Ruth Bass: Contrast and compare: The tenor of 41's time vs. the now

RICHMOND — As memories of George H. W. Bush flowed from the mouths of the world this past weekend, some of the most interesting words were those that came from the man himself. He had not, unlike so many other politically prominent people, written his autobiography and instead remarked that he'd leave it to historians to decide when he'd been right and "when I screwed things up."

It was a tacit admission — uncommon in today's egocentric, take-credit world — that he had sometimes screwed up during his presidency. In another end-of-life interview, he said he didn't regret anything he'd done in his life — mistakes admitted, yes, but no regrets.

When Jon Meacham's biography of 41 came out a few years ago, he mentioned that Americans living in today's political maelstrom might well find the Bush years "refreshing, even quaint." Quaint, indeed. Webster defines the word as "marked by beauty or elegance. 3a: unusual or different in character or appearance: odd. b: pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar a quaint phrase."

Certainly the 41st president was quite elegant in his public persona, and in today's terms, very old-fashioned in the way he went about his life and public service. Just for starters, he was married to Barbara for 73 years with no hint that he or she was gallivanting about with anyone else. While H.W. never claimed to be perfect, he was admired by most people for doing what he thought was right, not necessarily what was expedient.

Looking around, it's easy to see how far we have slumped. Our political world today is stuffed with people who lie as easily as they tell the truth — often more easily, it would appear. They lie under oath, they lie for personal gain rather than civic achievement, they lie to their constituents and their wives and their children. Why? Basically, because they are doing bad things and, like the playground bad boy, they will cover their tracks and, they hope, put the blame on someone else.

We are watching our leadership ignore fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, leaving many without power and running water. We are watching children separated from their parents because they are immigrants. We are listening as people fleeing their troubled Central American countries are subjected to tear gas and left in tent-city squalor while their processing is conducted in slow motion.

We are ignoring our cruel role in the tiny country of Yemen. We are standing by as the president waffles on the brutal murder of a fellow journalist, apparently because of potential financial losses for the nation and, very probably, for himself.

We are confronted with a long list of people who surround the president, people we probably wouldn't like if their complete resumes were put in front of us: Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Julian Assange, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Roy Moore, Michael Cohen, Stephen Miller, Betsy DeVos, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, etc., etc., etc.

They are among the liars or, at best, the people with a skewed view of reality and a loyalty to the president that, at times, has been their first priority. For some, loyalty succumbed, however, when saving one's own skin took over. And that is when the public learned new things about how we are no longer quaint or old-fashioned, nor does our leadership have beliefs that stand against the tide.

History will be more than 50 percent kind to George H. W. Bush. The present goings-on haven't a chance of that kind of rating.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Berkshire Eagle. Her website is


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