I wouldn't put George H. W. Bush in the category of great presidents, but there have only been four or five, six at the outside, of those, men who lived in extraordinary times and exalted in the challenges.
But at the same time, there have only been a similar number of truly awful presidents — although that list looks to be growing.
Bush, both father and son, are among the many presidents who fall in between the truly great and the truly awful; some of them may rank a little above the average, others falling below the fold as it were.
Overall, these 30-35 men (and, of course, they're all men) served and did the best they could, some experiencing great moments of success, most having to cope as best they could under circumstances well beyond their control.
George H. W. Bush, who died on Friday at the age of 94, was a good man who, at times, let his ambitions for office get the better of him — but that could be said of just about every president and even every politician, no matter what levels they happen to practice their trade.
Harry S. Truman, that possible sixth great president, could let partisanship get the better of him; Truman, like Bush, had a wife who let him know about it, to whom at the end of the day he knew he had to answer to for such slights.
Things get said in the heat of campaigns. Blame is assigned where blame isn't due, credit taken when credit isn't warranted.
And it can get worse once elected.
Being president is a heady experience, there's a lot of ego involved. For some, the conceit can set in and what then comes out, when the history gets written, does little to enhance the esteem the public will have for them.
I thought George H. W. Bush was a much better ex-president than he was president, that he was more admirable once the political fire had been extinguished and he settled into the role of elder statesman.
Again like Truman, in his a retirement Bush assumed the role of America's favorite uncle, wise in manner without being wizened in spirit, someone who didn't allow the disappointments of his professional life to interfere with getting on with actually living.
There are so many failed politicians who just can't get past that last lost campaign, that last ebbing away of their influence (or their popularity, which is probably more important to them than influence) with the public.
They keep crowding their way back onto the public stage, turning up as “commentators” on television offering us what passes these days for insight into the ways of the world — insight we could do without.
That path seems to have never been considered by George H. W. Bush; when he did reappear in public it was usually together with a former nemesis, their teaming up to try to make the world a better place.
It would be fitting if history were to note that George H. W. Bush's great contribution was not his long, and generally commendable service while in public office, but the example he set once that service ended — his selfless commitment to all that makes America a great country, and his inexhaustible faith such greatness can never be long abandoned.