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Opinion: George H.W. Bush Doc Puts Family, Not Politics, at the Fore for 41

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Last night HBO aired a documentary on the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush.  Whether you agree with his politics or not, two things immediately come to mind while watching – he has unconditional love both for his family and the country he was honored to serve.

From the tranquil shores of Kennebunkport, Maine, to the theater of battle in World War II, to the corridors of power in the West Wing, Bush takes the viewers on a remarkable journey, while displaying both a good deal of modesty and wit.

One cannot watch 41 without thinking back to a different era in American politics, before the 24/7 cable chatter and millions of campaign contributions flooding the system from wealthy donors, union dues and Super PACs. There is a sense of civility – nobility, even – in Bush’s pride in and dedication to public service.

And yet, the film’s most poignant moments revolve around Bush’s discussion of his family. We see the wrenching heartbreak of losing his second born child, Robin, to leukemia in her infancy; the sorrow of his father never having had the chance to see his son become President of the United States.

A story not in the documentary, but one of my favorites about our 41st president, is a touching moment shared between father and son as relayed by my former boss, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. Just after the inauguration in 2001, Card was alone with the President in the Oval Office when a door opened and shut. Silence. “Mr. President,” greeted one. “Mr. President,” said the other.  Such was the respect that both men had for each other and the Oval Office: in that room, they would only address each other by their formal title. Card said there were many moist eyes at that moment of pride.

As for me, I had a brief encounter with the 41st President as I made my way from a meeting in the West Wing that I will never forget. Just past the Situation Room in the basement of the West Wing are a series of chairs and a couch for impromptu meetings or phone calls. Seated with his back against the wall in a chair facing out sat a smiling George H.W. Bush. Walking up to greet the former president, I asked him what brought him to the West Wing that morning.  “I’m just a proud father here to show unconditional love and support for his son,” he told me.

That is 41 in a nutshell: a proud and honorable man who has shown unconditional love and support for his family and country he was honored to serve.