Like I’m sure a lot of you have, I’ve spent part of the last few days thinking about the complicated legacy of George H.W. Bush, who lived a hell of a life, all the way to 94, before dying last Friday.
Today is his funeral, and since our current President has declared it a national day of mourning, almost all federal employees have the day off, there’s no U.S. mail service, and even the stock market will be closed, which almost never happens.
As such, seems like a good time to write a little bit about the 41st President. As usual, I have many thoughts about a man who sure does look better in hindsight, but that shouldn’t obscure that he did quite a few good and quite a few bad things in his career.
Couple major points I have been mulling:
— First, the man’s resume was impeccable. To be a military hero, go into the CIA, serve in Congress, then be a Vice-President, and win the White House in 1988 when he trailed by double-digits in the polls in August was a hell of an accomplishment. Then, after losing to Bill Clinton in 1992, served out the rest of his life jumping out of airplanes (even up to age 90) and serving as an elder statesman, developing friendships with Clinton and Barack Obama. You can say lots of things about Bush, but he did not get cheated in life.
— OK, so here are a few things I must praise him for: Helped end the Cold War, without actual bloodshed. Drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. Almost always acted decently and humanely in public. Resisted, at least a little bit, the powerful forces of the Religious Right and the loony wing of the Republican party, which wasn’t quite as insane as it is in 2018 but was certainly getting there.
— And a few things that he did that absolutely must be part of his legacy, even as so many this week have tried to make him into a saint: Helped wreck the American economy in the 1980s and early 1990s, leading to a huge recession. Helped craft and signed many discriminatory policies in education and housing that punished poor people and minorities. Ran a disgusting, racist ad against Michael Dukakis in ’88 that had a big part in Bush’s win. Foisted Clarence Thomas on us. Foisted his own son George W. upon the world, who went on to do great damage to America.
— And oh yeah, might have (OK, probably did) participate or at least know about a massive scandal that involved selling arms to Iran in exchange for the release of the American hostages in 1980. Then as President pardoned anyone who may have connected Bush to the issue.
— Still, in hindsight, isn’t it amazing how far the Republican party has fallen, from Bush to now? George W. and Dick Cheney brought torturing our enemies, and scaring the hell out of Americans to believe that “foreign” almost always meant evil,” to a new, frightening level. And how we have this fraud in the Oval Office, who did nothing to earn the office but promise people everything with the lies a huckster always tells.
— In the end, I don’t think George H. W. Bush was a terrible President, nor a terrible man. He wasn’t our worst Chief Executive, nor was he our best. He lived life to the fullest and took advantage of the breaks given to him at birth, as a wealthy white man, to reach the pinnacle of American achievement.
A couple of tributes/critiques I read this week that I thought were worth sharing. First, the great Charlie Pierce, as usual, punctures the “hero worship” around Bush’s death with this column looking at him evenly.
And I was kind of blown away by this interview on NPR with Joe Bonsall of the country music band Oak Ridge Boys, who talked about their long friendship and special bond with Bush, Even if, like me, you weren’t a fan of Bush, this is a really sweet story and remembrance.
And OK, yeah, if you’re a Gen Xer like me you probably thought of Dana Carvey doing Bush as well this week. Freaking hilarious.
***Next up, as we’re in the middle of Hanukkah I feel religiously required as a Member of the Tribe to watch at least one of Adam Sandler’s famous “The Hanukkah Song” videos.
The Goldie Hawn/Paul Newman line cracks me up the most, every time I see it. And does anyone remember when Yasmine Bleeth was famous enough to be in a song like this (OK she was in Part 2 of it but still).
**Finally today, I heard this bizarre story on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” and of course it’s so absurd it has to be true. And it is.
Residents of South Korea are so stressed out and exhausted from their daily work and lives that they’re now paying money, voluntarily, to be checked into “jail” for a day or two.
According to this story, “the detention center, called “Prison Inside Me,” opened in the South Korean city of Hongcheon in 2013. Since then, more than 2,000 people have put themselves through the prison-like experience.
“Many of them are tired, overworked office workers or students. Some say the complete isolation of a jail environment can help them break free from day-to-day pressures.
The building looks like a real prison. Inside, individuals are kept alone in small “cells.” There is no bed in the room, so many sleep on the floor on a yoga mat.
These “prisoners” receive only a blue uniform to wear, a tea set, as well as a pen and paper for keeping notes. Prison rules are strongly enforced. Electronic devices, clocks and other personal belongings are banned. Talking among the prisoners is not permitted.”
This is NUTS, am I right? I mean, look, if you want to get away from it all, isn’t there, like, a stream or a meadow or some quiet place somewhere where you can turn off your cellphone and just veg for a bit? I mean, voluntarily going to jail just to de-stress seems pretty extreme.
Then again, I am reminded of a line from one of my all-time favorite movies, Goodfellas, when Karen Hill is worried about her husband Henry’s mob dealings and how it might land him in prison. What about Jeannie’s husband, she asks, who went to prison?
“You know why Jeanie’s husband went to jail? To get away from Jeannie!” he thunders.
So maybe all these South Koreans just need marriage counseling, not prison.
It’s a crazy world we live in.