George Bush Sr.: End of a generation and a political culture

Eyad Abu Shakra
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When I told an Iraqi friend that I was thinking about writing my weekly opinion column about President George Bush Sr., his reply was a short silence tacitly reflecting disappointment.

Realizing his true feeling, his short but polite silence allowed me enough time to explain what I wished to say. In truth, I am neither a political “glorifier” nor a pro or against activist; but rather a serious analyst who observes political phenomena, studies them and concludes the outcome, especially, when the affect our lives and the fate out nations.


Thus, a serious reading of the career of a leader of a great nation must never be touched by a subjective emotional stance, but link relevant data, and study causes and repercussions on both the present and the future.

In the Arab world, Bush Sr.’s name is directly connected with the Liberation of Kuwait in 1991. While, on the global stage, during the Cold War era, his legacy was his quiet diplomatic approach which was less severe than the “ideological” approaches of both his predecessor President Ronald Reagan, and later on his son Pres George Bush Jr.

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However, what interests me most about this man, after his passing, is what has become of his political “trend”, and whether common denominators exist between his “school of thought” and what we see around us on the global stage.

Does the passing of Bush Sr. mark the end of American and international politics we knew between the end of WWI and the end of the Cold War? Moreover, does it point to the end of the American Republican Party of which he, and perhaps, the late Senator John McCain were the last representatives.

I recall that, as an inquisitive young man who was deeply interested in US politics, I followed the career of the then Congressman George H. W. Bush of Texas. I remember his Senate campaign in 1970 when he was defeated by his Democratic opponent Lloyd Bentsen.

Bush Sr. represented a different kind of “Republican party” which is estimated is living its final days in the states of New England, its former bastion, and home to America’s Anglo-Saxon early-immigrants

Eyad Abu Shakra

New England family

Sure enough, that defeat did not spell the end of the political rise of the scion of a prominent New England family. Indeed, thanks both to Bush’s personal qualities, and being a son of the political and financial “establishment” that fuels the Republican party, that defeat was just a hiccup, after which he continued his impressive rise.

Bentsen, too, did not end his career in the Senate, Democratic Party’s once powerful “machine” was steadily weakening and its power base shrinking. The old senator was appointed Secretary of Treasury under President Bill Clinton, after being a presidential running mate to the Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. It was actually ironic that the 1988 resulted in George Bush Sr.’s victory, which not also a belated electoral revenge for Bush against former old foe Bentsen!

Bush Sr. represented a different kind of “Republican party” which is estimated is living its final days in the states of New England, its former bastion, and home to America’s Anglo-Saxon early-immigrants. In fact, if Senator Susan Collins loses her seat in Maine come next elections after two years, there would be no Republican in the US Senate from New England’s six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine).

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In the past, Boston, America’s most venerable city and its cultural and educational “Athens”, and the city where George Bush Sr. was born, was like its state Massachusetts, a Republican stronghold. Its rich Republican “Brahmin” families were busy founding companies, leading schools and great universities.

Those days, the Republican Party – nicknamed the Grand Old Party – was the natural environment for Bush and those like him. His father, Prescott Bush, the son of a rich industrialist, served as a US Senator from Connecticut; and before his Presidents son and grandson, he graduated from the prestigious Yale University. The Bush family, would later spend summer vacations in Maine, although its business and political interests took it across America to Texas and Florida.

Today, however, the GOP is a different party from the one Bush Sr. built his political career in. Moreover, the “America” known to generations of the Bush family, from the grandfather Prescott through George Sr. to the grandchildren George Jr. and “Jeb” – a former Governor of Florida – is also totally different!

Comparable generation

In a certain way, the generation of George Bush Sr. is similar to a comparable generation represented within the UK Conservative Party, by the moderate “One Nation Tories” wing, which was ruthlessly fought and almost destroyed by Margaret Thatcher.

When Bush Sr. initially entered the Presidential Election campaign, he was actually running against the “Reaganite” phenomenon, before calls to unify the party led to bringing together in one electoral ticket the “hardliner” Ronald Reagan and “moderate” George Bush.

This was achieved, and thanks to the strategy of a “balanced ticket” the Republicans managed to win three consecutive Presidential Elections between 1981 and 1993. Indeed, when Bush became the Party’s presidential choice, the “hardliner” Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana was chosen as his vice presidential running mate.

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Despite his distinguished military service during WWII, and his intelligence service peaking as head of the CIA between 1976 and 1977, George Bush Sr. always believe in politics through dialogue; and despite his patrician background and personal wealth he was a flexible statesman who would open doors and talk even with political opposites, which is why he was appointed as “Chief of the US Liaison Office” (i.e. ambassador) in China, thus putting the final touches of opening up to the Communist giant which began under another GOP President … Richard Nixon.

The rules of the game have now changed, the GOP has changed too, as have both America and the whole world.

Politicians now regard mutual understanding as a burden, which is why they shun and seek exclusion and blaming others. The World is not large enough to accommodate even conditional coexistence.

The “freedom” of the “free economy” is checked, and while “racism” is not an accusation to be ashamed of anymore, even in advanced societies which colonized the globe under the pretexts of spreading liberty, enlightenment, tolerance and … human rights!

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.

Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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