An appreciation for George H.W. Bush, one of politics’ most ‘courteous’ people

At a White House news conference in January 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush called on me for a question and then repeated my name three times in his answer, drawing titters from the press corps. That’s because he kept calling me “Ann,” an error of no importance. He was the president. He had more momentous things to remember than my name.

Still, the next day a note handwritten on White House stationery arrived. “Dear Susan,” it began. “I know you’re not Ann. Ann Margaret lives on the West Coast. But I forgot. Will you forgive me? Say ‘yes.’ Sincerely, George Bush.”

That note, which I framed and now hangs above my desk at home, was vintage George Bush in both its thoughtfulness and its corny humor. Many others have notes of their own that he dashed off after occasions difficult or celebratory.

The death of the 41st president on Friday marks the nation’s loss of a World War II Navy pilot who lacked any hint of bravado, the son of a U.S. senator who himself became the patriarch of one of America’s premier political dynasties, and one of politics’ most courteous people.

George Herbert Walker Bush wasn’t the most triumphant president of recent decades. Unlike the president he served as vice president (Ronald Reagan) and the one who succeeded him in the White House (Bill Clinton), he failed in his bid for a second term. His effort to address the budget deficit, agreeing to tax hikes as well as spending cuts, was seen as an object lesson for Republicans on what not to do, one being followed to this day in endless fiscal-cliff debates. 

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