In these days when there is so much animosity and vitriol in politics, I am reminded of a story told about former Republican President George H.W. Bush — the dad, #41 — and former Democratic President Lyndon Johnson:
The Bush and Johnson families share a long history and friendship, beginning in the 1950s when Lyndon Johnson served in the U. S. Senate with Prescott Bush, George H. W. Bush’s father. Although from different political parties, the two men enjoyed a productive working relationship steeped in mutual respect. In a letter to Prescott Bush, George H. W. Bush wrote about first meeting Johnson in Midland, Texas, in 1953. When Senator Johnson complimented his father, Bush replied that he was glad to hear such praise from a staunch Democrat. Johnson responded, “Your father and I don’t like to be thought of as Republican or Democrat, rather as good Americans!”
Bush embraced the spirit of bipartisanship when he was elected to Congress as the first Republican representing the Houston area. Although it hurt him politically, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was passed by President Johnson. In a speech in Houston, shortly after he cast the vote, Bush explained the motivation behind his decision. “I voted…because of a feeling deep down in my heart that this was the right thing for me to do. That this was the right thing for America.”
A year later, when President Johnson’s term ended, Congressman Bush left the Inaugural festivities for Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, to bid farewell to the former President and First Lady at Andrews Air Force Base among a crowd of Democrats. Mrs. Johnson later recalled, “I remember the warm glow Lyndon and I felt when we learned that a young Republican Congressman, George Bush, had been in that assemblage, rather than at the Inaugural activities of the President of his own party.”
In that same spirit, when President Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992, Bush smoothed the transition for the new president. Famous for his hand-written notes and letters, he left a letter on the new president’s desk in the Oval Office welcoming him to the White House. That letter, seen above, is now making the rounds on the internet.
Civility. May it some day finds its way back into the political discourse.