BOSTON (CBS) – For many people, the death of former President George Herbert Walker Bush is evoking nostalgia for a time when American politics was kinder and gentler. We heard the same thing after Sen. John McCain passed away a few months ago, and after the deaths of former President Gerald Ford and Sen. Ted Kennedy as well.
But while Mr. Bush certainly was a model of good manners, that nostalgia may be based more on myth than reality.
On CNN this weekend, former White House Chief of Staff James Baker was saying “we badly need to bring some civility back into our public discourse.”
But is America really craving a return to political gentility?
It’s a question potential challengers to President Trump are currently debating – do voters want a kinder, gentler president, or should Democrats try to beat Mr. Trump at his own caustic game?
A recent poll suggests a surprising answer.
Asked to rate the presidents since 1960, voters named the martyred John F. Kennedy number one, but also chose three of the more divisive presidents of modern times, Reagan, Obama and Clinton, before citing the Bushes, elder and son.
“We are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you, and we can’t thank you enough,” said President Obama when he awarded Mr. Bush the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
But an unsentimental look at the late president’s term shows that his popularity peaked when he launched a decidedly un-gentle war against Iraq. And it cratered after he broke that promise by cutting an oh-so-civil tax and budget deal with Democrats.
So while we rightly mourn the passing of a true gentleman, let’s be honest with ourselves about the fact that we tend to reward political warriors more than we do the peacemakers.