Charles Krauthammer on the legacy of
President George H.W. Bush (1924-2018)
from Bush: Two Great Challenges Met
by Charles Krauthammer
November 23, 1992
In a democracy, electoral numbers are supposed to decide a winner. They are not some historical arbiter of the goodness, rightness, and fitness of the candidates.
The tyranny of numbers can inflate a reputation. It can also deflate. Take George Bush. Yes, only 38 percent of Americans were willing to contemplate four more years of him. But that is not a historical verdict on the last four years. If we were to judge Harry Truman by the poll numbers at the end of his term -- 32 percent -- we should deem his presidency a dismal failure.
Charles Krauthammer with George H.W. Bush at the White House
Bush's was not a failed presidency, but a completed one. History called upon him to do two things: to close out the Cold War and thwart the ambitions of a reckless tyrant in the Persian Gulf.
Bush did both rather well…. The Cold War ended on terms astonishingly favorable to the West and to the democratic idea…. As for the gulf, it is hard to imagine another contemporary American figure doing what Bush did: mobilize a reluctant country and a recalcitrant world to defeat Saddam in war.
Bush was born -- and trained -- for these two jobs. But only these two. By the end of four years, there was nothing left for him to do.
He always considered the president a steward whose job it was to deal wisely with what came. What came for Bush were two great challenges. He met them. That he had no further ambition -- no further vision -- for his country or his presidency is his tragedy.... It is also the reason his country turned him out of office. The voters' judgment, however, is not to be confused with history's. It may suit partisan journalism to equate losing with failure, but history does not follow the polls.