Bush as the necessary model of a public servant

His long career from military pilot to president leaves a legacy of service badly needed in an era of distrust of public institutions.

President George H.W. Bush gets up close with kids at the Shiloh Baptist Church day care center in Washington on May 9, 1989.

If a common thread can be found in the tributes for George H.W. Bush, it is his role in elevating the dignity of public service. Policy leadership, such as the late president’s guiding hand at the end of the cold war, was almost secondary to what is termed today “servant leadership.”

Or as Mr. Bush simply called it, “pitching in.”

From war hero to congressman to CIA director to diplomat to vice president and president, he was a model of that honorable profession known as career government worker. Even in his passing, Americans were reminded about being of service to others in the photo of Sully, his service dog in later years, lying beside his coffin.

Bush chose Texas A&M University, in College Station, as the site of his presidential library in part because of its school in public administration. Since 2000, his foundation has given awards to world leaders for “excellence in public service.” Last year he assembled other living former presidents to join in fundraising for aid relief after hurricane Harvey. He also left behind a legacy of two sons with their own records as high elected officials.

Bush saw politics – despite its worst aspects – as a means for public service, not as a vehicle for money, fame, or personal power. Perhaps he was inspired by a father who volunteered to run town meetings in their community. In his tribute, President Barack Obama said the late president’s life “is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling.” Or as Bush himself said in 1992, “I saw a chance to help and I did.”

In an era of high distrust of government and a decline in volunteering among Americans, his record should be a reminder of the need for more people to help citizens and communities with practical skills and selfless humility. In 2017, Congress was so worried about the state of the nation’s civic health that it set up a panel called the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Its 11 members are crisscrossing the United States looking for ways to inspire young people to serve the country in some way. Its recommendations are due in 2020.

In October, another notable civil servant, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, came out with a memoir, “Keeping at It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government.” In it he writes, “One cannot sit here in 2018 without a strong sense of concern about ... the state of public service.” He has formed a nonpartisan think tank, the Volcker Alliance, aimed at strengthening professional education for public service.

But not all is bleak. In a survey of 1,000 “rising government leaders” released earlier this year, the Volcker Alliance found about 75 percent report they intend to continue in government for the long term and that they work among trusted peers. More than 80 percent said their work requires “fostering a culture of responsive service to the public.” 

At root, service to others is a reflection of a higher good. That good can best be seen in the civic virtues of exemplary public servants. Bush senior was certainly one of those. But as his wife, Barbara, might have reminded him, it is better to inspire others to such a calling than call attention to one’s own deeds.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Bush as the necessary model of a public servant
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today