The mainstream media had a mostly mixed reaction to the passing of former president George H. W. Bush. The posthumous portraits of the major newspapers portrayed him as the last representative of a kinder political era, whilst the leftwing media points out how the cynical aspects of his political career laid the foundations of the current Trump Presidency.
Both views on the presidency of George H. W. Bush are true: it was the end, but also the beginning of an era.
Yes, he was the last representative of a class who saw the public cause as an honorable job. He had more in common with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower than with Bill Clinton or Donald Trump, as his biographer Jon Meacham said.
And thus, Bush is set to receive the same tribute as Arizona Senator John McCain earlier this year, as a man of the old guard who as one of the few politically active Republicans, opposed the current president who went to the party’s more populist base.
But Bush will also be reminded for his less attractive traits.
The most symbolic is the name of Willie Horton, an African-American prisoner in Massachusetts who broke into a house in 1988 during a temporary leave from prison, stabbed a man and raped his girlfriend.
Bush used the case in a campaign to attack his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts. "At the end of our campaign, people will think Willie Horton is the running mate of Dukakis," said Bush's notorious campaign director, Lee Atwater.
It was the archetype of a racist 'dog whistle': without saying it explicitly, the commercial stimulated latent racist gut feelings with the age-old American archetype of the African-American man as a rapist.
Although Bush put the accusations of racism beside him as 'absolutely ridiculous', his fellow Republicans saw this differently. "You and George Bush will carry this up to the grave," Roger Stone told Atwater. "It's a racist commercial. You will regret it. "
Atwater offered his apologies for the commercial on his deathbed. Bush never did.
Three decades later and Bush slams Trump for using racist and xenophobic ads versus Central American immigrants in the Midterm elections.
Lastly, Bush also held the door open for populist presidential candidate Ross Perot, who won almost 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 elections and thus stymied Bush's re-election.
Perot is now seen as a sort of early ‘Trumpian’ candidate with his economic nationalism and aversion to the American political system. Bush was perhaps the anti-Trump, but as a classic Republican he was also a pioneer for Trump.
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