We bid farewell now to Barbara Bush, wife of one president and mother to another, in an hour of history when the current White House denizen is linked to a porn star and a Playboy Playmate.
Mrs. Bush leaves us not only with a remarkable story but a profoundly disturbing question: how has our political world so badly lost its way?
Some of us remember Mrs. Bush campaigning here nearly four decades ago. When Ronald Reagan ran for president and George Bush was his running mate, their wives came to Baltimore for an afternoon of breathless rushing about, leading cheers, pumping up whatever enthusiasm there might exist for Republicans in Democrat-heavy downtown Baltimore.
Nancy Reagan brought a shy, distant reserve to the day, and Mrs. Bush brought the cheerleader pom-poms. Mrs. Reagan seemed a bit overwhelmed, ill at ease. She was pleasant enough and smiled throughout, but she was clearly eager for some place to get out of the heat and unwind in a private, air-conditioned room.
Not Mrs. Bush. She was off on a happy toot. I can still picture her striding alongside the Pratt Street Pavilion at Harborplace, glad-handing any available strangers and leading cheers any time she had a group of half a dozen or more potential voters.
Once, she spotted a gaggle of folks peering down from the second level of the pavilion. She hollered up a happy hello to them. They stared back silently. So she hollered again.
“I said, ‘Hello!” she cried out.
This time, she got them. She led a back-and-forth cheer for the Republican ticket, and then basked in the applause that followed. It didn’t matter whose side you were on, you had to admire the sheer chutzpah this woman possessed, and the energy and joy she brought to the moment.
Look at this, she seemed to be telling everybody that day, politics can be fun.
Somewhere between then and now, the fun’s gone away, replaced by the ugliness and tawdriness of this president who insults and dishonors his rivals (and his very own people), taunts foreign leaders, makes up juvenile nicknames for opponents, and urges prison time for those subversives who dare criticize him — such as the former head of the FBI.
And now, we’re told, he grows apoplectic – that’s the word that’s used consistently by White House insiders – over the FBI search-and-seizure raid of his attorney’s office, home and hotel room. Who knows what secrets lurk within? Who knows what links exist between President Donald Trump and his women accusers?
George H.W. and Barbara Pierce Bush were married nearly three-quarters of a century. He was a World War II fighter pilot and she was a 19-year old girl who’d never kissed another man when they got hitched.
We’re charmed by such images. They seem distant as Colonial times.
But they also brought a sense of decorum, and of mission, to their political efforts. George the elder moved through the political ranks position by position after he’d already amassed his considerable money. He learned how government works before he took over the top job.
Trump arrived with no government background at all, and he moves through his days continuing to cash in financially everywhere and anywhere he can.
We bid goodbye to Barbara Bush and recall an afternoon in Baltimore with her happily leading cheers, and wait for the latest sexual allegations and other improprieties swirling depressingly around the current president.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.