It was sad to learn of the death of President George H W Bush this morning, but what a life he had led. I never felt he got the recognition he deserved while alive, so let’s hope that’s corrected in the many obituaries which will appear over the next few hours and days.

The things everyone knows about George Bush are that he was a decorated war hero, he was a Texas congressman, Director of the CIA, Ambassador to China, Ambassador to the UN and that he ran for President in 1980. He then spent eight years as Ronald Reagan’s loyal vice president before being elected to the office of president himself in 1988. He was a one term president thanks to the intervention of Ross Perot in the 1992 campaign, who took more votes from Bush than he did Bill Clinton. Without Perot’s intervention, I have little doubt George Bush would have been elected for a second term.

I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.

I played a very small part in that election. I was in New York City in February 1991 and then drove to New Hampshire to see what was happening in the presidential primary. Bush was at his most popular and was being blamed for all the economic ills that were befalling the US economy. I remember walking down the Main Street in Manchester, New Hampshire and visiting the campaign offices of all the different Democrat and Republican campaigns. Somewhat bizarrely I ended up working for three days on the Patrick Buchanan campaign. They asked me to go and spy on Bush campaign events, which was quite exciting. I remember sitting down with Pat Buchanan trying to educate him about the IRA, which he appeared to have some sympathy for.

Was Bush a great President? No. Nor was he a bad one. He was to Reagan what Major was to Thatcher. Bush was, however, more comfortable on the world stage than he was on domestic issues, especially the economy. He wasn’t a conviction politician like Reagan, he was a pragmatist. Part of his problem was that although he had been involved in politics for decades no one really knew what he believed. In all senses of the word, he was a centrist. He famously lacked what he called “the vision thing”.

His presidency saw the defeat of Communism, exemplified by the Berlin Wall coming down and the end of various Communist regimes across Eastern Europe. In hindsight there was a huge failing in the reaction of the West to these developments. Russia and Eastern Europe needed the kind of economic plan America instituted after World War Two but it never came. In some ways, that’s part of the reason why, thirty years on, Russia has ended up outside the normal international world order.

I suppose another defining mark of his presidency was the first Gulf War in which Bush was instrumental in building the international military coalition that forced Iraq’s Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Margaret Thatcher famously urged him not to “go wobbly”. He didn’t, but when the opportunity came to allow US troops to go to Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein, he decided to call a halt to any “turkey shoot”. That was a decision which was to have obvious consequences.

George Bush

The Bush family is often referred to as a dynasty. You can see why, given the fact that Bushs father was a senator, his oldest son became President and his youngest son was governor of Florida. His marriage to Barbara was the most important thing in his life. While George sometimes came across (unfairly) as a slightly weak, weedy character, Barbara always appeared to be a tower of strength. She was the glue that held the family together. Her memoir remains one of the best auto biographies I have ever read.

George Bush was a good man, and the tributes paid to him today by his successors as president are testament to his long life of public service and to his own strengths as a human being. He and Bill Clinton struck up a real friendship after they left office, and this letter which Bush left behind in the Oval Office for Clinton remains one of the great reads of our political times.

George Bush Clinton letter

George Bush was a man who believed in devoting his life to public service and it was a life well lived. He served his country well.

UPDATE: Mark Fox has a tribute HERE.

UPDATE 2: And here’s a tribute from my best friend Daniel Forrester…

The county lost one of the last “statesmen” this morning. Listening to Colin Powell speak about him this am on CNN reminded me of what leadership looks like.

Our family had one face to face interaction with Bush 41 and here is the story as I remember it told by my dad.

*As I recall Mom and dad met him at a restaurant in California when Eddie was out to honor a friend and mentor Cy Rowland in the mid 1980s. He was VP Bush at the time. Bush was staying at the same hotel as Eddie and Patsy—-

Bush had gotten in a bit of trouble in the press that week for saying “bullshit” in an adhoc press conference and being caught on tape. The media blew up at him. Not words expected from a VP. In the big picture it was noting.

One morning, Bush ate in the same breakfast room as mom and dad. Eddie and Patsy were told to sit at the table and not get up at one point as the secret service looked across the room as Bush said he wanted to shake every hand at every table before he left.

They awaited their moment and Bush came to them and reached across and shook both their hands. Eddie didn’t miss the chance to comment on the moment and said “Mr. Vice President you got in a bit of trouble for saying “bullshit”.

A big long pause and Bush looked at Dad and said “now you shouldn’t say that word out loud” Smiling—- Ed said “no Mr. Vice President apparently you can’t say that one out loud.” Lots of laugher unfolded. *

I was in the presence of Bush 41 in 2004 at the Republican convention and only 100 feet from him as he and Barbara Bush watched son 43 give his second acceptance speech. I remember listening to Bush 43 from the floor of the convention center but turning my head many times to watch the father and mother look on. Two presidents — a son and father in the same room (MSG) at the same time I thought: wow.

May God bless the last of a generation and a class act of a human being who’s legacy will remain the orderly and incredible end of the Cold War.