12.31.12 5:42 PM ET
Time to Toot Horn for George HW Bush
My CNN column honors President George HW Bush.
George H.W. Bush marked his 80th and 85th birthdays with parachute jumps. He said after the second jump: "Just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life."
Now 88, Bush has been struggling with serious health concerns, including bronchitis. We need him to recover, to set an example for the world of how a man can mark his 90th.
The son of a U.S. senator, Bush has been a naval aviator hero, oil millionaire, member of Congress, ambassador to China, CIA director, vice president of the United States and then the president who managed the end of the Cold War. He has lived more life than seems possible for any single human being.
The achievements of that remarkable life are overshadowed by one negative fact: Along with Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush is only one of three 20th-century presidents to have lost re-election. Yet while Hoover's presidency and Carter's are largely regarded as failures by posterity, the judgment on Bush's has become more forgiving over time.
Eighteen months ago, former President Bill Clinton paid this tribute to his predecessor in office:
"George W. Bush did me one of the great favors of my life. He asked me, not once, but twice, to work with his father to help people in need: first in South Asia in the tsunami and then in the Gulf Coast after Katrina. All told, we took seven trips together. It was an amazing experience. This man, whom I'd always liked and respected and then run against in a painful campaign in some ways, I literally came to love."
In the years ahead, we will hear more such tributes -- tributes that may at last do justice to a president whose most important accomplishment has been persistently undervalued and misattributed.
In the summer of 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited divided Berlin and urged, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
It was a stirring moment, a stunning speech. In documentaries about the end of the Cold War, that speech always gets prominent attention, as it should. Yet it is also true that after Reagan spoke his words ... nothing much happened. Nothing much happened for a year. Nothing much happened for a second year. Not until deep in 1989, two years later, did the communist system in central Europe begin its implosion: first in Poland, then in Hungary and only in November of 1989 in eastern Germany.