In his pre-funeral takedown of President George H.W. Bush, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer tries to snap readers out of their nostalgia for the 41st president.
“In reality, he was an archetypal representative of the modern party, a man whose sense of duty failed him when it came to resisting the rise of racially revanchist, libertarian forces,” Foer writes. “He embodied an Establishment that wrote very nice thank-you notes. But good manners are hardly the same as moral courage; prudence is sometimes hard-hearted.”
Even in death, Bush could not escape the critiques of those like Foer who resent the former president’s patrician, roots and manners.
The author argues that Bush was the last of the WASP presidents, those blue-blooded effetes who went to fancy boarding schools and lived and played by the Protestant work ethic.
But who else is Foer talking about? Was it Bush’s predecessor, the son of an itinerant, alcoholic traveling salesman? The peanut farmer from Plains, Ga.? The adopted kid who got into the University of Michigan on a football scholarship? The Quaker boy from the orange groves? The schoolteacher from the Pedernales Valley? The Roman Catholic? The German boy from a railhead in Kansas? How about the men’s clothing salesman from Independence, Mo.?
You would have to go back to Franklin Roosevelt to find a president of the same WASPy origins in and comportment as Bush. Perhaps only FDR and his cousin Teddy fit the same category.
The part of Bush that actually seems to rankle Foer and other critics is what Bush in his very elitist way referred to as “noblesse oblige.” That literally means the obligation of nobility. It is an ancient idea that even finds expression in the bible. Jesus says in Luke’s gospel, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
This kind of thinking seems antiquated in our meritocratic culture. But it has been a governing precept for our civilization since long before they started taking legacies at Andover.
It also happens to inform our national ethic, the much-abused concept of American exceptionalism.
What our current discussion lacks is the basic understanding that America is both great and good. More importantly that our greatness derives from our goodness.
From before our founding, Americans have carried an elitist belief: This is the finest place on earth and her people the best in the world. Such confidence propelled our greatest triumphs beginning with the audaciously arrogant act of declaring independence and self-governance from the most powerful empire in the world.
Manifest Destiny was also an expression of this belief. Americans were obliged to take our system and culture from sea to shining sea. Here we saw the dark side of American exceptionalism as indigenous tribes were wiped out in service of that goal.
But the intent and effect of our exceptional view of ourselves is summed up in our greatest national song, “America the Beautiful.”
“O beautiful for patriot dream // That sees beyond the years // Thine alabaster cities gleam // Undimmed by human tears! // America! America! // God shed His grace on thee // And crown thy good with brotherhood // From sea to shining sea!”
Now, read it again and imagine it in Ray Charles’ voice.
The 20th century saw two triumphs of American exceptionalism, and Bush was part of both. Our role in defeating fascism and totalitarianism around the globe was self-interested, yes, but it was also the obligatory act of the greatest nation in the world.
It was WASP noblesse oblige perhaps that impelled a 17-year-old Bush to sign up for the Second World War, but that was just one variety of the exceptional impulse that swept through Americans of every race, creed and color when the battle was joined. It seems more poignant with Bush who could have used his privileged position to find a soft billet or maybe even avoid service, but he was like millions of his fellow Americans who were eager to get into the fight. Truth, justice and the American way were not laugh lines.
As president, Bush got to put the capstone on the other project of American exceptionalism that dominated the 20th century, the one that took us all the way to the moon. Defeating the Soviet Union and remaking the world after a 50-year superpower standoff is hardly a humble thing to do.
Just who did Bush and the Americans think they were that they could dictate that Communism was evil and that freedom was good? Who were they to say what shape Russia and Eastern Europe might take? The answer then is as it always has been: Because we have been given so much as Americans, we have special responsibilities. In order to execute those responsibilities, we reserve special privileges for ourselves.
This kind of thinking has been very much out of fashion in both parties of late. The concept of American exceptionalism has been watered down to mean that we think we’re great just like everyone else thinks they’re great.
Hubris has led us astray more than once. From Wounded Knee to Khe Sanh we have seen the tragic results, but there is no question that ours remains the indispensable nation.
Perhaps the central conflict between Americans today comes down to whether we still believe all the parts of the American creed, including the “endowed by their creator” part. Bush believed that God had his special role in mind for the United States of America and that Bush’s job was to find his part in it. We spend a great deal of time these days talking about personal spirituality and very little time talking about the collective spiritual purpose of our nation.
