When George W. Bush stood with Hillary Clinton

When George W. Bush stood with Hillary Clinton
© Paul Morse—Office of George H.W. Bush

On occasions when former presidents and first ladies gather together for “family photos," as leaders of nations do when they meet in summits, we can assume serious thought is given to how these family photos are organized.

On the occasion of the funeral of Barbara Bush, the photo of the presidents and first ladies who attended made a powerful statement about what is good and lasting about America. All of the former presidents and first ladies stood together with shared respect for each other and shared admiration for Barbara Bush.

In that photo, former President George W. Bush stood with one arm around the woman he loves and the first lady of his presidency, Laura Bush, while his other arm rested on the shoulder of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE, who spent much of her career serving with bipartisan goodwill as United States senator and secretary of State.   

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I was privileged to appear on CNN on the morning of the Barbara Bush funeral, and I made the point that the outpouring of affection and admiration for her that would be heard throughout the day was deeply felt and sincerely expressed by national leaders and a grateful nation that yearns for a return to the civility, grace and respect in public life that Barbara Bush always represented.

 

While I certainly do not speak for former President George W. Bush, I suspect he knew very well what signal that photo would send to the world.

One of the most touching truths in modern political history is that after they left office, the Bushes and Clintons developed a genuine friendship and mutual respect that led to their working together on matters that would make the world a better place, such as helping those around the world who had been ravaged by national disasters.

It is important to remember that when Hillary Clinton served in the Senate, she worked often and well with both her Republican and Democratic colleagues. Her ability to work across the aisle was admired by many, including a gentleman named Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE, who supported the Clintons when Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Don't place all your hopes — or fears — on a new Supreme Court justice MORE was president, and financially supported Hillary Clinton when she ran for president in 2008.

It is important to remember that when Hillary Clinton was nominated to be secretary of State, she was confirmed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote with the support of 94 Senators. Her performance as secretary of State continued her belief in bipartisanship and was praised by many Republicans, including Donald Trump.

In 2012, when her tenure as secretary of State was almost concluded, Trump said this about her to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News: “Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman,” he said. “I am biased because I have known her for years. I live in New York. She lives in New York. I really like her and her husband both a lot.

"I think she really works hard. And I think, again, she’s given an agenda, it is not all of her, but I think she really works hard and I think she does a good job. I like her,” he said.

Trump’s praise for Clinton then, having known the Clintons in New York for many years, watching her perform in the Senate and admiring her work as secretary of State, stands in stark contrast to the Trump we know today who does not stand for grace, civility or respect in public life.

There is something profoundly disturbing in Trump’s conduct today when he tries to demonize and criminalize Hillary Clinton and speaks of her regularly with rage-filled and hateful words that are unworthy of any president.

Similarly, there is something disturbing and unprecedented about the contempt and hatred Trump regularly shows toward former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Trump was right to ditch UN’s plan for handling migrants Ex-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ MORE.

Trump, who once lowered the standards of presidential politics to depths previously unseen by spending years claiming that Obama was never a true American, now seems obsessed with trying to demonize and deplore whatever Obama accomplished as president.

There was a stunning contrast between the sight of former President George W. Bush, former President George H.W. Bush, former president Bill Clinton, former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton showing respect and admiration for each other, versus Donald Trump making every day an opportunity to demonize former leaders and political opponents he regularly treats as personal enemies and says should go to jail.

Americans do not want their presidents treating presidential predecessors and political opponents with such hatred and contempt, which is one major reason the coming midterm elections look ominous for the Republican Party that Trump leads.

The sight of former presidents and first ladies coming together to honor Barbara Bush, and the sight of former President George W. Bush with one arm around his beloved wife Laura and his other resting on the shoulder of Hillary Clinton, says something wonderful about the true spirit of the American idea that the current occupant of the White House will probably never understand or respect.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.