Watching the procession of the casket carrying former president George Herbert Walker Bush as it traveled through Washington, D.C. Monday, to the Capitol, we considered the remarkable contributions that the 41st president made to our nation – to our world, even.
There are many tangible accomplishments that have made the country stronger and the world safer.
Mr. Bush led us to a peaceful end to the Cold War. He declined to take public credit – and shunned what we today know as "good optics" – during his delicate diplomatic work in 1990, resulting in skeptical parties from Paris to London to Warsaw to Moscow embracing and supporting the idea of a reunited Germany.
It was an exceedingly dangerous time – Bush entered office shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the Soviet Union was beginning to break apart. Nuclear weapons were in the hands of unstable, newly liberated Soviet republics. War and violence could have been much more widespread, and historians credit George H.W. Bush with closing the book on the Cold War.
Mr. Bush’s management of the end of the Cold War helped create the conditions for the largest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history. And he led the reduction in federal spending that fueled historic primary budget surpluses – following many difficult economic years and impossible budget challenges that plagued Mr. Bush throughout his presidency.
Domestically, Mr. Bush took the lead on a plan to rescue the collapsing savings & loan industry, and he fought to pass the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, on the heels of the Exxon Valdez disaster.
But it is the intangible contributions – summed up in one of his favorite phrases – that make Mr. Bush a president for the ages; C.A.V.U. is pilot-speak for "clear skies and visibility unlimited" and was one of Bush's favorite terms from his time in the Navy.
Vice President Mike Pence referenced it during Monday's eulogy in the Capitol Rotunda.
"Ceiling and visibility unlimited. That may well describe the essence of this man," Pence said. "And it may well have been his vision. The vision he had for his life, for his children, his children's children and his country. No barriers, no boundaries, no limits."
Indeed, Mr. Bush saw no barriers for his United States of America in a world with no more nuclear arms race, with the breakup of the largest and most menacing Communist country in history.
He saw no boundaries in a U.S. Capitol where bipartisanship was the order of the day, where three of his closest friends were Democrats since his first week as a Congressman, where political disagreements were amicable and gracious more often than not.
He saw no limits for his American brothers and sisters in a nation with a renewed, vigorous commitment to volunteerism, to the spirit of community, to "unity, diversity and generosity," as he challenged us all in his inaugural address.
“We used to tease him about ‘a kinder and gentler nation’ and ‘a thousand points of light,’” “Saturday Night Live” comedian Dana Carvey says in a documentary about Bush. “But, man, these days that stuff does not seem corny at all. It seems really nice, and we could use more of it.”
Yes, we certainly could. It sure seems nowadays that Mr. Bush's intangible legacy – an America that emphasizes unity, diversity and generosity – is the thing we needed most from him.
Indeed, it is the thing we still need most. And it sure seems like a sure-fire way to achieving a limitless, prosperous, peaceful future for these United States ... or, as Mr. Bush would say, the best way to achieving C.A.V.U. for our nation: ceiling and visibility unlimited.