"Bush 41 saluted by his peers" - Politico.com
George H.W. Bush entered the Kennedy Center by wheelchair Monday night, where he watched the three other living ex-presidents (his son and two Democrats) pay tribute to him and his support for volunteerism.
The frail Bush, increasingly showing his 86 years, didn’t take the microphone until the end of a two-hour, made-for-TV, black-tie extravaganza that raised $30 million for the Points of Light Institute.
“You’ve already heard from me on my view on this Points of Light thing,” said Bush, speaking for only 40 seconds, to laughter from the full house.
Bill Clinton helped Bush stand up.
Then country music legend Garth Brooks, joined by a choir, sang “Lean On Me.”
It capped a feel-good love fest for the 41st president, whose reputation has improved as he enters the twilight of his life. President Barack Obama gave Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February, just weeks after a Gallup Poll found that 64 percent of Americans now approve of how the first Bush handled his one term as president.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he felt “a sense of melancholy” at all the recent events to recognize his dad because it a sign of how old he’s getting. “My guess is he’ll still be doing great stuff for a long while,” Jeb Bush said hopefully, before the program.
Clinton recalled in a speech how he fell in “love” with his old Republican rival as they worked together in South Asia after the 2004 tsunami and then along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Clinton joked about his “odd couple” relationship with Bush, saying that “Barbara [the former First Lady] began to refer to me as their black-sheep son.”
“This man whom I’d always liked and respected and then run against in a painful campaign in some ways, I literally came to love,” Clinton said. “And I realized all over again how much energy we waste fighting with each other over things that don’t matter. When there are things that do matter, disagreements are healthy. But nobody’s right all the time, and nobody’s wrong all the time.”
A “thousand points of light” was a rhetorical phrase coined by speechwriter Peggy Noonan and rolled out during Bush’s speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Bush would make it a recurring theme in speeches, including his inaugural, as a call for community organizations to do good work.
Eventually, that idea manifested itself in the foundation, which was the recipient of the money raised by Monday’s gala.
When Bush left office, Clinton said “the only thing” Bush asked him to do was to preserve federal support for the Points of Light initiative.
“I did,” Clinton said. “And we doubled national support for it. And now hundreds of millions of hours of volunteer work have been done, a couple hundred million dollars worth of money has been raised. … I’ve always been grateful that he asked, and that I listened."
“So when I was leaving, and George W. Bush was coming in, the only thing I asked him to do was to preserve AmeriCorps,” Clinton added. “And he did!”
Ironically, though Clinton didn’t mention it in his speech, House Republicans voted last month in their continuing resolution to defund AmeriCorps.
The overwhelmingly Republican audience, nonetheless, applauded Clinton’s AmeriCorps line.
Clinton introduced a video he narrated about the older Bush’s life, about how grew up mindful of the need to give back even though he was the son of a wealthy Connecticut senator. Bush sat for an interview, with a white backdrop, for the video.
“Now, partisan politics means much less to me; participating in these broader pursuits is more important,” Bush said on camera, with his wife sitting at his side. “You don’t have to be hostile in your opposition. I don’t think they need to be hateful about the people who disagree with you, and working with him I think we’ve established that. There can be no definition of successful life that does not include service to others.”
Former President George W. Bush praised his father and, more broadly, the American desire to give back.
“As President George Herbert Walker Bush, or if you’re a numbers guy, 41, talks about, he talks about a thousand points of light,” Bush 43 said. “But, as usual, he’s being modest because in our great country there are millions of points of light illuminating the countless examples of service and compassion that really define America. That makes us unique.”
In a prerecorded video message, Obama called Bush “an inspiration and a true gentleman.”
The event featured music performances from Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Cee Lo Green, Sam Moore, Kid Rock and other stars.
Tickets were pricey: Orchestra seats cost $2,500 each, and a thick booklet listed corporate sponsors.
Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, were in the audience but not acknowledged during the program.
Many alums from the first Bush’s administration came, from Secretary of State James A. Baker III to White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray.
Most of Bush’s progeny gathered, too. A row was filled with Bush 41’s grandchildren, including George W. Bush’s daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
It was the first time that all the living former presidents gathered since Obama’s inauguration. Jimmy Carter talked about his own work with Habitat for Humanity and his post-presidential commitment to volunteerism.
“For everything he’s, we’re deeply grateful,” Carter, accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn, said of Bush. “There’s some people who see a need and just take it upon themselves to meet it.”
NBC will broadcast an edited version of Monday night’s program on March 28 from 8 to 9 p.m.
Politico Writer (March 22, 2011). Politico.com. Bush 41 saluted by his peers. Retrieved March 22, 2011, from http://wvgazettemail.com/News/politico/201103220119?page=2&build=cache.