Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Last Great Soldier-Statesman' a Day of Eulogies for Former President George H.W. Bush Marks the End of an Era

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Last Great Soldier-Statesman' a Day of Eulogies for Former President George H.W. Bush Marks the End of an Era

Article excerpt


With four ruffles and flourishes from the Coast Guard Band, 41 tolls in a low C from the 12-ton bourdon bell atop the Washington National Cathedral, and a final burst of "Hail to the Chief," the capital bid a final adieu to a man whose presidency itself was a farewell - the last breath of a time he described as "kinder, gentler'' and of a generation of leadership rooted in the certainties of World War II and in the tensions of the Cold War.

In a funeral rite of poignancy and power, Washington came together to celebrate the life of George Herbert Walker Bush - the last president to know Japan and Germany as both adversary and ally, the last representative of the Eastern Republican aristocracy, the last tie to the brand of conservatism that deplored deficits and embraced free trade. And in saluting the 41st president, a weary and wary capital achieved a brief moment of unity.

In the front pews were five chief executives, a portrait gallery of our politics, from the dour and dutiful Jimmy Carter, whose presidency ended nearly four decades ago, to the impulsive and intuitive Donald J. Trump, whose presidency was skewered gently but unmistakably by Mr. Bush's eulogists, though with less restraint from the Greek chorus of Bush family retainers who filled the seats of Washington's most solemn gathering place.

It was a day like no other in contemporary Washington, beginning just after dawn when the faithful began to gather in a Washington hotel lobby, the women once beautiful wearing the brush strokes of the years, the men once powerful bent with age. For two hours the vestibule of the old Omni Shoreham Hotel - where balladeers once crooned about the Watergate crimes of Richard Nixon - was a mess of hugs and handshakes, earpieces and hairpieces, all provided by the wan and worn and by those with walkers.

From start to finish, it was a salute, a tattoo blast, to Mr. Bush, his much understated style, his often unappreciated legacy. "George H.W. Bush was America's last great soldier-statesman, a 20th-century founding father," Bush biographer Jon Meacham, who traveled to Kennebunkport, Maine, to read chapters of his book to the ailing former president, said in a eulogy.

For this was the last gathering of Washington's old guard, a day both somber and celebratory but mostly evocative of a time and a style of politics conducted by people who started in the era of black-and-white television but who seldom engaged in the crude, reductive politics of black-and-white.

"It's like being back in the 1990s," said presidential historian Michael Beschloss, "and wishing we could stay there."

In every element Mr. Bush's funeral reflected his interests and his inclinations. There was a prince (Charles, of the United Kingdom), a king (Abdullah II, of Jordan), senators, members of the House, every living Supreme Court justice. And there were presidents, including Hashim Thaci of Kosovo, here to salute Mr. Bush for his 1992 letter threatening Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic if he mounted military action inside Kosovo, then an enclave of Serbia.

In one row, along with Mr. Thaci, sat the former president of Mexico, the chancellor of Germany, the president of Poland and the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. Behind them sat former Prime Minister John Major of Great Britain, and a Bush golf putt away sat most of the Trump Cabinet. The seating arrangements spoke volumes. Four vice presidents, from Dan Quayle to Mike Pence, sat together. Justice Brett Kavanaugh sat beside retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he replaced on the high court. Mr. Trump, who entered solemnly, holding hands with his wife, sat four seats from Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he defeated for the White House two years ago. The president shook hands crisply with former President Barack Obama and with Michelle Obama but not with the Clintons.

At the center of the proceedings was a man who was no longer there. His coffin, draped in the flag of America's military warriors, rested alone on the altar - and the center of the whispered pewside conversation, as at the eulogies delivered from the pulpit, were the achievements of Mr. …

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