Jeb did not run for president because he wanted to be president — he ran because he thought he could do a better job than the alternatives. According to Cramer’s book, H.W. began preparations for the 1980 presidential campaign after he briefed incoming president Jimmy Carter, in his capacity as then-C.I.A director, and was aghast at the smallness of Carter’s foreign policy vision. Similarly, Jeb believed that most of the domestic problems that bedevil America would be eminently more manageable if the economy (then still slowly recovering from the Great Recession) could begin to grow at a rate of four percent, rather than the anemic rates of the early Obama years. (Sadly, by 2016, no one was really listening to discussions of public policy.)
Respect for the American people was at the heart of George H.W. Bush’s life. As soon as he was able, he left the cloistered, monied New England of his upbringing to join the U.S. Navy and then the frontier of post-war Texas oil country. When he ran for office, he was clear about what he supported, what he opposed and why. Many of the “gaffes” that the press hounded him for on the national stage were the result of excessive honesty and curiosity. For example, he really was impressed by viewing an innovative, totally new type of cash register, but admitting as much allowed him to be caricatured as out of touch with everyday shoppers).
Similarly, on the campaign trail, Jeb relished nothing more than standing in a high school basketball court or church basement on a snowy night in Iowa or New Hampshire, answering questions until the crowd around him had no more questions to ask. As reporter Ashley Parker, then of The New York Times, wrote of Jeb’s style of campaigning, “He held news conferences so frequently — nearly daily — that their absence felt newsworthy. And he seemed constitutionally incapable of not answering questions, even those he should not have. …He gave out his email address easily and freely and, early on, even responded to queries sent there.”
Clearly, respect and honesty were traits Jeb learned from his father. But, when I think of George H.W. Bush’s role on that campaign, I think of one event in particular: a strategy session near the family compound at Walker’s Point on the rocky coast of Maine. As Jeb’s advisors ran through PowerPoint slides detailing the metrics of the campaign’s progress, his mother Barbara sat in the front of the room, knitting and observing closely. Beside her, confined to a wheelchair but still keenly engaged, was her husband. The love between those two, which spawned a family legacy that has embodied and inspired the best of American political life for decades, was incandescently clear. And that, more than anything else, is the legacy of George H.W. Bush, and the example he offers all of us.