The service was one of mourning, but more of a profound celebration and acknowledgment of a life fully and well lived. The televised funeral service of Barbara Bush elicited tears, laughter and thoughtful reminiscing. It was a fitting tribute to someone who was lovingly and rightly described as the nation’s “grandmother.”
Praised and admired by those of varied political affiliations, she had a reputation for being refreshingly honest and real. Pretense or feigning was not in her DNA. Her 73-year marriage to former President George H.W. Bush or “Bush 41” was and shall remain one of political legend. They set the record for being married longer than any other First Couple in our nation’s history. They made quite a team.
In 1945, little did the then Barbara Pierce know when she married her high school sweetheart that she would one day become the matriarch of a political dynasty. Little did she know that her dashing young naval aviator husband would go on to become one of modern America’s most accomplished political figures. Congressman, ambassador, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president and then president, George H.W. Bush, or “Poppy” as she called him, would be the longest-lived president in history. The two of them — and he especially — have cast a long political shadow.
But that for which her husband is most praised now, his long and distinguished political service to his country, was often used against him. He was routinely derided as the “resume candidate.” Having served in various political positions, the dreaded “career politician” label would frequently be attached to him.
The esteemed presidential biographer Jon Meacham noted that Bush 41 would often record his thoughts in a diary, and frequently mused, “What’s wrong with having experience? What’s wrong with knowing what to do in government?”
Like Bush Sr., I often find myself wondering the same thing.
As election season has ramped up and the airwaves have become inundated with political campaign ads, one of the standard mantras heard is “I’m not a politician.” However, we are bombarded, ad nauseam, with how this or that candidate has taught Sunday School since they were 8 years old, or shot every type of weapon ever made. The candidate may not be a politician, but by golly, he or she is the “rootin’ tootin’ gun shootinest,” Bible-carrying-est person you ever seen! And we all know such credentials is what makes for an outstanding public servant.
Like our nation, or maybe even more so, Alabama has some very serious issues that need addressing — issues that, in order to be solved, will require disciplined and sober-minded individuals who have the intellectual capacity and attention span to intently focus on them and work with others. They don’t have to be perfect — who is? — but like Bush 41, they need to approach the job with the earnestness and seriousness the people’s business demands. When it comes to politics and public policy, ignorance is not a virtue.
Yes, the word “politician” carries with it some negative baggage. The word has been in use in the English language for around 400 years. Its standard meaning has always been “one engaged in conducting the business of a government.” However, unfortunately the word has been used derisively as well. “Crafty schemer” or “shrewd” person would often be the meaning when someone was referred to as a “politician.”
Yet politics, “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area,” and politicians, those engaged (and hopefully skilled) in conducting those activities, are of high importance if a democratic society is to function well and thrive.
Bush 41’s generation understood this. It’s why so many, after serving their country in combat, chose to serve their country through positions in political office. The same qualities that make for a good soldier, airman or Marine make for an excellent politician as well. Love of country; integrity and a strong sense of fairness; commitment and willingness to serve for the best interest of the group and not oneself; disciplined and focused attention on doing one’s job or duty. To them being a politician wasn’t anything bad or seedy, it was a noble and honorable calling. It’s a spirit we need to recapture.
If our state and nation are to excel and progress, we must put in place leaders who are committed to excellence and progress. We must be willing to elect leaders who “know what to do in government.” Showmanship, shallowness, ignorance and buffoonery are qualities better suited for a clown in a circus, not a leader in government. Being a politician in the true sense of the word is serious business for serious people. We can never be better if we don’t look for, and expect, better from our leaders.