Most Americans know that the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, died on November 30, 2018, after a lengthy illness. He was 94 years old. Millions of viewers were captivated by his televised funeral in Washington, D.C., that occurred several days later. It was one of the most emotional and flawlessly executed services I have seen.
Despite what you may have heard recently, the news media bludgeoned Bush 41 unmercifully while he was in office. Although what he endured was less vicious than today's withering assault on Donald Trump, it was, nonetheless, devastating by the standards of his time. He was said not to have a "vision thing" for America, and the mainstream media called him "a wimp." He was not a perfect man. None of us is, but I assure you he was no wimp. Newsweek once ran a regrettable cover story about Bush.
The headline read, "George Bush: Fighting the 'Wimp Factor'."
It was hogwash. One of the Newsweek editors, Evan Thomas, has said since Bush's death, "What we wrote was wrong." Indeed, it was.
Have you seen the black and white historical film of 19 year-old Lt. George Bush coming out of the water and onto a submarine in the South Pacific? His fighter plane had been shot down by the Japanese.
During the battle, the gunner at the rear portion of the plane was killed when his parachute failed to open. Bush was one of our nation's war heroes, as was the gunner.
As President, Bush led a coalition of nations in a courageous campaign to defeat Saddam Hussein's army, the fourth largest in the world, which was arrayed in Kuwait and Iraq. It was called Operation Desert Storm, and turned out to be one of America's most dramatic military victories. Bush's approval numbers soared to more than 90 percent after this war. Some wimp!
A few days after George Bush's death last November, I wrote a tribute to the 41st president and aired my comments on Family Talk's 1,300 radio outlets. Here is a transcript of my opening remarks:
Hello, everyone. I'm James Dobson and you're listening to Family Talk. We've interrupted our regularly scheduled program today to offer a special tribute to the 41st President of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. Let me read what I wrote to him a few days after his death:
It is with sadness that Shirley and I have learned of the passing of former President George H.W. Bush. He was one of the finest and most gracious men I have ever known.
I met him when he was Vice President under President Ronald Reagan. Mr. Bush invited me to his office in the Eisenhower Building in May of 1988. One month later, my mother died suddenly. Though we had just met, the Vice President took the time to write me a handwritten letter of consolation on our loss. That grew into a friendship in the years that followed, when I became only one of millions of others around the world who considered this man to be their friend.
When Mr. Bush was nominated by the Republican Party to run for President in 1992, he called for America to be a kinder, gentler nation. There can be no more accurate words with which to characterize this good man. He genuinely cared about people and led our nation through perilous times. We will miss him and send our love and prayers to his son, President George W. Bush, and his entire family.
You can tell from my reading of those words that I had the highest respect and appreciation for George H. W. Bush. When he was a candidate for the second term against Bill Clinton, he came to visit us at Focus on the Family. The two of us went into my office, and we sat and prayed together. Then, he came down to our studio, and we recorded an interview. I want to share the text of that interchange with you now because it reveals what this man believed and stood for. You'll notice that because a presidential election was in progress in 1992, I had to be careful not to be too complimentary of my guest. The IRS has stringent rules for those of us leading non-profit organizations during political campaigns. Here is the transcript:
JCD: Mr. President, thank you for coming by. I do appreciate you being with us.
GB: Well, I am very pleased to be here. I have only one regret. And that is that Barbara Bush isn't with us, and that she doesn't get to meet your people.
JCD: Mr. President, much has been written about the so-called "vision thing." What is your hope for the American people?
GB: Let me put it in perspective. You see, I still believe we are a good and decent society, and overriding all of these specific programmatic objections, is the need to strengthen the American family. And Dr. Dobson, it's not 'cause I'm sitting here. It is something I feel passionately about. It's why I've appointed a commission to address urban family disintegration. We must get back to our values that underlie and have always strengthened our society. All of this, we can make progress on. None of it can be done in four years, but that's what passionately drives my desire to finish the job.
JCD: My wife, Shirley, and I just got back from six weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I was very interested in how the British press covered the American presidential campaign. The London Times carried an editorial titled, "The Un-American Inactivity." It was published on July 20, 1992. If you'll permit me, I'd like to read two paragraphs from that article, and then I'd like you to comment on it.
