Bush was last president to visit Stevens Point, Portage County
By Gene Kemmeter
Tributes honor former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday, Nov. 30, as a decent, honorable, gracious and humble man who believed in public service and government and supported modesty, compromise and respect for the nation’s institutions.
Presidential elections brought Bush to Stevens Point three times, including one time while he was president. His first visit was in 1980 to campaign for Ronald Reagan for whom he was the vice-presidential candidate. He returned in 1988, campaigning for his own successful candidacy for president.
Bush then became the last president to come to Stevens Point when his campaign train made an old-fashioned, whistle-stop visit at the Wisconsin Central depot, 1625 Depot St., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 1992. That was three days before he lost the election to Bill Clinton.
Stevens Point police said the crowd was about 13,000 people based on counters on the metal detectors at the entrances to the crowd area, plus estimates by Secret Service agents who were on rooftops. The train also went through Amherst, Amherst Junction and Junction City on its way to Chippewa Falls.
Bush is receiving praise for his responses to events during his years as president, a significant period in the history of the world. When the Berlin Wall and East Germany collapsed, he told his administration not to gloat about the Cold War ending, but accept it gracefully, keeping Mikhail Gorbachev in power in the Soviet Union.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, he formed a unified allied attack, ending the war quickly and withdrawing U.S. troops after Iraq was defeated. He signed legislation to bring 43 million Americans with disabilities into the economic mainstream and also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was considered a major economic achievement.
Although he had pledged “no new taxes” in his first campaign, he signed legislation to address the rapidly rising deficit, angering conservatives in the Tea Party faction. Ironically, the groundwork laid in that legislation allowed the federal deficit to diminish and even created a surplus under Clinton before rising again in 2002 when the Tea Party faction took power.
His presidential biographer, Jon Meacham, wrote that Bush had “grown up in a world where politics was a means to serve the public good, not a vehicle for self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment,” adding “George H.W. Bush said he didn’t want people to think of his life or legacy. Instead, he asked, ‘That we put our country first.’”
After his presidency ended, Bush became known as a humanitarian, joining ranks with Clinton, the man who defeated him in his re-election bid, to lead disaster aid campaigns for Somalia and the victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as other national disasters.
He’s receiving accolades for his lifetime of public service and his ability to accept criticism and work to compromise.
In addition to Clinton, “Saturday Night Live” comedian Dana Carvey did an impression of Bush described as a “buttoned-down WASP, the out-of-touch man,” which undoubtedly impacted Bush’s influence. But Bush became friends with Carvey, who explained how to do the impression: “Start out with Mister Rogers – ‘It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood’ – then you add in a little John Wayne…you’ve got George Herbert Walker Bush.”