A former top speechwriter of President George H.W. Bush is remembering his former boss as a leader of tremendous honor and achievement over Bush’s four years in the White House, and he’s also shedding light on some of the most memorable moments associated with Mr. Bush.
Curt Smith is author of “George H.W. Bush: Character at the Core.” He says Bush embodied many of the qualities that have been cherished for generations in the United States.
“It’s an astonishing record of longevity and of decency, of honor, of rectitude, of achievement, of patriotism, of all of the attributes that we would like to think of a quintessentially American. That is what I think of when I think of him,” said Smith.
Bush served as a Naval aviator in World War II and survived both a crash and being shot down. After success in the Texas oil industry, Bush served two terms in Congress, and then as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, liaison to China and director of the CIA.
After losing the 1980 Republican presidential nomination to Ronald Reagan, Bush accepted Reagan’s invitation to be his running mate. They carried 44 states in an Electoral College rout of President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale in the general election. Four years later, they were re-elected while winning 49 states.
In 1988, Bush defeated Michael Dukakis to win the White House. Bush carried 40 states and amassed 426 electoral votes.
It was during that transition that Bush met and hired Smith as a speechwriter. They quickly bonded over their shared love for baseball.
“He looked at me that January day in 1989 and said, ‘You know, Curt, I’d rather quote Yogi Berra than Thomas Jefferson,'” recounted Smith.
Smith says the most memorable days of the Bush presidency for him were writing the speeches calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Another moment that sticks with Smith is Bush at Pearl Harbor to commemorate 50 years since the Japanese attack that triggered America’s entry into World War II. Smith says it seemed Bush’s mind instantly went back to his teenage years when the attack happened and he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
“So even though he was 67, inside, emotionally, he’s 17. It was an exceedingly difficult speech for him to give. At the end, he said, ‘God bless the United States of America’ and then almost whispered the words “the most wondrous land on earth.” He was enormously moved and it enormously moved his audience,” said Smith.
The worst days by far were in the aftermath of Bush losing the 1992 election to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, due in part to the emergence of H. Ross Perot as an independent candidate.
But Smith says it’s clear why Bush lost.
“Who did us in? We did.We didn’t govern in a conservative enough manner to pacify the people who had voted for us, the conservative wing of the Republican Party and of middle America. That’s how Bush had won 40 states in 1988 over Michael Dukakis. It was as close as America could come to a third Reagan term,” said Smith.
“He lost to a better candidate in Bill Clinton, but I think Clinton was an inferior president to Bush, particularly in foreign policy, particularly in matters of honor and rectitude. I think the record is very clear on that,” said Smith.
Listen to the full podcast to hear more from Smith about working with Bush in the heat of the Gulf War, what went wrong in 1992, and the real reason that Bush took up skydiving as a senior citizen.