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The Twilight Vindication of George H.W. Bush
The legacy of the 41st president is looking better than ever in an age when passion is trumping reason in politics, says Mark K. Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library.
by Mark K. Updegrove
Modern post-presidencies, it seems, are often designed around vindication or at least a conscious effort toward enhancing one’s legacy. Think of the disgraced Richard Nixon, rising like a phoenix out of Watergate-induced exile to become a foreign-policy sage for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Or the humbled Jimmy Carter channeling his prodigious energies into humanitarianism through his NGO, the Carter Center, and winning the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. Or the scandal-beset Clinton, taking a page from Carter’s playbook, doing good through the now-massive Clinton Global Initiative.
George H.W. Bush, however, after failing to fend off a reelection challenge by Clinton in 1992, left office feeling no need “save the world” through post-presidential activism and forbade talk among his staff about his legacy, dismissing it as “the L word.” Yet, over the years “41,” as he is called, a nod to his place in the presidential continuum, has become our most revered living president. That became clear at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library this year, which united all of the five living members of The Presidents Club, when a groundswell of applause not matched by any other man on the stage rose up to embrace him.
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