Bush wanted to make America ‘kinder, gentler’

Former President George H.W. Bush, who died late Friday at the age of 94, was a man born into a life of affluence, but who chose to live a life of service to his country. He joined the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday over the objection of his wealthy father, flew 58 missions in World War II as a Navy pilot, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was shot down and rescued on one bombing mission.

Instead of joining his father as an investment banker, he worked his way up in the oil business in Texas. He later ran for Congress, winning a seat in the House. He was appointed by President Nixon as the ambassador to the UN, and he was appointed by President Ford as the envoy to China and later head of the CIA. He served two terms as Ronald Reagan’s vice president before winning the presidency in 1988, defeating Michael Dukakis in a bitter campaign.

His signal accomplishment as president was putting together a massive military coalition to drive Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in “Desert Storm,” an operation that many felt was only half-won when Bush decided against sending troops all the way to Baghdad.

Bush wanted to make America a “kinder, gentler” nation and promoted his “thousand points of light” campaign to encourage volunteerism and social changes. But he couldn’t keep his “read my lips — no new taxes” promise, and a period of economic uncertainty left him vulnerable to Bill Clinton in 1992. Bush may have been a better president than campaigner, and Clinton denied him a second term.

Bush had a long career as a senior statesman, however, including working alongside his fellow ex-president Clinton in fundraising efforts for victims of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and Hurricane Katrina.

He may have had problems with “the vision thing,” but his example of service, hard work, humility, decency and unfailing politeness have earned him the respectful farewell that he will receive this week.