Culture Friday: Honoring George H.W. Bush

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 7th of December, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. John, good morning. 

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning, Nick!

EICHER: I want to talk about the death of President George H.W. Bush, and first, John, this extraordinary moment. You’re hearing just the ambient sound in the Capitol rotunda. There wasn’t anything to hear. And that was the point.

The moment was when those attending to Senator Bob Dole wheeled him toward the former president’s casket. Both Dole and Bush were veterans of World War II.

A younger man lifted Dole to his feet, steadied him, and changed his grip, so that Dole could raise his left hand in salute.

Dole is 95 years old. His right arm is crippled because of a war injury, and he made the salute he could. He was helped back into the wheelchair and he sat there, with a very sober, serious face. He was clearly aware of the moment.

We must not deify men. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Yet, I was taken by what Bush’s biographer said in his eulogy, that we have lost the last great soldier statesman.

John, your thoughts on, really, the end of an era in America.

STONESTREET: Well, you know, I think there’s a temptation in every generation to worry about what’s being lost and maybe to overlook the flaws of previous generations. I speak to audiences a lot and I talk about being a dad in this particular cultural moment. And, of course, I believe, as Paul says, that God determines the times and places in which we live. He says that in Acts Chapter 17 and so I kind of think sometimes, and I say to audiences, I wish my kids could be born in the good ole days. And then I add, I don’t know when they were but I’ve read about them and the sound awesome. And I think that we tend to see that. There’s been critiques of what we call the greatest generation that they won the world and lost their own families. And it’s not something you can say about George H.W. Bush. He didn’t lose his own family, which is obvious in the moving ceremonies and tributes of this past week. It was really something.

But there is something, I think, that we can clearly see has been lost. Or that we worry that is missing. Now, the idea that Bush was the last great soldier statesman. Well, I don’t know, because we have an awful lot of people returning from fighting wars and defending our country that are now kind of emerging into careers and some of them political careers and some of them emerging into cultural leadership. I have high hopes for that group. I’ve met a lot of them, as have you. And there’s some remarkable character that can only be forged and revealed in times of conflict.

And that’s a stark difference from our current cultural moment in which suffering and struggle and conflict are things to be avoided at all cost. So it’s hard to look at this and say, you know, there’s not something that we’ve lost. It’s kind of — you look at these men who have lived their lives and saw so much of the world and kind of kept showing up. Kept showing up for work, kept showing up for service, kept showing up for their families, kept showing up for duty. And this is stuff that is certainly worth remembering and emulating. And so if we’re going to have those sorts of men and women, if we’re going to have the sort of character that we want to emulate from the last generation, we’re going to have to find different sources for it.  

EICHER: Let me play a piece of audio for you. These are last words of President Bush, as related by the president’s life-long friend James Baker to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

You’ll hear Baker refer to 43, that’s George W. Bush, the 43rd president. And to 41, the late President Bush, the 41st president. That was their shorthand.

But extremely touching, as the president’s health declined very quickly.

BAKER: So they got the kids on the phone and each one of them spoke to him and he spoke back, or mumbled back anyway. And then they got 43 on the phone and 43 said, ‘I love you, dad, and, ah, and I just want to, and I’ll see you in heaven.’ And 41 said, ‘I love you, too.’ And those were the last words that he ever spoke.

EICHER: Then to hear George W. Bush eulogize his dad. We need these moments culturally, don’t we? These intense moments of a son honoring his father in this public way.

STONESTREET: You know, I was thinking a lot about that really throughout the entire week, about what kind of a cultural moment this is. And that’s one aspect of it is the sort of connection we saw between George W. and his father. And one of those was from Mike Farris, who’s the CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom. He talks about being in kind of a Rainmakers meeting, a Christian political leaders group, when George W. Bush was running for president. As then, of course, the governor of Texas. And of course these conservative leaders wanted to know about the tax policy question. Of course that was the famous, “Read my lips, no new taxes” that George H.W. Bush reneged on and probably lost his reelection campaign because of. And these kind of conservative Rainmakers wanted to know, hey, are you with Reagan or are you with your father? Now, of course, George W.’s policy is much more near Reagan and as he was describing them it was kind of obvious for all to see. But Mike talks about how one particular leader wanted him to say it out loud that he was more with Reagan than his father. And George W. stopped and said, “I will never disrespect my father.” And in the time of so much political expediency and so on, you have that—you see in George W.’s respect for his dad and yet ability to think for himself, the sort of legacy that his father left. And that was one aspect of the cultural moment.

But I was also thinking about this, Nick, which is that we have these shared cultural moments as Americans and almost all of them, over the last 3-5 years have been negative. They have actually been moments that have pointed us to what GK Chesterton said was the most empirically verifiable fact of Christian doctrine and that is that we’re sinful. Whether you’re talking about pop culture shared moments. Whether you’re talking about mass shootings. Whether you’re talking about political chaos. And so on.

You just have these moments that point us to, “Hey, we’re not okay. Something’s desperately wrong.” I really believe that what we saw this week was a shared cultural moment that was another part of the story of the human condition which is who we are is made in the image of God. And here’s what I mean by that: We have a culture that denigrates family, that deconstructs it, that wants to redefine marriage, that wants to hold up on a number of levels our commitment to personal pleasure and desire as the most important thing above all else. And yet that same culture recognized in a man this week that life is best lived when lived for causes higher than yourself. That family gives generations a strength that nothing but the family really can. And that that sort of a strength is good for the world, not bad for the world. And that marriage is beautiful when it lasts and when it’s faithful.

And so you see, here’s our culture that actively denigrates those three things and we have those three things elevated and universally recognized. This is what reformed theologians called common grace. And so I’m grateful to God for this. And if you ask me, I’m much more on Team Reagan than Team George H.W. Bush, politically speaking, but I was grateful that these things that we can’t not know” were put on full display in a culture actively trying to suppress them.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay) Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left of flag, and former President George W. Bush, right of flag, watch as the flag-draped casket of former President George H.W. Bush is carried by a joint services military honor guard after if arrived by train, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in College Station.

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