” anyway because I declare it to be.

    Please use your best empathy in character creation skills and describe what not-anxiety feels like. The sky is blue in my world but I can conjure up and imagine many different worlds, but the concept of not-anxiety is deeply foreign to me. I’ve seen photos taken from the surface of Mars and the sky is violet and pinkish.

    I don’t think my brain gets what not-anxiety feels like, I’m like a fish who has spotted a raccoon near the shore. I can see that that not-water creature in the above and out space but cannot fully reckon with it’s existence.

  59. dennis says:


    I’ve always seen this ad as far more hitting Dukakis than anything else — largely because it is so effective at hitting Dukakis.

    Don’t misunderstand me: I believe the exact purpose of the ad was to appeal to racists and to the racial fears of the white majority. Dukakis was just one of its casualties. An incidental casualty, at that. You see, Republicans know – and know very well – that if rank and file white folks get past their fear of the scary, giant black beast, they’ll never win another election. This is why they had to demonize Obama so viciously. Couldn’t allow that hope and change black dude to disenfranchise them forever!

    The “Willie Horton Ad” was not a tactical maneuver to gain a short-term win in the ’88 election; it was a deliberate move to secure a long-term strategic advantage in future elections, an advantage they knew they would have to stoke repeatedly year after year. Don’t get it twisted.

  60. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Franklin: Uh… yeah. I had the dubious privilege of watching my local high school’s show choir rehearse the song for the Christmas Concert. Complete with choreography of the girls trying to move one direction off stage and the boys pushing them back to centerstage with the girls finally falling into the boys’ arms.

    And it was just a little after #metoo if I recall correctly. It was a little conflicting for me; to the close contemporary female choir director and the aide/accompanist (who designed the choreography) not as much I guess.

    On the other hand, I live in a county that voted for Trump and the GOP 69%, so…

  61. de stijl says:

    Here are the same dudes ~35 years later.
    The Suburbs – Turn The Radio On

    Well, some of the dudes. Bruce passed ~10 years ago – he was a seriously bonkers great artist / designer. He did the cover for Let It Be – how cool is that?. Dude beaned me directly in the eye once with a broken pick, he didn’t mean to but it broke mid song and he flang it forth pissedly. That was at that little bar on University just a block or two east of Snelling – the blah blah Inn or Nook or Corner whatever – they had punk rock karaoke on Tuesday nights and I always did Gang Of Four Damaged Goods because I could nail that guy’s voice super hard. They had the world’s shittiest taco bar during happy hour. Remember when bars used to give you “free” super salty food at 5 pm? I used to plan my week around that.

    Chan is portly. Beej looks like Iggy Pop’s sexy younger brother. Hugo is mr. tik tok rock steady. Bruce is gone. Eleanor aka Easy Muthafuckin’ E is gone.

    Time is brutal and relentless.

  62. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: Time may be brutal and relentless, but they seem so much more comfortable in their skins than with the earlier songs. They don’t seem to be trying to be edgy.

    Approaching fifty, I wince a little at the youngsters posing and preening.

    Also, Black Star was David Bowie’s best album, and Bob Dylan has more to say as a geezer than he ever did in the 1960s. A lot of musicians take decades to grow into their talent.

    Deep Purple, however, peaked on their third album, and have been progressively less inventive on every album since. So it’s not universal. Hmm… I think their decline might have started right when I was conceived.

  63. de stijl says:


    Approaching fifty, I wince a little at the youngsters posing and preening.

    Relax. Those folk have us covered. Today’s Youths ™ are smarter, faster, and savvier than we were when we were them. We can retire safely into retired oblivion safely and securely. I face advanced decrepitude with utter scorn.

    If we want to fetishize New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle and dance around like a daft loon at 3:30 AM when we’re 55 yo, we can, because Today’s Youths(tm) have our butts covered.

  64. de stijl says:


    Also, Black Star was David Bowie’s best album

    You could not be more wrong. Heroes was clearly peak Bowie. I could entertain Low in this discussion but … pauses to Google… what the fuck are you talking about? The last album in the oeuvre is obviously the worst – exception for Johnny Cash.

    Young people make good music. Old people appreciate good music. These are the accepted rules! When you’re young and stupid you just go for the pleasure center and and that sweet, super sweet endorphin kick and rush.


    they seem so much more comfortable in their skins than with the earlier songs. They don’t seem to be trying to be edgy.

