Each year at Christmastime, families across the country watch a special movie that runs constantly throughout the season—Frank Capra’s 1946 ode to small-town America, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As this Christmas season begins, another such story has just ended. This was the story of George H.W. Bush.
On the surface, the two stories could not be more different. In the Hollywood tale, Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is a man who never leaves his hometown or fulfills any of his grand plans for his life. By contrast, George Bush traveled the world and filled his résumé with important jobs: member of Congress, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, envoy to China, ambassador to the United Nations, vice president and ultimately president.
What unites the two stories is the primacy of service: George Bailey to the people of Bedford Falls, George Bush to his nation. These days the acronym “WASP,” for white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, is invariably a term of derision, and over his long career, Bush endured his share of this type of ridicule. Yet the WASP world into which he was born was not without virtues that might still serve us well today.
First among them was the notion of obligation. Bush died at 94, an old man. We do well to remember who he was as a young man.