George H.W. Bush and the price of politics

Bush never doubted that he was the best man on the ballot. Armed with this self-confidence — a personal assurance masked by his kindness and his thoughtfulness — he could justify adapting his principles and attacking his opponents as the inevitable price of politics. To Mr. Bush, such calculations were not cynical. They were instrumental to the desired end: the accumulation of power to be deployed in the service of America and of the world. What mattered to him was not what one said or did to rise to ultimate authority. What mattered was whether one was principled and selfless once in command. And as president of the United States, Mr. Bush was surely that.

For every compromise or concession to party orthodoxy or political expedience on the campaign trail, in office Mr. Bush ultimately did the right thing. In 1964, when he sought a Senate seat from Texas, he opposed the Civil Rights Act, only to vote for open housing once in Congress four years later, much to the fury of his conservative constituents. In 1988, he made an absolute pledge on supply-side economics — “Read my lips: No new taxes” — only to break that promise two years later, when he believed an agreement that included higher taxes was best for the country. And, after winning the hard-hitting 1988 race, he sought to bring about what he’d called a “kinder, gentler” America, reaching out to Democrats and Republicans alike, seeking common ground on common problems.