When President George H.W. Bush stepped off Air Force One on Oct. 15, 1990, and onto the tarmac at Des Moines International Airport, it was in the closing weeks of a midterm election year that would see the Democratic Party make gains on its majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.
But this Republican president was not afraid of bipartisan compromise and cross-party work. Just three months earlier, Bush completed work with then-Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to sign the landmark American With Disabilities Act into law.
Harkin, who introduced that bill, told an Iowa newspaper after Bush’s death Friday, the 41st president of the United States was not only a World War II hero but a steady hand in the White House.
“Decency, civility, intelligence and patriotism were the guideposts of his life,” Harkin told the Des Moines Register this week. “His words ‘let the shameful wall of discrimination come tumbling down,’ when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act echo throughout a more inclusive America for all. It was an honor for me to have worked with President Bush in getting this bill through Congress and signed into law.”
Today has been designated a national day of mourning, in honor of the 41st president, who died Friday at age 94 in Houston. By most any measure, Bush’s life was a success, and America and the world shared in it.
Bush was the last president to serve in WWII, flying 58 combat missions and was shot down after attacking a Japanese-held island in the Pacific in September 1944. He served for decades in elected and appointed positions, including in Congress and as vice president, to being director of the CIA and ambassador to China and to the United Nations.
In his four years as president, Bush signed the ADA, which removed barriers and ended discrimination against millions of Americans. He led the free world to a peaceful conclusion of the Cold War. He oversaw the building of an international coalition to drive Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait, assuaging the fears of a public for whom the Vietnam conflict was still a fresh and traumatic memory.
After leaving office, Bush would befriend President Bill Clinton, the man who defeated him in the bitter 1992 campaign, with the two first working together on relief efforts after a 2004 tsunami struck southeast Asia. The two would later work together on relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina struck the southeastern United States in 2006. He would also provide important counsel and support for President George W. Bush in his son’s difficult years as a wartime president.
Bush was a success beyond politics. His 73-year marriage to Barbara Bush was the longest of any president. He and his wife were a team, and together they raised six children, including future governors and a president.
“Saturday Night Live” comedian Dana Carvey famously lampooned Bush his presidency as a stiff, rather bland person who worried that things “wouldn’t be prudent.” However, in real life, Bush was a man of indomitable spirit, known for fast-moving speedboat rides off the Maine coast, who made his last skydive on his 90th birthday.
George H.W. Bush served America for decades. He brought dignity and leadership he brought to the office of the Presidency, and helped those who came after, recognizing that their success would be the nation’s success.
We join Americans everywhere today in mourning his loss.