Written in April 2019, a few months after the death of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
Political pundits sung praises to the heavens when you passed away last November. To an amateur man of letters, it seemed that they’d taken a real shine to you. Having cordoned myself to the historical when it came to political discourse, I had ample space to reflect on your “legacy,” a term that was used more than once that day. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the colours that emerged, ever so slightly, out of the monochrome portrait painted by the media in the wake of your death.
I’m not going to rant about your shortcomings. Instead, I’m going to express my curiosity in relation to neither the good, the bad, but the phenomenal. The phenomenon is simply a public figure who seemed too political to be true- rich, approachable, with a few divisive opinions that were probably bait for the ballot. To say you were bland sounds insulting, and that adjective also doesn’t apply. The interest stems from the fact that there was clearly more behind your smiles.
In discussing the recesses of a politician’s life, however, the obvious route to take is one of negativity. I’ll touch on that briefly.
Iran-Contra springs to mind, as it’s been relegated to a quiet corner of the euology in recent months. Some of the more balanced discussions about your career mention your pardoning of Reagan’s Defence Secretary on the eve of his trial. They say you did it to avoid testifying. Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh called you out on this in 1993, and he evidently thought there was skulduggery at play. Let’s not forget that you also pardoned five others in relation to this guns and guerillas scandal.
It’s also been claimed that, after your death, talking heads in the media combined a tacit ban on criticism with noisy opinion to make a political point; that they exploited your death for their own activism.
This idea is not too dissimilar from the opinion that you pushed for a war in the Middle East because of liquid gold. It’s quite surreal to think that the Gulf War may have been delivered “on a mountain of war propaganda”, as the journalist Joshua Holland’s investigation asserted, and that this bombastic choreography may have outshone the cynical aims and grim destruction of a battle less talked about.
Self-righteous criticism is not the aim of this piece, so I’ll stop playing the hero now. On the political side of things, it’s common knowledge that you steered the States marvelously through the end of the Cold War. It harkened back to when you guided the CIA through uncertainty following Colby’s confessions to the Church Committee. The comparison is faulty, however, as his confessions were arguably an act of good conscience. Some might say you were brought in to clean up the supposed mess caused by a guilt-ridden whistleblower.
I refuse to make a conclusion that is black and white. I’m satisfied with an ambiguous ending, because it adds an air of mystery to your legacy. I know it’s immature for me to avoid a revisionist point, but my unfortunate wavelength prefers it so. The sensation of examining your monochrome portrait and witnessing a heightening of the opposites is unique, because it demands contemplation and speculation. It goes without saying, I think, that this is the root of all poetry.