AP Memories of Bush 41: “No more decent, honorable, and genuinely nice man ever occupied the Presidency.”

A note Bush sent to AP photographer Mark Duncan thanking him for this picture.

From Connecting, a daily newsletter compiled by Paul Stevens for current and former AP journalists.

Remembering this genuinely nice man’s personal attributes

From Carl P. Leubsdorf –  I first met George Bush on a fall day in 1970, as he toured Texas, campaigning for the U.S. Senate in his chartered DC-3. The lanky, youthful looking Houston congressman struck me as open and friendly, moderate in manner and approach.

But when he spoke, I was struck by the contrast between his manner and his sharply conservative comments. That contrast always seemed present as the man who grew up among the liberal Republicans of his New England youth rose to political power in the far more conservative GOP of his adopted Texas home.

He eagerly embraced the latter’s ideology, as a youthful critic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in his sometimes harsh 1988 presidential campaign and in picking abortion rights foes for the federal bench. But he always seemed vaguely uncomfortable doing what he felt he had to do to succeed politically. It may explain why he always seemed more at ease dealing with foreign policy.

One thing never changed: his inherent decency and graciousness, whether dealing with fellow Republicans who undercut his efforts to curb the budget deficit or a press that sometimes treated him unfairly by calling this genuine World War II hero a “wimp” or taking advantage of his good manners to suggest he was out of touch with technological advance.

As Americans mourn the 41st president, I’d rather recall this genuinely nice man’s personal attributes, rather than his occasional political missteps.

I remember the gracious host who made visitors feel welcome at his seaside Maine home, in the Vice President’s hillside mansion and in the White House, who welcomed dozens of journalists and their families to his Kennebunkport estate each summer and to the same holiday parties with officials, lawmakers and family friends, instead of segregating them like other presidents and vice presidents.

When I was working on a major profile of him, he invited me and my wife Susan Page to dinner and theater, making sure we met an old friend starring in the show, “Chuck” Heston.

Like many others, I got one of those little notes he wrote to everyone from journalists to county chairmen to heads of state. It chided me for a tongue-in-cheek column in which I predicted his various offspring would emulate his son George and run Texas sports teams.

In the process, I omitted Mrs. Bush. “What about the silver fox?” he asked.

I got another after a 2014 column citing his receipt of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award and praising his good manners in going out of the way to welcome President Barack Obama to Houston at a time many fellow Republicans were showing him little respect. After saying the JFK Award “means a great deal to me,” he added, “Your nice comments were icing on the cake.”

Bush had a great, sometimes childish sense of humor. In her memoirs, the former first lady recalled how she discovered some grandchildren had downloaded porno pictures using her computer. Several weeks later, she got a letter summoning her to a regional Federal Trade Commission office to discuss the matter.

She asked the former President to read the letter aloud but, when she noticed lots of smiles, “it came to me that my husband had composed this letter. I fell hook, line and sinker—again!”

Voters saw his somewhat goofy side, when he denounced Al Gore as “ozone man…far out” in the 1992 campaign and, bemoaning his troubles, inexplicably exclaimed, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

But the term that best characterized him was loyalty; members of the Bush family often said they believed “loyalty is not a character flaw,” and they remembered those who stood by him—and those who did not.

They were especially grateful to those who remained by his side in 1992, even when it became evident he would probably lose.

Similarly, the man friends affectionately called “41” remained totally loyal to his presidential son, known as “43,” even when it was widely believed he disapproved of the latter’s decision to attack Iraq; after all, in his 1998 book with National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Bush described the problems he would have faced had he tried to overthrow Saddam Hussein after the Persian Gulf War.

They closely resembled what transpired under his son.

The ultimate irony was that 43’s efforts to make up for 41’s perceived failures, both politically and in Iraq, only made the first President Bush look better.

History won’t likely rate him as a great president, though his management of the end of the Cold War and the Gulf War look even better today than when he left office. But no more decent, honorable and genuinely nice man ever occupied the Presidency.

Bush 41 About Press Photographers

Bush composed this nod to press photographers at the request of the AP in 2012, and his comments were used to introduce AP’s “The American President” photo exhibit the same year.

 Bush wrote:
Like most —if not all —who have been privileged to serve as president of the United States, I did not always have the warmest of relations with the news media. In fact, it wasn’t until after I left the White House and joined a local chapter of “Press Bashers Anonymous” that I realized every chief executive dating back to President Washington has been routinely criticized and second-guessed by the Fourth Estate.
But for me, relations were always much warmer with the news photographers —or “photodogs,” as I called them —who covered the White House. Without exception, the photodogs I knew were a decent, hard-working and good-natured group of dedicated professionals who were passionate about their work. It could be that I loved the photodogs because they wielded their talents behind the camera, and let their work speak for them. Yet, there was something more to it. They were fun, and always so nice to Barbara and me.

From Bob Perrin:

I was working for NBC when Bush was running for president. He was scheduled to eat lunch somewhere in New Jersey with an Italian family. At lunch time, I put my NBC camera down next to a tree. Bush was working the crowd and walked by followed by a dog. Bush stopped to chat and so did the dog who promptly raised its leg and pissed on my camera much to the small crowd’s amusement.
Bush looks around and says, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

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