The writer said, "There is something pathetic in the spectacle of American politicians appealing to traditional family values in the name of American youth, where the values appear to be dying out and the young are emphatically not listening. Two surveys were published last week, which together, paint a portrait of a generation of American youth that is lost, fractured, and dangerously alienated from the political process. The first, from the Time's Mirror Company found that only a quarter of eligible Americans under 35 are likely to vote in the autumn election. The second, from the National Center for Health Statistics, showed that fewer young Americans are marrying than ever before, suggesting that the traditional American family may soon be an anachronism." Do you believe that is true?
GB: Well, I believe parts of it. I am not all that discouraged about American youth. I think we're going to see higher participation in the election. But I'll tell you, I share the concerns of that editor about the undermining of the family. The mayors from the National League of Cities came to see me, and they said the largest single cause of urban decay is the decline of the American family. And, so, what we are trying to do, and it can't be accomplished by government mandate, is to find ways to strengthen it. And then what Barbara and I have tried to do, and I certainly give her great credit on this, is to exemplify our commitment to family values.
For example, she is big into literacy, and when she reads to children, it sends a signal that parents should read to their kids. Now, that's not a government program, but it's a government exhortation. So, the London Times may be right about some of their statistics. They probably and regrettably are, but the answer is not to wring our hands about it. The answer is to try to change it. And that's why I appointed a family commission on urban families under great Governor Ashcroft of Missouri. It was co-chaired by Annette Strauss, a former mayor of Dallas. They tried to find ways legislatively to strengthen the family. Welfare reform is a part of that.
JCD: Let me turn a corner now and express my appreciation to you, Mr. President, and the Attorney General for continuing to prosecute hardcore pornography in this country. Your administration has really delivered on that issue. And, on behalf of many people who listen to this broadcast, I want to express appreciation to you, too.
GB: Well, pornography is a sickness. It is a terrible thing when people get rich or profit from it. We are facing it in various ways. Thank you for saluting the Justice Department. They have done more to bring to justice those people who are putrefying the lives of young people in this country—more than any other administration. We've had some stirring up on the National Endowment for the Arts, because that organization, in my view, sometimes went over the bounds of common decency. Particularly when they ridiculed, if I can be specific, Jesus Christ. They advocated funding certain art presentations of the vilest kinds of sexual orientation. And it's not easy to come to grips with that. I don't believe in censorship. I do believe in decency. And we've tried to stand for decency, and we have a regime there now that I think stands for decency and honor. And it's a very difficult one. But we're not just dealing with justice. And it's not just the NEA. All across the board, we are trying very hard to strengthen family values, and that would mean standing up against this insidious pornography.
For our team, the issue is not censorship, it's sponsorship. It's using taxpayer money to insult Christians, to insult the sensibilities of decent people.
You've got to be against bigotry and obscenity. There may be some weaknesses in our Administration, but we have stood firmly against those kinds of things because they do smack at the very fabric of families in this country. And we ought not to condone those things which clearly should be condemned.
JCD: Let's talk about abortion. You have consistently opposed it, and, in fact, I heard a speech that you gave to a Catholic assembly just a few days ago.
GB: Yes, it was at a Knights of Columbus meeting in New York.
JCD: Yes, I was so pleased that you said that. It's where you said that your opposition to abortion was a deeply held belief within you. Would you elaborate on that?
GB: Well, let me say this, that this is a tremendously divisive issue. But I don't care what the polls say. I am not going to change my position based on the polls. I am strongly on the pro-life side, and I have shown that and demonstrated it by vetoing bill after bill that's been sent to the White House. And the more I think of it, the more convinced I become, instead of going the other way on it. Listen, abortion is a tragedy. There are one and a half million abortions per year in America, and there has to be a better way. And I think I know what that way is. It is adoption. It's abstinence. It's the family teaching their young people, whether it's a single parent, or two parents, that it's wrong to engage in the practices that result in this horrible increase in abortions.
And let me add one other thing. I used an example in that speech to the Knights of Columbus, and I'm sure it is accurate. If you're a 13 year-old girl, you should have to get permission from your parents to have an abortion. In some states, such as in Pennsylvania, some suggest you shouldn't even have to consult the parents. I'm sorry, I just think that is wrong. I believe it's immoral. And, so, I will fight for what I believe.
