What George H.W. Bush Taught Us All About Governing

Former President George H.W. Bush

Source Getty

Why you should care

Because we should demand our current leaders be more like him.


Susan Del Percio

Susan Del Percio is a New York–based Republican strategist and senior advisor to the Lincoln Project.

The first president I voted for was George Herbert Walker Bush. I was 18. A few months before the election, I had the privilege of meeting the then–vice president. It was June 1988, and I was an intern working for his fundraising operation in California. While it was not the last time I met him, that handshake turned out to be the beginning of my career in politics and government.

I remember that day through the eyes of a young person so excited to meet the VP. I even called my mother for advice on what to wear. She sent me my high school graduation dress and a pink purse. The photo from that day has been in my parents’ home ever since.

That day, Mr. Bush corrected the placement of my name tag, explaining that it should sit on my right shoulder because you shake with your right hand and the direct line of sight leads straight to your name. I didn’t realize it then, but that was my first lesson in a 30-year career in politics.

What stood out to me that day was how Bush treated everyone in the room with respect and interest. That never changed. I never “knew” him well, but at every event, he and his wife, Barbara, were always gracious and generous with their time, acting as if there was no one else in the room that they would rather be talking to.

What I learned early on from this dedicated American was that your political views can guide your policies, but they should not dictate how you govern. 

We will all now reflect on what his presidency meant to each of us. In fact, as I sat writing this column just hours after his death at the age of 94 early Saturday, my mother emailed me to say: “He was my favorite president. This morning I looked at the photo taken with you and President and Mrs. Bush. It made me think how fortunate you were to have this as your introduction into American politics.”

But we were all fortunate that George H.W. Bush was our president. He served his country for more than 40 years and considered it a privilege to do so. His long career of military service, two terms in Congress, his service as a diplomat, CIA director, vice president and of course president will be discussed and admired in the coming days.


Columnist Susan Del Percio, far right, meets President and Mrs. Bush in 1988.

Source Susan Del Percio

I am lucky that he was my introduction to American politics. While there were certainly highs and lows during his campaigns, when it came to governing, President Bush’s commitment to the country was unwavering. What I learned early on from this dedicated American was that your political views can guide your policies, but they should not dictate how you govern. 

President Bush never found himself conflicted: As a Republican, he still supported the environment and even passed the revised Clean Air Act in 1990 with overwhelming bipartisan support. Back then, being a Republican meant being compassionate and holding the belief that we must fight against discrimination of all kinds, which under Bush’s leadership led to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Most of all, he understood that America’s power was more than just the military. He knew the real strength of America lay in our values: democracy, freedom of the press and a just and fair judicial system, to name a few.

So where does that leave Republicans who believe in science and free trade and that we should value people more than money? It leaves us looking for real leaders, which unfortunately we haven’t seen for a while.

It’s cliché, but true: We will never see the likes of President George H.W. Bush again. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand that our current leaders have some of his best qualities. The most important? Caring deeply about the people and the country they serve.

Read more: George W. Bush talks about Barbara Bush and the need for freedom.

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