The media — perhaps seeking to distance itself from its previously hostile coverage — is treating the passing of President George H. W. Bush respectfully, offering praise for his leadership and portraying him as a successful president.
But in looking for examples of his successes, these TV talking heads are gravitating around the times he bucked conservatives and backed progressive policies — like tax hikes, fighting the NRA, becoming buddies with Bill Clinton, and creating new government programs, and imposing new environmental regulations.
On Meet the Press Sunday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell praised Bush for the “character” and “resolve” he showed in breaking his “No New Taxes” pledge, which she claimed fostered the economic expansion that continued through the Clinton Administration.
CHUCK TODD: He broke the pledge in 1990. Four years later, Newt Gingrich is speaker of the house. The Republican Party — it is the seminal moment, you could argue, in the shift of the Republican Party from where it was then to where it is today.
ANDREA MITCHELL: But economically, breaking that pledge showed the character and resolve of the man to do what he was persuaded was the right thing to do, economically, even though he knew, at the time, that it might guarantee that he would be a one-term president. And having covered those budget negotiations at Andrews Air Force Base, you know, we had Bob Dole and George Mitchell and everyone arguing that you needed to do it. And in fact, the budget restrictions, the so-called PAYGO rules, that required that, if you were going to spend money, you’ve got to raise it in the budget, that created the momentum, economically, that Bill Clinton inherited and built upon with his ‘93 brave votes without a Republican vote. And even into the George W. Bush presidency, we had economic growth.
Fox News’s Juan Williams singled out Bush for praise over his decision to publicly leave the NRA after the Oklahoma City bombing. Bush, Williams said, was unlike Trump in that he presented a “kinder, gentler America” versus Trump’s “American carnage.”
“On policy issues like guns, after Oklahoma City in ‘95, President President Bush quit the NRA, quit his lifetime membership,” Williams said. Yet “after what happened in Parkland, Fla., you see President Trump not only saying that we should arm teachers, but continue to do business with the NRA.”
After chastising Bush’s “faults” — such as not supporting the Civil Rights Act — ABC’s Donna Brazile said he did deserve credit for his eventual friendship with Bill Clinton, and their work together after Hurricane Katrina.
The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman also praised Bush for having the “steel” to break his “No New Taxes” promise and buck his own party.
“He raised taxes when the country needed it, but his party didn’t want it,” Friedman said on CNN. “There was a lot of steel in this guy, and it is precisely that willingness to do big, hard things against public opinion, against the base of your own party that also is really of a bygone era.”
CNN’s Shan Wu praised Bush for imposing the American Disabilities Act, which she said “the whole country” benefits from.
“The contrast [with President Trump] is so stark,” Wu said. “I think on the domestic front one of the really amazing pieces of legislation that he passed was the American Disabilities Act. I have family members that benefited from that; I think the whole country has benefited from that.”
USA Today’s Susan Page said Bush’s progressive policies showed he was “muscular.”
“His domestic legacy is marred somewhat because he was seen as being a little insensitive or unaware, not in touch with economic anxieties Americans were feeling,” she said on Face the Nation. “But his domestic legacy is actually pretty muscular. He signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, that’s a significant piece of legislation. He gave a national address on addressing AIDS. And I think it’s easy for us to forget now how much of a breakthrough that was at that time, a great stigma attached to HIV/AIDS.”
Appearing on CNN, Ron Klain offered up praise to Bush for extending the Clean Air Act, which conservative critics contend is unconstitutional.
Contrasting him favorably against the “Godfather” Trump, Klain said of Bush: He “was a conservative Republican president, but he was also a president who passed a Clean Air Act, who passed a Civil Rights restoration act. I mean, he — he was a bridge between the Republican Party of an earlier era and the Republican Party we see today.”