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  • Norman Young

A Fitting End of a Bygone Era

People claim that they fear public speaking even more than they fear death. An old Jerry Seinfeld joke points out that, if true, this means that most people attending a funeral would rather be the guy in the casket than the guy giving the eulogy. Over the weekend, former president George W. Bush had the rare opportunity to be both. Speaking at Senator John McCain's funeral, Bush gave a fitting eulogy for the very ideology he embodies.

"Compassionate conservatism" was the slogan for G. W. Bush's first presidential campaign in 2000, and that slogan set the tone for his presidency. It was markedly different from Ronald Reagan's 1980 slogan, "Let's Make America Great Again." Instead of continuing Reagan's legacy, Bush was continuing his father's. Bush Sr. had run for president after serving as vice president during Reagan's eight successful years and two landslide victories. Yet despite Reagan's overwhelming success, Bush Sr. opined:

"I wonder sometimes if we've forgotten who we are. We're the people who sundered a nation rather than allow a sin called slavery. And we're the people who rose from the ghettos and the deserts. And we weren't saints, but we lived by standards. We celebrated the individual, but we weren't self-centered. We were practical, but we didn't live only for material things. We believed in getting ahead, but blind ambition wasn't our way. The fact is: Prosperity has a purpose. It's to allow us to pursue 'the better angels,' to give us time to think and grow. Prosperity with a purpose means taking your idealism and making it concrete by certain acts of goodness. It means helping a child from an unhappy home learn how to read ... It means teaching troubled children through your presence that there is such a thing as reliable love. Some would say it's soft and insufficiently tough to care about these things. But where is it written that we must act if we do not care, as if we are not moved? Well, I am moved. I want a kinder and gentler nation."

Legend has it that Nancy Reagan, at that moment, leaned over to her husband and asked, "kinder and gentler than whom?" Bush Sr. had begun his presidential bid by setting himself apart from the person whose coat-tails he was riding to victory.