Foer is wrong. Bush was not the end of the line for well-mannered children of privilege serving in positions of power. That will always be with us.
What we hope, though, is that the idea of real American exceptionalism, along with all of the duties and privileges it entails, does not die with him and his generation.
THE RULEBOOK: ‘LORD OF THE FLIES’ EDITION
“A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 10
TIME OUT: ‘RIP, THE VISHNU’
Spectator: “I never once heard Mr. Bush chafe at the preposterous notion that he lacked walnuts. He was serene about his manhood. And why shouldn’t he have been? If you’d been to war as an 18-year-old pilot and seen death face-to-face; if you’d cradled your dying four-year-old daughter in your arms; drilled for oil in Texas; raised a family; been elected to the Congress; headed the Republican Party – during Watergate! – opened the first US liaison office in China; run the CIA; got yourself elected vice president of the United States…maybe you didn’t need to have your manhood validated by smartass magazine editors and the soft-faced thumb-suckers of the punditariat. He was, to use a term that has suffered of late from desuetude, a Christian gentleman. Paradigmatically so. His love was total, unconditional. He embodied Shakespeare’s admonition that ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.’ His soul was visible on his sleeve. And in his pocket there was always a handkerchief, usually damp.”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 41 percent
Average disapproval: 54.2 percent
Net Score: -13.2 points
Change from one week ago: up 1.2 points
[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve – 56% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve – 54% disapprove; CBS News: 39% approve – 55% disapprove; Monmouth University: 44% approve – 49% disapprove; CNN: 41% approve – 57% disapprove.]
CONGRESS EXPECTED TO INTRODUCE STOP-GAP SPENDING BILL
AP: “Congress is expected to introduce a two-week temporary funding bill to avert a federal government shutdown this week over President Donald Trump’s border wall as business in the Capitol comes to a standstill for ceremonies honoring former President George H.W. Bush. The stop-gap measure would keep the government funded through Dec. 21, according to a House Republican aide familiar with the package. Trump kept up pressure Monday on congressional Democrats funding for his promised border wall, but he also threatened other actions to deter illegal immigration as negotiations continue. ‘Either way, people will NOT be allowed into our Country illegally!’ Trump tweeted. ‘We will close the entire Southern Border if necessary.’ The two sides were heading for a showdown Dec. 7 when funding for a portion of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, is set to expire. House leaders canceled roll call votes this week for ceremonies honoring Bush, who died Friday, meaning an extension will be needed to avert a funding lapse. While Democrats prefer a one-week extension, they likely would not object to a two-week delay, a Democratic aide said Monday. The congressional aides asked not to be identified because no decisions have been announced.”
Post midterm losses, House GOP doesn’t show signs of making changes – NYT: “With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats. Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout. President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy. And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back.”
SIX HOUSE DEMS RUMORED TO MAKE 2020 RUN
Roll Call: “As high-profile Democratic senators and governors steel themselves for a race to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, at least six sitting House Democrats are rumored to be weighing runs. They include Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Beto O’Rourke of Texas. Another, Maryland Rep. John Delaney, announced his presidential campaign way back in July 2017. In a field potentially 30-deep and studded with one-name star power like Bernie and Biden and Booker and, yes, even Oprah, it begs the question: Why would a lowly House member get into the mix? Historically, many factors have worked against them running for president. They have less time, less money, less name recognition and less faith that they can actually defeat seasoned political operatives in key primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Just one sitting House member has been elected president: James Garfield. In 1880.”
Kamala Harris to make 2020 decision ‘over the holiday’ – WaPo: “Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said Saturday that she plans to make the ‘very serious’ decision about a potential 2020 presidential bid in the coming weeks. ‘Over the holiday, I will make that decision with my family,’ Harris said in an interview with MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski at the Know Your Value conference in San Francisco. Harris added that if she does decide to run against President Trump, she is prepared for things to get ‘ugly,’ given that her candidacy would be a boundary-breaking one. ‘When you break things, it is painful,’ she said. ‘And you get cut. And you bleed.’ Harris is one of dozens of Democrats eyeing bids for the White House in 2020. Others include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), former vice president Joe Bidenand billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer.”
