I was a George W. Bush fan even before he became Texas’ governor and later a two-term president of the United States. I liked him in the days when he was an owner of the Texas Rangers and sat in the stands along the first-base line for virtually every home game, cheering on the team and casually munching on ballpark peanuts.
I had seats not far from his and occasionally we would visit. He was genuine, friendly, and had a keen sense of humor. He maintained that wit throughout his years as governor, even when the newspaper where I was publisher at the time got on his nerves.
The presidency changes those who occupy the office, ages and embitters them, and it took a toll even on a man as naturally charming and upbeat as Bush.
Since leaving office, he has studiously steered clear of the cesspool that has engulfed our politics in recent years – until Oct. 19, that is, when he stood before a gathering in New York City and delivered a scathing and eloquent rebuke to those groups and individuals who are determined to defile public discourse and political interaction in this country.
• “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.”
• “Bullying and prejudice in our public life … provides permission for cruelty and bigotry.”
• “We’ve seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. . . . Argument turns too easily into animosity.”
As Bush was delivering his speech, I was coincidentally writing a column decrying the bigotry that has become pervasive in America. His remarks perfectly encapsulated my thoughts on the subject.
And his observation that “argument turns too easily into animosity” reminded me of an occasion when Bush and I were at odds in the arena of politics and publishing – a disagreement that easily could have degenerated into hostility.
He was running for governor against incumbent Ann Richards. I had jumped the gun early in the campaign and told him I believed in all certainty that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where I was publisher, would endorse him.
We endorsed Richards instead.
Bush could have accused me of misleading him, of breaking a promise. If there had been Twitter in those days, he could have tweeted about being double-crossed and backstabbed by Connor and the newspaper. But in a meeting after he won the election, Bush settled for inflicting some good-natured chiding about my failure to deliver the endorsement and we ended up laughing off the whole episode.
Different time. Different kind of politician than we’re seeing today.
Bush probably misses the languid days of summer at the ballpark when he was just a citizen and a baseball fan. I miss, among other aspects of national politics these days, the time when good manners, good humor and civility often triumphed over animus.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org