JCD: A person can't give an aspirin to another person's child without being charged with battery if they don't like it. You can't even bind a scratch without permission. Parents have held absolute authority for the medical care of their children for more than 200 years. But parents now have no control. A 13 year-old girl can have this procedure that she will remember for the rest of her life, while her parents have no knowledge of it. It just isn't right. As you said, Mr. President, it is a moral issue.
GB: That is a deeply held conviction of mine, and I'm not going to change it. You know, a president has to make a lot of difficult decisions. Some of them may be popular, some may be unpopular. But I've found you can't make a decision based on popularity or on surveys. You simply can't do it. You have to say, "Here's what I'm for, and I'm going to stand for it. And here's what I'm against."
Let's go back to the Gulf War. Some critics say I don't have the American people with me on this one—that I don't have the Congress with me. And I had to say, "Here's what I am going to do," and I brought people with me. And I feel the same way on these social issues. I'm going to continue to stand for what I believe.
JCD: Mr. President, what do you want to say to our listeners?
GB: Listen, I don't think you have enough time on this marvelous program of yours to let me start unwinding on that. Maybe it ought to be this: Do not let the critics make you believe, in spite of the problems we've talked about here, that we are a nation in decline. We are a great nation. In many ways, we're the envy of the world, even with tough economic times. Our economy is greater and stronger than most of the western European economies today. We are a country that can do what we set out to do. Now, we've got to be sure we change the way we do it. And that's why I favored choice in child care. That's why I favored parental choice in education. That's why I favored getting these problems solved, as much as possible, at the family, the local, the community, and the state level. And do not despair about America. We are not in decline. We simply need to change things for the better. So, stay involved and practice participation in helping others.
You know, I call it "points of light," which is an age-old concept that de Tocqueville found when he came to this country. It refers to one American helping another. We are a generous country. We're a friendly country. We're fair and honorable and decent, and I don't like to see our country torn down by those who criticize it. I don't like to see it ripped asunder by some of its critics. I think we've got to get together as a nation, pull together, recognize our decency, and then fight for it.
JCD: Are you aware that millions of parents in this country are terrified right now about what's happening to the culture, and especially the influences on their kids?
GB: Yes, they are. And I think that they ought to involve themselves in the political process. You read me a story in which the Times predicted that young Americans would not participate in the elections. How about our adults? Are they all going to roll up their sleeves and do what is right? They need to insist that politicians, regardless of party, stand up for what we call traditional family values.
JCD: I've been trying to say that for 20 years, Mr. President. Thank you for taking this stance. I can't let you leave without talking about the GI Bill for Children that your administration is supporting. Explain it very quickly, especially with reference to the right of parents to choose which school their children will be able to attend.
GB: Let me frame this one for you. When I got out of the Navy in 1945, I was 20, maybe 21. And World War II had just ended. The GI Bill was passed, which gave to me a certain amount of money to go to the college of my choice. The government didn't say, "You must attend a state university." No, they said, "You can go to the college of your choice, whether it is parochial, private, public, whatever." So, you could go to a religious school if you wanted. And there was no church-state confusion about it.
And many did just that. Nobody raised a constitutional argument. Nobody said this was wrong. And, as a result, all institutions benefited by that program. The state institutions, private and religious schools, all were chosen by some. Let me shift gears now. I believe that parents should have the choice over which public schools they want to send their kids to. If they choose it, give them a voucher, but also do it for private and religious schools. It's the same principle we have for child care, really. Parents know best. They can choose. The kids will benefit, too.
I think it is time to say, "Look, our educational system isn't measuring up. Let's try the GI Bill for kids that says we're going to give parents a voucher, and let them choose." And Dr. Dobson, I am convinced that one beneficiary of this will be the public schools. Because it's been demonstrated in Rochester and other places where it's been tried that the school not chosen betters itself. Competition has that effect. So, I will take on the powerful unions on this.
JCD: And the National Education Association. I know they are fighting you tooth and nail.
