Of Two Cents and Bush One

Here’s my two cents, as they used to say, on the memory of George H.W. Bush, or “Bush One.”

Before I begin my brief story, let me say that the elder Bush always struck me as a good and decent man. He was a public servant of immense experience and exposure. He will be missed and should be remembered.

Now, come with me and get a beer, a “Pound” as it was called in Nick’s English Hut in Bloomington, Indiana (shown in the photo).

The night was March 6, 1991. President George Bush, POTUS 41, arrived at the podium in the House of Representatives in the Capitol. After a thunderous applause quieted, he began a speech to mark the end of the Gulf War, the “100-Hour War”, as folks called it.

This was the first formal speech he had given since the end of the Gulf War. The war was a riveting experience for Americans, the first war seen through the lens of guided missiles. Nearly everyone I knew had followed the “100-Hour War” with great interest, focus, and attention. Americans cheered the US-led war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq as a stunning victory.

I was in graduate school at Indiana University at the time. That night, a few friends and I squeezed into a booth at Nick’s English Hut, a famous watering hole on Kirkwood Avenue, just off the Indiana University campus. I had a “Pound” jar of Molson’s beer in front of me.

The feeling in the bar was electric. Bush was on all of the televisions screens. Bartenders had turned the volume up so everyone at Nick’s could hear his words. All of us fixed our eyes on the screens and waited for the President’s remarks. People in booths, on barstools, standing in the aisles were quiet. The atmosphere was super-charged.

I remember thinking that this was the moment. Special. This was it—the time when people were enthusiastic, excited, motivated, ready for the next challenge after the swelling of patriotism and good feeling in the 100-Hour War. We were an American nation on the move.

And then, in just a few minutes, I felt all of it slip away.

It didn’t take long before everyone sensed that this was just another speech. Happy though the occasion was and receptive as the congressional audience was, it was clear to me that the people at Nicks—people in a Democratic-leaning college town, mind you—had expected unforgettable things in Bush’s speech. Town and gown alike, they were primed for greatness. They would have considered a great challenge put before them.

But all they heard was the standard stuff. The political stuff. The tried-and-true presidential-politician stuff.

Within minutes, ten minutes perhaps, the viewers around me were back at their drinks, their food, their earlier conversation. The brief moment when the President of the United States could have led the American people into some sort of new chapter was gone. Into the cool night air, it vanished. 

As I said, I like George H.W. Bush as a man and citizen. Good guy. Solid guy. A guy with qualities that I suspect people have now decided are valuable and important and ever so missed. I’ll never forget, though, the slight emptiness I felt as a moment of greatness came….and went….and never returned.

Rest in peace, gentle man.

Lastly, before leaving, reader, I’ll give you a pick of a few leadership takeaways. It’s your call as to which is best, or maybe you have one of your own:

  1. You can only be who you are—President Bush wasn’t a visionary and his speech reflected his real self; anything else would have been detected.
  2. Vision is rare and unique—only a handful of leaders truly possess it. Expecting otherwise isn’t a good idea, setting an unrealistic standard.
  3. Execution is worthy of celebration—don’t overlook the power of pointing out in straightforward terms a job well done.
  4. Solidness and steadiness are leadership features in their own right—some day you may miss them.
  5. The moment and opportunity of real vision comes along once in a while—fail to capture it, and you can’t guarantee it will return.

Thanks for reading. All the best, Dan