George H.W. Bush’s life proves that, sometimes, things go gloriously right

Being one of the youngest Navy pilots in World War II, and blessed with longevity, George H.W. Bush was among the last of his cohort to leave us. As intelligence chief, diplomat and president, he brought to his calling a set of values that might be called patrician. He was less New Frontier and more old-school. He rose in government on the impulse of service. He lived by high standards of decency, fair play, humility, love of family and love of country. He was relentlessly moderate in both temperament and political instinct.

This type of “establishment” code is easier to lampoon than replace. So much of what a graceless age dismisses as repression is actually politeness, compassion and dignity.

And Bush’s moral sensibilities turned out to be exactly what was needed at a decisive historical moment. As the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its economic and moral failure, what was needed from the United States was patience, wisdom, steady purpose and the generosity of true power. In presiding over the breaking of nations, an excess of vision or ambition might have been dangerously disruptive. Crowing would have led to bitterness and unpredictable anger. And Bush was incapable of crowing.