Revisiting George H.W. Bush's Legacy

Dec 1, 2018
Originally published on December 1, 2018 8:02 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're remembering George Herbert Walker Bush today. He died last night at the age of 94. Many of the people thinking about him today are journalists who covered him on the campaign trail. Our own Linda Wertheimer covered his presidential campaigns and joins us. Mrs. Wertheimer, always an honor to have you with us. Thanks so much.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: Thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: And tell us some of your recollections of George H.W. Bush. There are people who run for president today before they're even elected to anything.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

SIMON: I mean no one specifically. He had served in so many ways before he ran for president.

WERTHEIMER: That's right. His public service career was 40 years long. But what he did - you know, he had the sort of perfect resume to run for president in those days. That's what we wanted. He was - he fought in the second world war with distinction. He was in business in Texas at the very beginning of the oil fields there in Midland, the Permian Basin. And he always mispronounced business. He - that was one of the few words that he said as bidness (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: So he could be understood in Texas.

WERTHEIMER: Absolutely. I got - perhaps that was it. He served in the House of Representatives. He was director of the CIA. He ran for president and served as vice president for Ronald Reagan. He was an extraordinary - I mean, the resume is just dazzling.

SIMON: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: And he was - I think he was good at all of those jobs.

SIMON: What was he like to be around as a human being?

WERTHEIMER: Well, he was a very nice person. He was very well-educated.

SIMON: Which is often not said of people in politics.

WERTHEIMER: That's certainly true. He was well-educated. He was, really, a nice person to be around.

When he lost the nomination in a particular primary, for example - but, you know, you - underneath all of that kindness and courtesy and inviting us over to the house and taking us for rides on his big, old boat, there were lots of times when he was - you could see the steely determination to be president showing through.

He lost primary after primary, and we declared him dead. You know, there went George Bush. He's not going to be it. And then he would just sit up in that coffin, and he would go on. It was just amazing to me. I mean, he's so serious - he was so serious about it that he was willing to put up with anything awful in order to get there.

SIMON: You rode in a speedboat with him. Do I remember that story?

WERTHEIMER: Yes, I did. We were up in Kennebunkport, and he had what I believe is called a cigarette boat - a speedboat, very fast.

SIMON: I've heard of those, yeah. Right.

WERTHEIMER: And we were in the boat. And he comes tooling around the hook of land where their home was and just took off for the open water and scared the bejabbers out of me.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: It was - the thing was so fast, you were, like, pinned to the...

SIMON: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: ...To the thing you were sitting on. I struggled to get up because I wanted to get up front and see what it was like to be up front. And some of these big old guys, who were the kind of reporters who used to cover campaigns all the time, grabbed me by my shirttails and pulled me back down again (laughter).

SIMON: Well, and we're thankful for that. What an extraordinary life. And I know you had a conversation with him once. Was it on a plane from Houston?

WERTHEIMER: Yes. Well, I think it was on a plane to Houston.

SIMON: To Houston. I beg your pardon. Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: I'm not sure. But I'm absolutely not sure about this. But this is a guy, you know, he loved speed. He loved taking chances.

SIMON: Jumping out of airplanes.

WERTHEIMER: Right, all that stuff. But what the thing that just amazed me was - I was sitting there with him, and he was very relaxed. And he sort of leaned back in the chair. And he said - I said to him, this must be the best time of your life. You're - you know, the path to the presidency was just straight ahead of him. He was going to beat Michael Dukakis, no question.

And he said, no. And I said, well, then what was it? And he said, well, when I came back from the war, Bar and I were married. Georgie was already born. We went to New Haven, got a little apartment. And I went back to college.

And he said, I remember this day, sitting in the library, and the sun was kind of slanting in. And I was sitting there and thinking that Bar and Georgie - that's what he called his wife, Bar - that Bar and Georgie were back in our little apartment. And he said, I was the happiest I've ever been.

SIMON: Oh, my God. That's a beautiful story.

WERTHEIMER: Well, he was a beautiful man, a beautiful - you know, maybe you didn't agree with his politics all the time, but you could never, ever regret knowing him.

SIMON: NPR's Linda Wertheimer, thanks so much for being with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.