On November 30, President George H.W. Bush died and our nation is grieving the loss of “America’s last great soldier-statesman, a 20th century founding father.” Those are the words of Jon Meacham, presidential historian, Bush biographer, and one of the four people chosen to eulogize President Bush during the public, televised service held in the National Cathedral.
In today’s age of the sound bite, it is easy to encapsulate a life into one notable event. For some of us that was Bush’s campaign promise, “Read My Lips: No New Taxes”. Once he learned more while serving as President, he reversed his position and broke this pledge. This is often seen as the primary reason Bush was not re-elected to a second term. President Bush explained it was the correct compromise for the times and for the good of our nation.
Meacham’s eulogy shared a perspective of President Bush that was perhaps forgotten, or overlooked by most of us in lieu of his political position. Meacham shared emotional stories of fear, loss and grief, and those of inspiration and humor. His insights tell us President Bush was vulnerable, relatable and deserving of our empathy. Specifically, Meacham reminds us how President Bush demonstrated candor in truth that was not brutal, but kind and uplifting. He saw value in celebrating others’ goodness and supporting them through their challenges. His candor was based on building character and confidence in those around him. Meacham spoke directly to President Bush’s life code and the first item at the top of the list is “tell the truth.”
Meacham compared President Bush to Lincoln:
For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.
Candor isn’t necessarily easy or convenient, but it is right, and we must work to make candor our best instinct rather than to cave to impulses of less value.
From one of the people who knew him best, we are reminded that although President Bush was not eloquent, his intentions were good and true, and that is where candor is rooted – in authenticity. Meacham said President Bush had the heart of a lion, and that he was “a lion who not only led us, but who loved us.”
Meacham shared his eulogy with President Bush before he died. And following, President Bush commented, “That’s a lot about me, Jon.” And, that is the truth.