Bush 41 would want us to curb our praise, and follow his lead

The passing of former President George H.W. Bush brought an avalanche of accolades and heartfelt tributes from around the world — tributes so well said that it’s difficult to know what to add.

America’s 41st president is being lauded by foreign dignitaries, former rivals and leaders from both sides of the political aisle. These remembrances focus on his decency, graciousness and essential humanity.

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His was a life of service — in the military, the diplomatic corps, the business world, the U.S. Congress, the Republican Party, as the 41st president of the United States and as father to the 43rd. His was only the second father-son team to occupy the Oval Office.

His service extended far beyond his years in the White House. In the more than a quarter of a century since he left office, he continued to serve his fellow man. In the process, he forged a friendship with the man who defeated him in 1992, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonNo presidential candidate can unite the country Lindsey Graham's Faustian bargain Military spending has many points of contention: Closing overseas bases isn't one of them MORE. Together they traveled the world to help others.

As president, he oversaw the end of the Cold War without firing any shots, something incomprehensible just a few years before. Yes, the process began with Ronald Reagan’s consistent approach to the Soviets, but its culmination under Bush was significant because, although the fall of the Soviet “evil empire” was inevitable, it could well have been a drastically different and uglier conclusion. It was George H.W. Bush’s steady hand that assured the aftermath of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was peaceful.

We should remember that, at the time, he took flak from the media for not dancing more on the ashes of Soviet communism. He did, as he tried always to do, what he thought was the right thing and that which would unite rather than divide.

The alliance that George H.W. Bush was able to put together for the 1991 Gulf War is a reflection of the fact that he wanted unity of purpose and action in all that he did. He rallied other nations to support the United States as we deployed troops and began bombing. He didn’t want to simply go in alone. He wanted those who professed allegiance to show it.

When we stormed into Kuwait and routed the Iraqis, the fight lasted only 100 hours. The Americans lost only 148 while more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed. At the end of the campaign, President Bush’s approval rating was above 90 percent, a level unparalleled since.

When Bush sought the presidency in 1980, I was a junior member on the team of his principle rival, Ronald Reagan. It was a hard-fought and often bitter primary campaign. Bush was a tough competitor and worthy opponent.

After Reagan won the Republican nomination and selected Bush as his running mate, those of us who had viewed him across the competitive divide got the opportunity to see him up close and to get to know him.

While there were still tensions among some of the two staffs, there was none with the vice presidential nominee. He gave himself fully to the campaign as a united team and treated those of us who had not been with him from the start with the same grace and kindness as he did his original team.

As a result, I got to go with him on a couple of his early morning runs, a privilege I’ll always remember with gratitude and a smile. I’ll also treasure the little personal notes that were his trademark. He always extended himself to bring others together. He was a unifying force throughout the campaign and the entire Reagan administration.

His life is honored for his accomplishments, but more so for his character. The respect President Bush received from such a wide diversity of Americans was born of the respect he had for all.

He showed how to bridge partisan and personal divides; how to focus on the common good; how to realize that we are all in this together; and how to keep America great by celebrating those things that unite us. He got things done by getting people together.

There will be hours of talk about the Bush legacy, a word he eschewed, and the example he set for bringing folks together.

The greatest tribute, and the one he’d like the most, would be for us to emulate his unifying leadership long after he’s been laid to rest.

Charlie Gerow, first vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has held national leadership positions in several Republican presidential campaigns. He began his career on the campaign staff of Ronald Reagan. A nationally recognized expert in strategic communications, he is CEO of Quantum Communications, a Pennsylvania-based media relations and issue advocacy firm.