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Nation Bids Goodbye To Bush With High Praise, Cannons, Humor

A final salute is rendered by the honor guard standing watch over the flag-draped casket of the late president, George H.W. Bush, as the public viewing comes to an end at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.
Associated Press
A final salute is rendered by the honor guard standing watch over the flag-draped casket of the late president, George H.W. Bush, as the public viewing comes to an end at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018.
Bush Saluted With Praise, Humor, Cannons At Capital Farewell
Ceremonies For Bush Draw Together Presidents, World Envoys GUEST: Carl Luna, political science professor, San Diego Mesa College

Dignitaries from around the world gathered in Washington D.C. today for the state funeral of former President George H.W. Bush. The service at the National Cathedral broadcast live on KPBS this morning was filled with remembrances from family and friends. Music and prayer. All surviving former U.S. presidents were in attendance. And President Donald Trump was at the ceremony though he did not speak at the service. Joining me to discuss this final national tribute to the nation's 40 first president is San Diego Mesa College political science professor and political commentator Carl Luna. And welcome Carl. Thanks for having me. First let's talk about the overall mood of this ceremony. There are plenty of tears but there was also laughter and genuine feeling. I think that's really the driving feature of the entire ceremony. Maureen you had faith you had family and you had humor that seems to be the things that defined George H.W. Bush's life service. And everybody had funny stories about him. There was always the case that you know he could tell a joke about himself better than anybody and that's a good quality to have in a leader somebody who can not take themselves necessarily too seriously. Now President Bush's biographer Jon Meacham was the first to speak. He framed his remarks along the lines of a question George H.W. asked when he was rescued after he crashed into the Pacific as a Navy flyer in World War II. Bush wondered why he had been saved. MEACHAM answered that question this way. This much is clear. That George Herbert Walker Bush. Who survived that fiery fall into the waters of the Pacific three quarters of a century ago. Made our lives and the lives of nations. Free or better warmer. And nobler. That was his mission. That was his heart being. And if we listen closely enough. We can hear that heartbeat even now. For it's the heartbeat of a lion. A lion who not only led us. But who loves us. That was Jon Meacham speaking at President George H.W. Bush's funeral service today. What stood out to you Karl about matron's eulogy. Well I think particularly that clip you just played Maureen the fact that George H.W. Bush was born to a family of privilege. There were a dynasty going back to the early 20th century. Yet he immediately moved in to serve in World War Two. He almost lost his life and he's all and he always saw his life as framed by service to others being grateful for what he had. And even though they had wealth I'd like the story his sons old how they lived in a duplex a Texas for a while sharing a bathroom with ladies of the evening and they all got along. I mean they they were neighborly. It's a sort of dignity and commitment to the public that is not as common today. Now former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney spoke about his friendship with President Bush and how President Bush was viewed on the world stage. Let me tell you that when George Bush was president of the United States of America. Every single head of government in the world knew that they were dealing with a gentleman a genuine leader one who was distinguished resolute and brave. Now that brings me to this many of the things said about President Bush about his behavior and his character sounded like a rebuke to the behavior of President Trump. Do you think these tributes to President Bush were meant as a contrast to Trump the people who are speaking about George H.W. Bush were being truthful about his life. What contrasts you want to take from that is simply the reality of the times that we're in our current president has a very different backstory and leadership style. The supporters and those were giving tribute to President Bush might see him as a rebuke to what President Bush stood for in terms of commitment to the international order to democracy to American leadership into a certain demeanor of office those who support the current president think that he's a refreshing change of pace. What was the demeanor of President Trump during the ceremony. It was about the demeanor of somebody who was at a funeral who may not necessarily have wanted to be there. He had no personal relationship with George H.W. Bush as far as most of us know the other presidents. President Obama had just seen him last week when he was on a trip through Texas. His friendship with Bill Clinton is almost legendary at this point. And of course I think he and his son had a good relationship you know for all the tumultuous days of being a father. So the president Trump had to be there. He served his role there seemed to be no gaffes within it. And we move on now the most emotional moment of the service was the eulogy delivered by President George W. Bush to his father. At the end of his remarks he mentioned his sister Robin who died as a child and his recently deceased mother Barbara Bush shows to our cares. Let us know the blessings of knowing and loving him. A great and noble man. The best father a son or daughter could have. And in our grief. By smile knowing that Dad is hugging Robin. And holding mom's hand again. That was a very personal eulogy not a national address was it. That was a grieving son talking about a father that he had a a tough relationship with. But in the end they could really be together as father and son. I mean it's a great American story. It was just so heartfelt that I think a lot of people in America just felt a tear that they hadn't felt for a while thinking about an American president right. We haven't seen or heard very much from the Bush family in recent years. What was your take on seeing the whole Bush clan together again. I think this is the the passage of a dynasty. Now one of the Bush family got elected in Texas so maybe moving up the hope that could be the first Hispanic American president from the Republican Party but this is a very different Republican Party than when George H.W. Bush or even George W. Bush was in it. I think it's representative of the end of an era. That's why there's the sense of melancholy I think we generally feel about this passage now. I'm wondering as I said all the former U.S. presidents were in attendance. What did the body language in that row of former presidents and President Trump say to you. We're at a dividing point. We have a very different sort of presidency today that George W. Bush Bill Clinton Barack Obama all had more in common in their styling with George H.W. than they do with the current president. The question is Is this the new trend for America or are we going to be going back to that old tradition. Remember George H.W. Bush was imperfect when he ran for office in 88. He ran that Willie Horton ad which was a very offensive ad. But for all of his faults he seemed to try to pursue the common good to a level that perhaps in modern politics we've kind of forgotten about. And former President George H.W. Bush will be laid to rest tomorrow in Texas. We've been talking about his state funeral today at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.. I've been speaking with San Diego Mesa College political science professor and political commentator Carl Luna. Karl thank you. Thank you.

