In Berkshires, even Democrats laud George H.W. Bush; 'He was a profile in courage'
Democrat Eugene Dellea's first of two encounters with Republican George H.W. Bush came when he was vice president more than three decades ago. They were both playing the same golf course in Kennebunkport, Maine — it's the Bush family's northern home — when the future 41st president came across as the friendly, next-door neighbor.
"He just greeted everyone like a regular person. He was always a gentleman," said Dellea, a former hospital executive and current president of the Berkshire Community College Foundation.
Dellea, a leading Democratic Party supporter who for years has campaigned for Kennedy family political candidates, found Bush to be someone who knew how to get things done.
"He was a profile in courage; he made the hard decisions," Dellea said.
Dellea was among the veteran Berkshire politicos with high praise for a man who served his country in ways few presidents have in the 230 years since George Washington first took office.
"If you were hiring a president, rather than electing one, I don't know if anyone had a more impressive resume to be president than George H.W. Bush," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, the dean of the Berkshire legislative delegation.
Bush epitomized service over self. He was a Navy fighter pilot during World War II, congressman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, President Richard Nixon's liaison to China and vice president for eight years under Ronald Reagan before being elected in 1988 to his only presidential term.
His commitment to service above self was no more evident than when he went back on his presidential campaign promise of no new taxes in order to erase a $220 billion deficit he inherited from the Reagan administration. Raising taxes and a struggling economy are viewed as big reasons Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992.
"The Clinton years benefited from a balanced budget that came because of those new taxes," Pignatelli said.
"He was kind of the poster child for how the economy can affect a president," added Samantha Pettey, political science professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.
Pettey said Bush will also be remembered for the "Ross Perot Effect." Perot was the independent presidential candidate in 1992 who, some political observers believe, cost Bush the election. Pettey said postelection studies showed Perot took votes away from Bush and Clinton.
Often, a former president is appreciated more — even by staunch critics — years after leaving office. State Rep. John Barrett III was mayor of North Adams when the economy started to tank under Bush's presidency. Barrett, a Democrat, was no fan of the Republican chief executive until a couple of years ago, when he read Jon Meacham's biography of Bush. Barrett now views Bush as an "outstanding president."
"What we need today in politics is consensus-building, which he knew how to do," Barrett said. "He always acted in the best interest of the people."
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233.
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