    I thought I had seen wrong takes before, and then I saw yours.

    Musicians gain experience with time, but lose something and let’s call it “vitality”. If you plot it out – greats songs by years after band inception, the vast majority of truly great songs bunch in the bottom left corner and peaks at two to three years after inception. And the drop-off thereafter is dramatic.

    The new song from The Suburbs doesn’t actively suck ass, it’s just NPR tote bag organic kale lame old people rock.

    Music needs to shock you into a new state of thinking and being. That doesn’t just mean abrasive and discordant. Don’t just listen to your old time faves, salt it up with new stuff within your stylistic wheelhouse.

    I’m old white-ass me, but I adore Sia and witchhouse and weirdo folk – punk like AJJ.

    Take the Replacements / Paul Westerberg the further you get in time from inception, the less vital it is.

    The young version of The Suburbs did a song called Cows which is a stupid dumb-ass celebration of, you guessed it, cows.
    The Suburbs – Cows

    Responsible adult my aged version of those (mostly) same people wrote a song about dancing in your UMC house with your UMC SO to oldies on the radio.

    Which is more vital?

  65. de stijl says:


    I’m goofing with you now. Well, 90% goofing. 70% goofing. 30% goofing.

    Somewhere in that range.

    But your Bowie take was moronic and silly and insulting. Brian Eno made Bowie.

  66. de stijl says:

    Iggy Pop will never carry an NPR tote bag.
    Teddybears – Punkrocker (feat. Iggy Pop)

    John Lydon will never carry the English equivalent of the NPR tote (btw, Lydon is now an American citizen and lives in Malibu); Chuck D would laugh in your damn face for even suggesting such foolishness.

    I’ve heard heartfelt middle-aged /old guy NPR folk-rock a billion times and it is definitionally boring and the antithesis of new and exciting and vital.

    Imagine being in the Malibu Whole Foods and there is Johnny Rotten in aisle four trying to decide which brand of canola oil to purchase!?

    Interestingly, NPR is one of the best sites to find exciting new voices and sounds. Between Tiny Desk and All Songs Considered and just general reporting, NPR has the best music desk of any mainstream news org by far. Plus, old Terry Gross archives and she interviewed everybody. I’m halfway through her interview with Rami Malek about playing Freddie Mercury.

  67. Jen says:

    I understand the irritation at hagiography at this point, but I have a feeling that it’s likely more pronounced than usual because of the stark contrast between G. H. W. Bush and the current White House occupant. I think even the most jaded, liberal reporter can look at 41’s biography and think “now that was a decent man” given all we know and experience daily with Trump.

    The Bush family represents the world that Trump always wanted to be accepted into, and never will be. I’m enjoying the glowing praise–particularly the emphasis on war service–knowing that it is probably getting deep, deep under Trump’s skin. He will NEVER be remembered in this light.

  68. MarkedMan says:


    the Dukakis program was either a bad idea or at least poorly executed.

    I’m gonna be a contrarian here. I don’t think that’s the lesson to be learned here. In fact, the lesson I took at the time was that there are certain programs that no matter their benefits can’t be done because they are too easy to use in a negative political campaign add.

    Here’s my understanding of the problem, and why the weekend pass program was a good idea: Prisoners that serve long terms have a high recidivism rate. Part of that is due to how they are released. 15 years in incredibly regimented prison where they have zero autonomy and then in one minute they walk out the prison door and back into a radically changed environment, looking for support from family members and friends that haven’t interacted with them in most of their adult life. So the weekend release program said that rather then give long term prisoners a bus ticket and twenty dollars and push them out the door, in the last few months before their release they would get a weekend pass. The purpose was to give them the chance to reconnect, see what the lay of the land was, and then come back to prison and make exit plans knowing the actual landscape.

    But the point was to reduce recidivism. Many of these people were hardened criminals or had become hardened in prison. All too often they were back to committing crimes within hours of release. So there were definitely going to be crimes committed during the weekend pass. If I remember correctly, the data showed that the net benefit was positive. Lower recidivism. Fewer overall crimes. But this is the trolley problem of politics. Rather than “Would you deliberately divert a runaway trolley to avoid killing five pedestrians if you knew it would certainly cause the death of one person who would otherwise have lived?”, it’s “Would you champion a program that reduced but not elinated crime if, by doing that, you can be blamed for any crime committed during the program?”

