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A tale of two presidents

Tribune Content Agency logoTribune Content Agency 12/7/2018 By Bill Press, Tribune Content Agency
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Former U.S. President George W. Bush (second from left), former first lady Laura Bush (left), and members of the Bush family watch as members of a military honor guard carry the casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush into the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 3. © Win McNamee/Sipa USA Former U.S. President George W. Bush (second from left), former first lady Laura Bush (left), and members of the Bush family watch as members of a military honor guard carry the casket of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush into the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 3.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

The entire country hit the pause button this week in memory of President George H.W. Bush. On Dec. 3, I stood in the crowd at the Capitol as his coffin was solemnly carried by a military guard up the east steps to the Rotunda, as many around me were wiping away tears.

Bush was not one of our greatest, nor most popular, presidents. So why the near-universal outpouring of emotion? It was, mainly, heartfelt mourning for a good man, a true patriot who served his country with honor for so many years in so many ways: in the military, in Congress, at the United Nations, as ambassador to China, as vice president and as president.

On the domestic front, President Bush did some good things. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was called the most important civil rights act in two decades. Reversing the policies of Ronald Reagan, Bush strengthened the Clean Air Act and committed the United States to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, which led directly to the Paris accords. He broke his pledge of "Read my lips, no new taxes" in order to save the country from going off the fiscal cliff -- an act of political courage which probably cost him the presidency.

Foreign policy was Bush's long suit. He signed two arms control treaties with the Soviet Union. He oversaw the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. He ended U.S. military support for the Nicaraguan contras and drove dictator Manuel Noriega out of Panama. He launched the First Gulf War, which I opposed, but, to his credit, he did so only under the auspices of the United Nations and only after persuading 34 other nations to join. And within weeks, once their clearly defined mission was accomplished, he brought American troops home.

But he was no saint. President Bush also got many things wrong. On top of all the bad moves of the Reagan administration he was part of as vice president, he approved the racist Willie Horton ad, named Dan Quayle as his running mate, appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, dragged his feet for years before providing any federal assistance to deal with the AIDS crisis, and pardoned six convicted defendants in the Iran-Contra scandal, including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.

Yet, overall, the good Bush did far outweighed the bad. So the tributes to him were genuine. But they were something else, too. They were a reminder of how starkly different things are today in the White House. We were not only mourning a former president we could disagree with but still respect, we were mourning the fact that we're stuck with a current president we can neither agree with nor respect.

That was never more apparent than during Wednesday's memorial service. Yes, the nation's most powerful gathered in the National Cathedral, while millions watched at home, to honor the memory and celebrate the life of our 41st president. But every word uttered, every adjective added, every story told, reminded people of the difference between 41 and 45. It was a tale of two presidents.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney remembered: "Every world leader knew that when they were dealing with George H.W. Bush, they were dealing with a gentleman." Nobody would ever say that about Donald Trump.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson quipped: "Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic." Donald Trump wouldn't know; he never takes that road. And when Simpson added: "He never hated anyone. He knew what his mother and my mother always know: Hatred corrodes the container it's carried in," the cameras focused on Trump, whose daily tweets drip with hatred.

Eldest son and former President George W. Bush said the two words that best defined his father were "dignity and honor." You'd never use those words to describe Donald Trump.

And presidential historian Jon Meacham summed up Bush's life code as simply: "Tell the truth, don't blame people." There's not one person in the cathedral or watching at home who didn't immediately think of the orange-haired man in the front row, who never tells the truth nor ever stops blaming people.

Dignity, honor, leadership, humble, informed, experienced, patriot. George H.W. Bush was everything that Donald Trump is not.

(Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst and the author of the new book, "Trump Must Go: The 100 Top Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him)," which is available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his website: His email address is: Readers may also follow him on Twitter at @bpshow.)

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