While I write this message, the country is celebrating the life and legacy of George H.W. Bush. I have always thought that Bush #1 was one of the best presidents we have had in the modern age. Many would argue with me on this point, and there is plenty of room to argue, but I am glad to hear this week’s news stories reflect favorably on him and on his presidency.
President Bush was not a perfect person, and he made plenty of mistakes, but it is evident that he always sought to practice Fundamental Behavior #1, to ‘do the right thing, always.’ Did he always fulfill this objective? No. The Willie Horton ads against his opponent Michael Dukakis is just one of several examples critics can point to. Looking back at his career, however, you can see that on many important occasions he make the hard choice to do the right thing, even in the face of strong opposition. And I think we are better off as a country because of those decisions.
One excellent example that highlights the decency of his character is what he did as his last act as President of the United States. It also highlights the importance of, and the power of, doing the right thing. On the morning of President Clinton’s inauguration, President Bush sat at his desk in the Oval Office and wrote his arch-rival, Bill Clinton, a letter of support. At the time, President Bush fundamentally disagreed with the direction in which President-Elect Clinton planned to take the country. Furthermore, I am sure President Bush was hurt by the things the Clinton campaign had said about his presidency, his life’s work, and him personally. I am also sure President Bush was deeply disappointed at not being able to fulfill his presidential mission with a second term.
Nonetheless, President Bush knew this was not about him, but that it was about the country. He knew it was time to set aside the animosity and sharp elbows of the campaign and get back to the business of moving the country forward. With that, he wrote the following:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I am not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good Luck – George”
President, YKK Corporation of America