  69. mattbernius says:

    No offense, but I’m having a hard time reconciling the following two statements you made:

    You are correct: the facts of the case are not racist; they are what they are. The motive behind the creation and use of the ad aren’t racist.


    Don’t misunderstand me: I believe the exact purpose of the ad was to appeal to racists and to the racial fears of the white majority.

    If an ad is created to appeal to racists and racial fears of the white majority, how is the ad itself not racist (especially in that it represented a fringe case in an overall successful program)?

  70. mattbernius says:

    For those interested in a deep analysis of the Horton Ad and furlough programs at the time, the Marshall project produced an amazing long form journalism piece on it two years ago:

    The reality was that in aggregate, the furlough programs were working (and most likely assisted with reentry and lowering recidivism rates).

    BTW, we can expect to see similar ads and sensational reporting as bail reform continues.

    Likewise the reality is that if we are really interested in lowering incarceration rates and costs, we’re going to have to rethink a lot of our current punishment system for violent offenders (and individuals charged as accessories in violent crimes). That’s going to lead us into a lot of uncomfortable spaces.

  71. Gustopher says:

    @de stijl: Had David Bowie died two years earlier, I might have agreed with you that his best stuff was way, way earlier — he took a bunch of years to try out different things with varying degrees of success, but never tied it back to his original work.

    Tin Machine, Black Tie / White Noise, Earthling, Heathen… all interesting, but not always good.

    Johnny Cash has released better music posthumously than most artists can hope to release while they are alive. I do think there has been a decline in quality since his death, but if they can find a few more recordings, I’d be thrilled.

    And I would rather listen to any Bob Dylan album between Love and Theft and Tempest than any of his early stuff. Well, except for the Christmas Album. No one should listen to his Christmas album. When people complain about the war against Christmas, why do they never mention that album?

    Most artists do their best work when they are youngsters because they don’t have anything going for them other than a frantic energy, which they use to plow through their weaknesses. A few take time to understand their weaknesses, and how to incorporate them into their music, which gives a much more genuine, honest and successful result. There are generally a few terrible albums before that.

    Also, I would love a Johnny Rotten song about being in aisle four of Whole Foods, choosing the brand of canola oil. And you would too. It might be a disaster, but it would be an amazing disaster.

    And, I didn’t say that the Suburbs were better now, just that they were more comfortable in their skins. They were fine then, and they remain fine.

    (Current albums I am overplaying: Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae, Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen, Foxheads Stalk This Land by the Close Lobsters, and a three volume Clawhammer Banjo set)

  72. dennis says:


    No offense taken at all: I welcome a challenge of my premises. I can see where you’d perceive a conflict, but I make a distinction between something being racial and something being racist.

    I don’t perceive the ad or the use of it to exploit people’s racism/racial fears racist in itself. It was reprehensible, and a real shitty thing to do, the result of which was to unleash people’s racism/racial fears to influence their vote. The ad was not untrue, was it? I mean on its face, without delving into the whys and hows? If I was working for Bush and contrived and distributed the ad, would that make ME racist? If so, does that then make black conservatives racist, since they’re complicit in GOP shenanigans?

    As shitty as it was, the ad probably wouldn’t have had that great of an efect if people weren’t racist, or hadn’t an irrational fear of black men (a whole different topic). Then again, I could be way off the rez …

  73. wr says:

    @de stijl: “If Bush was a groper, let’s talk about it and listen to the accusers with open ears.”

    You want to talk about Bush’s role in Iran-Contra, I’m in. If you want to talk about his supreme court choices, I’ll join you. If you want to discuss his decision to raise taxes against his pledge, and whether that was dishonesty or bravery, I’ll be there.

    But a 94-year old man who once held the power to blow up the world just died, and I can’t find it in me to give a damn whether or not he was crappy to some women in his private life.

    Sorry, but this just does not feel cosmically significant to me.

  74. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “Tin Machine, Black Tie / White Noise, Earthling, Heathen… all interesting, but not always good.”

    I’m with you up until Heathen… but to my mind Heathen and Reality were two of the best.

  75. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:

    Iggy Pop will never carry an NPR tote bag.

    Street walkin’ cheetahs seldom accessorize.

  76. mattbernius says:


    No offense taken at all: I welcome a challenge of my premises.

    I always appreciate that about you Dennis!

    I do think we’ve got irreconcilable differences on this one, but I appreciate you taking the time to walk me through your POV.