Barbara Bush epitomized the 'greatest generation'


National Post, 18 April 2018

When George and Barbara Bush left the White House in early 1993, a certain generational decency took leave with them

Barbara Bush was the best of a different era. So we were told repeatedly yesterday upon news of her death. At age 19 she married the first man she dated, already a war hero himself at the age of 20, and still married 73 years later, she was the matriarch of one of the most successful political families in American history.

Americans, having rashly discarded the monarchy, still have a king-sized hole in their national heart. Consequently they try to fill it up with political dynasties — the Adams, the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes and the Clintons. Latterly, celebrity culture has filled that void and so their largest state was governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and now Donald Trump is president.

Barbara Bush was certainly from another generation. Hers was the “greatest generation,” when the men volunteered for war and the women manned, so to speak, the home front. Together with her husband, George H.W. Bush, they were serious people for serious times, committed to the war effort as teenagers during the Second World War and establishing a new order after winning the Cold War almost 50 years later. That generation is now moving offstage. Barbara is survived by her husband, born in 1924 just a few months before another president, Jimmy Carter.

On the night that George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton, late at night while Barbara was already asleep, he recorded in his diary:

“Maybe it’s time for a new generation. He is George (W.)’s age, a generation more in touch, a background more in touch … I’ve never felt ‘out of touch,’ but then I’ve always assumed there was duty, honour, country. I’ve always assumed that was just part of what Americans are made of — quite clearly it’s not.”

“Honour, duty, country — it’s just passé,” Bush’s diary continued two days later, still shocked that a decorated war hero had lost to a draft dodger. “The values are different now, the lifestyles, the accepted vulgarity, the manners, the view of what’s patriotic and what’s not, the concept of service. All these are in the hands of a new generation now, and I feel I have comfort of knowing that I have upheld these values and I live and stand by them. I have the discomfort of knowing that they might be a little out of date.”

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