President George H.W. Bush’s Final Lesson

In passing, President George H.W. Bush left the nation with one final lesson to contemplate; what is America’s position regarding racism and civil rights (equal rights)?  The elder of the Bush Presidents lessons on modesty, compassion, and selfless service, are well received by a grateful nation. George H.W. Bush’s passing lessons on America’s struggles with racism and civil rights are less definitive.  

President Bush left a powerful legacy as America’s 41st President and the patriarch of one of America’s most influential families.  President Bush’s service as a decorated World War II navy pilot and his 40 years of public service at various levels from Vice President, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the CIA, and Director of the Republican National Party, make him one of America’s premiere servant leaders.  Bush was born into an affluent family and dedicated his life to serving his country. George H.W. Bush moved his young family to Texas following World War II to make his own way. In 1966 during H.W. Bush’s bid for a U.S. Congressional seat in Texas, Bush adopted an anti-civil rights position in an attempt to garner support against a popular Texas Democrat.  At that time Texas was a very Democratic state and President LBJ’s Civil Rights legislation was unpopular there and all of the south. Bush later confided that he regretted adopting that position for political gain. Bush did not win that election in 1966, but did win a Congressional Seat in 1968.

Once elected to Congress Bush voted for the open housing legislation that was an extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act he previously was said to have opposed.  The legislation became a part of the landmark 1968 anti-discrimination law. As it was with Bush’s early political experiences, his political positions regarding civil rights, (equal rights) were frequently mixed.  George H.W. Bush appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Thomas is considered one of the most conservative Justices if not they most conservative. Justice Thomas was nominated in 1991 to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice.  Ethnic affiliation is one of the few qualities Marshall and Thomas shared. Thomas does not believe in affirmative action though he has benefitted from it. Many civil rights advocates consider Thomas’ appointment to be a setback for civil rights. Bush is also infamously known for benefiting from the racist Willie Horton political ad developed by a Political Action Committee (PAC) who supported Bush.  Though Bush condemned the ad at the time it was run, he never asked the PAC to stop running the ad which is considered by most political scientist as of the most extreme attack ads in modern political history.

President George H.W. Bush must be credited with seeking the brilliance of General Colin Powell and ensuring that his star would rise from Colonel where the two first met when Bush was head of the CIA, to become the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first black Secretary of the United Nations.  President H.W. Bush was also amenable to directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the beating of motorist Rodney King at the hands of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Video tape of four LAPD officers savagely, beating a defenseless King while 17 other police watched surfaced on March 3, 1991 and was beamed across the world on nightly news.  The four officers were tried and acquitted of all but one charge where there was a hung jury. The acquittal of the officers sparked the worst rioting in U.S. history where 63 people were killed and another 2,383 were injured and over $1 billion of property destroyed. After the criminal trial for the four policemen, two were sentenced to prison sentences for violating King’s civil rights as a result of the investigation directed by Bush’s DOJ.  

The Reverend Jessie Jackson described Bush’s position on racism and equality this way, "He was a fundamentally fair man. He didn't block any door. He was never a demagogue on the question of race."  George H.W. Bush’s public service spanned four decades which included America’s transition from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Cosby years of the 1980s, and the Rodney King years of the early 1990s.  In my assessment the lesson the Senior Bush leaves America regarding race and equal rights is this: In an era where hate crimes are on the rise, an era where innocent people are murdered in churches, synagogues, schools and yoga studios by racist xenophobes, in an era where white nationalist parade down the street in broad day light brandishing swastikas and confederate flags, in an era where the President of the United States stops just short of calling himself a white nationalist, it is not enough for good Americans to simply not be racist, we must be staunchly and unwavering anti-racist in order for America to achieve equal protection under the law for everyone and eliminate racism. We all must stand unequivocally against every racist instance, and innuendo. Only then will dog whistles fall upon deaf ears and eventually cease to be blown.