George H.W. Bush’s life of service to America

When George H.W. Bush was turned out of office in 1992, this page predicted that history would prove far kinder to him than the voters had been. A quarter-century later, that’s already true.

The 41st president died Friday at 94, short months after the passing of his beloved Barbara — and after a remarkably full, vigorous and enormously successful life.

Few, if any of his predecessors came to the White House better prepared for the job: He’d already served eight years as Ronald Reagan’s vice president plus stints as CIA director, UN ambassador, head of the first US liaison office in Beijing and congressman.

And of course his public life followed other remarkable service to the nation. He was a combat hero during WWII, lying about his age after Pearl Harbor to enlist as a Navy pilot; shot down over the Pacific, he was plucked from certain death by a ­patrolling US submarine.

Though born to New England wealth and privilege, he moved to Texas and made his own fortune as an oilman — then found that public service excited him more. He also instilled that trait in his family, and lived to see one son elected president and another governor of Florida.

Bush’s single term as president was marked by tremendous accomplishments in foreign policy — but a rocky enough economy that (together with a third-party run by billionaire Ross Perot) voters denied him re-election in favor of Bill Clinton.

Perhaps the Bush administration’s crowning achievement was assembling an impressive international coalition that drove Saddam Hussein from Iraqi-occupied Kuwait in the first Gulf war. That forceful display of US leadership set an important precedent and standard for dealing with Third World aggression.

It’s also no accident that the Berlin Wall came down on his watch: His clear commitment to Reagan’s forceful policies helped bring about the final collapse of the Soviet bloc.

But his actions could be disappointing, too.

He was far too forgiving of Beijing after the brutal 1989 Tiananmen massacre. And he distanced himself from traditional US support of Israel to a virtually unprecedented degree.

But his biggest disappointments came on the ­domestic front, chief among them the abrupt reversal of his signature 1988 campaign pledge: “Read my lips — no new taxes.” His failure to stick to that vow damaged both his personal credibility and the economy, for which he paid a huge political price.

Bush was burdened politically by the fact that he did not enjoy a natural political base: Conservatives were distrustful of him even before he ran for president in 1980 as the “moderate” alternative to Reagan.

An even-tempered man not prone to public ­expressions of emotion, even in partisan battle, he did not excite particularly strong emotion from his followers.

What George Bush did command, though, throughout his career was respect — and well-earned respect at that.

The nation was certainly in better shape when he left office than the Democrats’ campaign rhetoric had suggested. It certainly is far better off — more secure and prosperous — for his lifetime of service.

As the years progress, his stature will only ­continue to grow. RIP.

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