Arthur Cyr: George H.W. Bush Leaves a Powerful Legacy

By Cyr, Arthur | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), December 4, 2018 | Go to article overview

Arthur Cyr: George H.W. Bush Leaves a Powerful Legacy


Cyr, Arthur, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


“Oh, the vision thing,” is how George H.W. Bush once responded to a friend’s suggestion that he spend some extended time alone reflecting on his overall strategic outlook, rather than consulting others on the details of tactics. Bush’s apparently dismissive answer was actually a confession of his limitations in trying to construct a political message with a strategic theme of broad appeal.

He was much more comfortable as a detail man. At the time, Vice President Bush was seeking advice on his bid to succeed President Ronald Reagan, initially his political rival, then his election partner, and ultimately his friend.

Bush, who died at the age of 94, provides important examples of both leadership and friendship. His formidable executive talent and energy brought him success, even in the difficult 1988 election.

Lagging in the polls to Democratic nominee Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, Bush’s efficient, ferocious campaign machine relentlessly closed the gap. One campaign tactic involved highlighting the notorious case of an African-American convict who committed additional crimes while on a weekend furlough.

Dukakis had not initiated but did support that program. Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater often aimed for the jugular, and often succeeded.

The Democratic nominee had many other problems, including a lack of media skill and a bland public style. One unfortunate commercial had him riding apparently aimlessly in a small armored vehicle, wearing a helmet that was unflattering. Republicans seized the opportunity and ridiculed the beleaguered nominee.

Bush’s alter ego James Baker describes politics as “a blood sport.” Both learned that lesson in 1960s and 1970s Texas political campaigns, where both suffered defeats. “Whatever it takes,” is how Bush came to view using ruthless tactics if necessary to win elections.

Nevertheless, a magnetic Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas) and economic problems defeated President Bush for re-election in 1992. …

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