As George H.W. Bush is laid to rest, Americans mourn a man who – even to many of those who disagreed with him on policy – represented an era of greater civility and cooperation, and putting the greater good above one’s own interests.
It’s hard to forget his famous campaign pledge, “Read my lips: no new taxes,” or the consequences of his breaking that pledge.
Of course, in the autumn of 1990 he went back on his words. But if ever there was occasion to break a promise, this was one. Interest rates were rising, supply side economics were not fulfilling their advocates’ promises, and the economy was slowing.
And if one must break a promise, a collaborative process was the way to do it: over months of negotiations whereby both sides gave up something and got something. Tax cuts went hand in hand with selective spending cuts as part of a plan to keep the deficit down to a dull roar.
Despite Bush’s grand compromise, his party, led by Newt Gingrich, rejected the deal, leaving him to cut a new agreement with Democrats which, ironically, left the country with a deal that Gingrich et al liked even less.
Even if the GOP faction had not mutinied, it was a gamble to think that the economy would respond the way he wanted in time for the next presidential vote. Bush had taken a huge risk with his career because he deemed the greater risk to be to the economy.
The tax hike was a tough political decision that cost Bust re-election. But it was the right thing to do. It was leadership.
As his twilight years progressed, Bush gained more and more respect. He generated headlines when he went skydiving well past the age at which many people would even consider jumping out of a plane with nothing between them and the ground but a bit of cloth on strings. (I can’t imagine doing it at any age.)
I cannot help but think that skydiving at age 90 came from the same place in his heart and mind as making that tough decision about tax hikes. While one activity was done for fun and the other was for the good of the country, both came down to how he thought and felt about risks that were worth taking.
This is the sixth installment of my new weekly LinkedIn series, “Around My Mind” – a regular walk through the ideas, events, people, and places that kick my synapses into action, sparking sometimes surprising or counter-intuitive connections.
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