Is History Being Too Kind to George H.W. Bush? The 41st president put self-interest over principle time and time again

Excerpted from Politico by David Greenberg

During his own bid for the presidency , Bush remained under parole from the right. To placate his party’s die-hards that year, he chose as vice president Indiana Senator Dan Quayle, who was pro-life, hawkish and opposed to new civil rights measures. (I have never seen Bush admit this, but I’ve always thought that the handsome, affable, preppy and somewhat happy-go-lucky Quayle reminded the elder Bush, consciously or unconsciously, of his own first-born son.) Quayle’s unreadiness for the presidency soon became evident, and, much like John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running-mate two decades later, it was judged to be a short-sighted, irresponsible move.

Bush continued to put politics ahead of the national good in many of his appointments. Most notably, in 1991, when Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, announced his retirement, Bush could have honored his legacy by naming a respected African-American judge or legal scholar such as Amalya Kearse or Leon Higginbotham. But he selected a staunch conservative in Clarence Thomas—served up with the implausible assertion that he was the most qualified person for the job. Given that Bush had appointed David Souter to the Court, expecting him to name a more moderate black justice is hardly unreasonable.

Many of the encomiums published today dwell on the president’s grace and magnanimity, but his campaigns showed a less attractive side of his personality. Bush’s 1988 presidential bid has been widely deemed the ugliest in modern times. Under the tutelage of hardballers Roger Ailes, James Baker and Lee Atwater, Bush impugned the Americanism of his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, and pandered to prejudice in making hay of Dukakis’ honorable decision to accept a Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment that deemed mandatory pledge-of-allegiance recitals in public schools to be unconstitutional. “What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?” Bush taunted. Then came the “Willie Horton” ads that hyped the scare-story of an African-American criminal, released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, who raped a woman and assaulted her husband. Never mind that Reagan, as governor of California, had signed a similar furlough bill.

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