With the passing of President George H.W. Bush last week, we are given an opportunity to honor the contributions of an individual public servant. Our political focus is so torn apart today that both sides have already lined up to laud too much praise and to ascribe too much blame to this single individual. It’s so telling of our time that we cannot fairly reflect on the objective successes of a life well lived without engaging in destructive, divisive rhetoric. As a public servant myself, I understand the strain the position places on an individual and, whether or not I agreed with his politics, it is completely right and proper to take a minute to thank President Bush for his service to this country. But, more importantly, it is an opportunity to give thanks to all public servants who devote themselves to the common good.
By all objective measures, President Geroge H. W Bush led a spectacular life. War hero, successful businessman and politician, skilled negotiator, steady-handed leader, and devoted father and husband. History will judge him as perhaps one of the most qualified men to ever serve as President of the United States at a time when the world decided to rip itself apart on sectarian religious lines. Only one other man in history saw his son succeed him in the office of the presidency. President Bush had a front row seat for some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century including World War II, the Cold War, the formation of the European Union, and the rise to preeminence of the United States as a leader of the world. We should all wish to have lived such a full and interesting life.

Granted, Bush had his drawbacks too. Depending on your socioeconomic politics, his handling of the War on Drugs can be fairly questioned, as can some of his questionable political moves (e.g., the Willie Horton ad). He presided over the downfall of our urban centers as they descended into chaos and drug-fueled violence, which led to being the last president in recent memory to only serve one term. That is real life, taking the good with the bad.

None of us can claim to be saintly in every aspect of our lives when the spotlight is always on you as a public servant at every moment. President Bush lived almost his entire life under that spotlight and did so with a fair measure of aplomb and integrity. His greatest contribution to American political life may have come after his retirement from politics, serving as a trusted advisor and confidante to several presidents who followed him from both parties’ republican and democrat.

While we all decide whether to honor President Bush’s life and legacy, I would encourage you to at least offer a moment of thanks for no reason other than his example as a lifelong public servant. It is sometimes a thankless job and one that many simply avoid for that reason. President Bush, after all, could have remained a very successful businessman and stayed on the sidelines. Instead, he chose the harder path – one that made the people’s success the measure of his own. Even if you choose not to honor President Bush for his service, and that is certainly your prerogative, rather than demean his example, use his death as an opportunity to thank another public servant for their service to this country. Whether it’s a police officer, school board member, or U.S. Senator, the call to service is one that falls on too few individuals. For those who take up the call, we should be extremely thankful for their efforts and sacrifice.

If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at [email protected]

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