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George H W Bush is the reason I’m a Democrat

GHWB. Let’s remember the good, the bad and the funny.

The good: he wasn’t as bad as his son. He didn’t start any new major wars. He realized that he couldn’t keep his “no new taxes” pledge after the Reagan years increased the national debt.

The bad: If you listened to the podcast Bagman a couple of weeks ago, you know that GHWB played a small but not insignificant part in trying to cover up Agnew’s extracurricular activities. He was a CIA guy, probably deep in the Iran-Contra stuff.

The funny: ok, maybe not *funny* but that time he threw up on the Japanese prime minister and then fainted in his lap at dinner was memorable.

Now a personal memory. Back when I was a student and my first opportunity to vote was fast approaching, Bush made a stop at Pitt. The auditorium was full. I remember how he strode on stage. He seemed irritable. He was short with his aides. I was close enough to watch him and listen to him direct them tartly. He started to take questions from the audience but was curt and dismissive. He did not ooze charm. He treated every student with a question as if they were wasting his time.

And it was then that I had a Blink! moment of the kind that Malcolm Gladwell would write about decades later. I realized that this wealthy, privileged man wasn’t interested in students, who, some of them, like myself, were about to get slammed by Reagan’s stingy policies on Pell Grants and student loans. They were the only way I could keep taking classes. I was a fully independent student in the legal and tax sense and these two white guys, one who exuded sunny optimism like everyday was the opening number for Oklahoma, the other from the Bushes of Kennebunkport, did not give two shits about a very poor (and I am talking holes in my shoes poor) student who had to fit studying around my jobs.

Right then and there, I got the measure of the party. It had no idea what it was like to be someone like me. It saw me as a parasite. I decided that I didn’t want to vote Republican probably ever.

I registered as a Democrat that fall and for my first presidential election, I pulled the straight D lever. It took 12 years before I got a winner.

So, thank you George H W Bush for helping me figure out what my values were. That is, you can’t expect people to pull themselves up from their bootstraps if they don’t have boots. Those boots are what made our middle class prosperity possible. Without those Pell Grants that I did manage to get, I might have ended up as a cashier at Kmart (no offense to Kmart cashiers but it’s not a career opportunity let’s be honest).

It’s that election year when the Republicans discovered that appealing to older, traditional, more rural, religious voters and pitting the hard working poor against their own wealthy interests was a winning strategy.

He’ll get a state funeral. His friends in the media will memorialize him as one of the good Bushes, a good family man, husband, grandfather. They’ll gloss over all the other things they knew about him.

I’ll just remember him as the man who helped take away our boots.

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