GB: They are fighting me tooth and nail, but they can get in line. A lot of other special interests are fighting me, too. And I now have to say to the American people, I need your help to do something that's different. Let's let the parents and families choose.
JCD: How can people pray for you, Mr. President? I know people out there would like to know.
GB: I would simply ask the prayers of people, not in a partisan sense, maybe not even related to winning an election. But I think our prayers should have a lot to do with the direction our country is going. The President—all presidents should be supported in prayer. Lincoln went to his knees often in that wonderful White House in which I'm privileged to live. And I understand that better now, because I don't believe that an atheist can be an effective president of the United States. I don't honestly believe in my heart, that if a person doesn't have a faith and didn't get strength from the Supreme Being, that that person can't do the job as President.
And so, I would simply invite the prayers for the President of this country, and then I'll sort out all the politics and go through the long political campaign. But we're a very special country. We're a very stable country. Our values—our national values—are sound, and so I would pray for the President, whoever that person is, and hope that he can profit by the strength that God gives us. That's all I ask.
JCD: Mr. President, thank you for being our guest, for coming by. And our prayers will be with you.
GB: Well, I believe in prayer. Thank you, sir.
Well, that was the way my interview with George Herbert Walker Bush ended, or at least, that's when we thought it ended. We thought the engineers had turned off the recorders. Actually, they had left the mics on for a couple of more minutes. Here is that final spontaneous comment:
JCD: Thank you so much, Mr. President. And thanks for answering my delicate question about having to send young men into combat. As I watched you from a distance, it appeared that you were touched deeply by that responsibility. Is that right?
GB: It did affect me. I sat up there at Camp David with tears streaming down my face the day before I knew these kids were going to start the air war. You have to feel that responsibility. It's somebody else's son, somebody else's daughter that's going to be in harm's way in our modern Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. I remember being in our little chapel at Camp David, and I was very moved by it emotionally. And it drained me. And then I received letters as the war progressed. I remember when the first Navy pilot was shot down and killed. His wife was so heroic. And his children knew that their dad had done the right thing. I took all those things very personally.
JCD: I heard all this macho talk from Congressmen who were saying, "I'll be there if it all works out." In the presidency, you aren't able to say that. Hey, sometimes you make a call that people don't like, and sometimes you do what proves to be right, but you have to make the decision yourself.
(End of recorded statements)
Well, that was a very special day for me when President Bush joined us in our studios. I had many other opportunities to meet with him, mostly in the White House. There was one occasion where I was alone with him. He had dismissed all of his staff, and we sat and talked about family values and principles in which we both believed. That conversation wasn't recorded, but a photo was taken of us during that intimate conversation. It is pictured on the envelope for this letter.
Sometime after this visit when George Bush had completed his presidency he sent a video greeting on my 60th birthday. These are his words:
"I want to get in line. I want to get in line to take this occasion to congratulate him and thank him for doing the Lord's work in such a wonderful way. James, you have my respect. I hope you know that. I consider you a friend, and I treasure that. But I don't know that you know how much I value your ministry and the way it's reached out to so many people."
President Bush was a very transparent and a passionate man. He also had a good sense of humor. I remember being invited to the Oval Office to deliver a wonderful painting which the famous artist, G Harvey, had asked me to bring as a gift. The painting depicts a horse and buggy pulling up to the front of the White House on a snowy day, perhaps in 1870. The painting now hangs in Bush's Presidential Library. When I arrived in the Oval Office that day, I noticed that the Bushes' cocker spaniel, Millie, was lying by the window. Mrs. Bush had written a book about Millie, which made the dog very well known. After greeting Shirley and me, the President walked over to Millie and spoke to her, but she didn't move. She just rolled her eyes up to him, but her tail didn't wag. Obviously, she was upset. I said, "What's wrong with her?" And he said, "Well, the grandkids are visiting us now, and Millie is pouting. She always gets angry and jealous when they come to the White House."
What a great family, and what a great man.
I hope you have learned some things about President George H.W. Bush through my interactions with him. We can all be thankful for his commitment to family values and to our country.
We thank you for your prayers and support of the work we do at JDFI.
President Bush and Dr. Dobson reviewing a model of Focus on the Family's new campus which was under construction.
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright, 2018 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.