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.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pay their respects in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where former U.S. President George H.W. Bush lies in state December 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images)

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.

Jon Keller

  1. Theodore Oule says:

    Good question, Jon.

    But you missed the part of the answer that says as long as political gain is to be had by stoking the divisions, the the politicians will be stoking the coals with their shovels.

    And since currently, the Democrats are the party on the outside looking in, one can expect them to use their newly won subpoena powers in the House to add gasoline on top of the coals.

    And this will continue until the coolest heads tell people to sit down and shut up.

    Unfortunately, there are no “coolest heads” today in the national democratic party that are going to be able to withstand the onslaught.

    And before you accuse me of picking on the Democrats, let me suggest that they are merely the losers du jour.

    The Republicans will soon be the losers. Political fortunes ebb and flow. And in a two-party political environment, as is the case in all winner-take-all, truly fair schema, it is not long before fortunes are reversed.

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