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A Few Good Things George Bush Did for the Bay

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President George H.W. Bush is being honored among a cast of characters that make up our past and present, good and bad, inspirational and disturbing – all under one chapel roof in an emotional and fairly awkward collision of worlds. We could wax poetic on the late president’s legacy, but let’s be honest, it ain’t all too glowing when you really dig in. The devil’s in the details, and considering the enormity of his public service career, there are countless dirty details we could choose to wave around as an antidote to the glowing reviews he’s received from mass media since his passing Friday night.

We can’t ignore his involvement in Iran-Contra, the lingering destruction he caused in the Middle East and Latin America, the Social Security benefits he cut, or (INSERT ATROCITY HERE).

But…there is something to this specific moment in history that begs us to exercise our better and mature qualities – the ones sorely lacking at the top of our food chain as it stands. So, in an effort to be the better people, we’ll take a look at a few of the good things Poppi Bush did and how he connected with us here in the Bay.

Standing with ADA

When the president signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, he made some fans here at home. The Bay Area, and University of California, Berkeley specifically, was on the front lines of advocacy for the disabled for decades prior to that landmark legislation, which did better the lives of countless people and families. In a speech about ADA, Bush said:

“It was the fair and right thing to do. I think there are a lot of people who if given access to the workplace, for example, can achieve things. But if they are denied that they are denied a shot at the American dream.”

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act on the South Lawn of the White House. Sharing the dais with the President and he signs the Act are (standing left to right): Rev. Harold Wilkie of Clairmont, California; Sandra Parrino, National Council on Disability; (seated left to right): Evan Kemp, Chairman, Equal Opportunity Commission; and Justin Dart, Presidential Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities. Mrs. Bush and Vice President Quayle participate in the Ceremony.
26 July 1990
Photo credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

The Aftermath of Loma Prieta

He was in office for just about a year when the Bay Area was rocked, physically and emotionally, by the 6.9 magnitude earthquake of 1989. When Loma Prieta happened, the people who lived in this beautiful place needed comfort, leadership and support from the White House, and he did that.

Bush showed up at the scenes of destruction in Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, meeting with first responders and local officials and showing the better side of his character: compassion. In those days and months after the earthquake, we did not have the luxury of being picky about which political party arrived with help in hand. Sixty-seven people died as a result of Oct. 17, 1989, with 42 of them at the Cypress alone. We lost homes and businesses, and were desperate for a sense of security and of all the things we can say about George H.W. Bush, we must admit that he came through for us in that dark time. After he returned to Washington D.C., he promptly signed at $1.1 billion disaster relief package and put us on a path to recovery (interestingly, without a single mention of raking up our own debris).

President Bush visits with Congresswoman Pelosi of the 8th California District as he examines the earthquake damage just outside San Francisco, California,
20 Oct 89.
Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Bush and Carvey

If you’re old enough to remember Bay Area native Dana Carvey’s George Bush skits on Saturday Night Live, you might also remember that the president appeared on the show to light-heartedly take the comedian to task. What many didn’t know then is that Carvey and Bush developed an unlikely bond and friendship that lasted for many years. As it turns out, the president was okay with laughing at himself and letting others laugh at him as well. He didn’t attack the comedian or publicize claim the show was “failing” as a response to the skit, he leaned in and embraced Carvey.

CBS SF Bay Area reported a great story that will make even the most progressive of us smile. After Bush lost his bid for re-election, Carvey visited the White House to lift the spirits of the outgoing Commander in Chief and his somber staff.

Carvey would later claim:

“I was staying in the Lincoln bedroom last night and I couldn’t resist picking up the phone, and I called up the Secret Service as the president. ‘Feel like going jogging tonight — in the nude.”

This last piece of Bush memory speaks to the better, if not best part, of who the former president was. Although he is infamous for many things (and should be), he is admired for his sense of compassion and friendship that crossed party isles and ideologies. He attempted to teach later presidents the hard lessons he had learned and at least made it appear as if he cared for all of us. Let’s not bullshit ourselves and whitewash the history he took part in, but we can also take a minute to honor his better qualities and what he meant to people here in the Bay when it meant the most.

The contrast with today’s situation is striking – the era of greater leaders and propriety is slipping away quickly, so today, even we can dish out a little appreciation, even if it is just a little. And yes, the bar is really that low at the moment – damn you, Trump!


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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.