Sanders shows more signs toward 2020 bid – AP: “An insurgent underdog no more, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is laying the groundwork to launch a bigger presidential campaign than his first, as advisers predict he would open the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season as a political powerhouse. A final decision has not been made, but those closest to the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist suggest that neither age nor interest from a glut of progressive presidential prospects would dissuade him from undertaking a second shot at the presidency. … ‘This time, he starts off as a front-runner, or one of the front-runners,’ Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver told The Associated Press, highlighting the senator’s proven ability to generate massive fundraising through small-dollar donations and his ready-made network of staff and volunteers.”
Sen. Kennedy opts out of governor run – Politico: “Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy will not run for governor of his home state next year, opting to stay in a chamber where he’s become known for dishing out quotable comments and lingering in front of TV cameras. The conservative Republican said in a statement on Monday that it dawned on him during a trip to China last month that he’s more effective in the Senate. He said that mission, where he lobbied against the exports of synthetic drugs, as well as support from each nation’s president ‘sure made me feel like our trip to Beijing was worthwhile.’ ‘I love being in the United States Senate. I will not be a candidate for governor in 2019,’ Kennedy said. The Senate is ‘where I think I can do the most good.’”
Comey, House GOP come to terms on testimony – NYT
US, China put brakes on trade dispute with cease-fire – AP
Four women elected to lead main campaign committees – WaPo
Rep. Duncan Hunter and wife’s trial is set for Sept. 2019 – San Diego Tribune
AUDIBLE: STRICTLY BUSINESS
“I’m not paid to be optimistic or pessimistic. I maintain a military that is second to none with the fervent hope that we won’t have to employ it, but I have no doubt about the outcome if we must.” – Defense Secretary James Mattis talking to Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif. over the weekend.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“And that is why I admire Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy. They are committed to forging paths and finding solutions rather than to narrow partisan interests that often prefer to have an issue to run on (or against) than solve the core problems. I do hope Gowdy’s retirement from the House is not the last we see of his public life. We need more Scotts, Gowdys and Sasses, not fewer.” – Triche Osborne, Baton Rouge, La.
[Ed. note: If that’s what you’d like, then I reckon you and your fellow citizens ought to get busy creating a system that rewards rather than punishes such behavior. We have played out the string on partisanship and done so in a way that leaves us with too many perverse incentives. When you’ve reached the point where solving problems becomes a political liability, you know things are upside down. There are a lot of folks trying to figure this out: ranked-choice voting, multi-party primaries, campaign finance reform, term limits and more are all in the discussion. I don’t pretend to know the right answer, but I would suggest that we’d better get to it pretty quickly. The barbarians are well within the gates already.]
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‘NO, AUNT BETHANY, THOSE ARE THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’
KVUE: “All a Northwest Austin homeowner wanted was to win their annual neighborhood contest. … [Last] week, the Heerlein family put up a display paying homage to the scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold hangs from the roof of his house while trying to put up Christmas lights. They bought a dummy online and put a Clark Griswold mask on it, then scoured Goodwill for clothes that look exactly like the ones Chevy Chase wears in the movie. Chris Heerlein hung the dummy from his own roof and rigged a ladder underneath to look like it was tipping over. But one day later, a passerby saw the display and started panicking, thinking it was a real person hanging off the gutters. The entire thing was captured on Nest Cam video. … After a few frantic moments, [the passerby] yelled ‘HELP!’ to people driving by on the street and called 9-1-1. … An Austin police officer showed up after the 9-1-1 call and spoke to the nanny who was home at the time. The officer said they’ve seen this kind of display before, but they were getting calls about it. The family decided to put up a sign at the bottom of the ladder that reads: ‘Clark G is part of our Christmas display please do not call 911.’”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“There is something about the American spirit — about the bedrock decency and common sense of the American — that seems to help us find our way, something about American history that redeems itself in a way that inspires all. I would summarize it by quoting my favorite pundit, Otto von Bismarck. He was not known for his punditry, but he is famously said to have said: ‘God looks after children, drunkards, idiots and the United States of America.’ I think He still does. I hope He still does.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) in the Washington Post on Nov. 29, 2018, excerpted from Charles’ forthcoming posthumous book, “The Point of It All.” The book and column were edited by his son, Daniel Krauthammer. Tune in to “Special Report with Bret Baier” tonight at 6 pm ET as Daniel joins Bret to talk about the book.
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.