The nation bid goodbye to George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime. Three former presidents looked on at Washington National Cathedral as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad as "the brightest of a thousand points of light."

After three days of remembrance in the capital city, the Air Force plane with Bush's casket left for a final service in Houston and burial Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.

His plane, which often serves as Air Force One, arrived at Ellington Field outside Houston in late afternoon.


The national funeral service at the cathedral was a tribute to a president, a patriarch and a faded political era that prized military service and public responsibility. It was laced with indirect comparisons to President Donald Trump but was not consumed by them, as speakers focused on Bush's public life and character — with plenty of cracks about his goofy side, too.

Trump sat with his wife, a trio of ex-presidents and their wives, several of the group sharp critics of his presidency and one of them, Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic foe. Apart from courteous nods and some handshakes, there was little interaction between Trump and the others.

Video: President George H.W. Bush's memorial at the National Cathedral

George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost in 1953 and his mother, who died in April. He said he took comfort in knowing "Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom's hand again."

The family occupied the White House for a dozen years — the 41st president defeated after one term, the 43rd serving two. Jeb Bush stepped up to try to extend that run but fell short when Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries.

The elder Bush was "the last great-soldier statesman," historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, "our shield" in dangerous times.


But he took a lighter tone, too, noting that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply quipped, "Never know. Gotta ask."

Meacham recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was "Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne."

None of that would be a surprise to Bush. Meacham had read his eulogy to him, said Bush spokesman Jim McGrath, and Bush responded to it with the crack: "That's a lot about me, Jon."

The congregation at the cathedral, filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush's life, rose for the arrival of the casket, accompanied by clergy of faiths from around the world. In their row together, Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton stood with their spouses and all placed their hands over their hearts.

Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush's friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. "You would have wanted him on your side," he said.

Simpson said Bush "loved a good joke — the richer the better. And he threw his head back and gave that great laugh, but he never, ever could remember a punchline. And I mean never."

George W. Bush turned the humor back on the acerbic ex-senator, saying of the late president: "He placed great value on a good joke, so he chose Simpson to speak."

Meacham praised Bush's call to volunteerism, placing his "1,000 points of light" alongside Abraham Lincoln's call to honor "the better angels of our nature" in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines "companion verses in America's national hymn."

Trump had mocked "1,000 points of light" last summer at a rally, saying "What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn't it?"

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Clinton.

With Trump, a bitter NAFTA critic, seated in the front row, Mulroney hailed the "largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world." The three countries have agreed on a revised trade agreement pushed by Trump.

Earlier, a military band played "Hail to the Chief" as Bush's casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state. Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.

His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House, the route lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.

Waiting for his arrival inside, Trump shook hands with Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying "Good morning." Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.

Bill Clinton and Mrs. Obama smiled and chatted as music played. Carter was seated silently next to Hillary Clinton in the cavernous cathedral. Obama cracked up laughing at someone's quip. Vice President Mike Pence shook Carter's hand.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked "a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life."

Bush's death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.

Following the cathedral service, the hearse and its long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president's service as a World War II Navy pilot, then transferred his remains at Joint Base Andrews for the flight home to Texas with members of his family.

Bush will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before his burial Thursday.

On Tuesday, soldiers, citizens in wheelchairs and long lines of others on foot wound through the Capitol Rotunda to view Bush's casket and honor a president whose legacy included a landmark law affirming the rights of the disabled. Former Sen. Bob Dole, a compatriot in war, peace and political struggle, steadied himself out of his wheelchair and saluted his old friend and one-time rival.

Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.