The 41st president of the United States, George H.W. Bush, reminisced last Thursday about what he considered the biggest successes of his presidency: morality, legislation and a strong military.
President Neil L. Rudenstine introduced the annual Albert H. Gordon '23 Lecture on Finance and Public Policy with a dig at Bush's alma matter, Yale.
As the former president waited his turn, necktie emblazoned with Eli blue and white, Rudenstine said Bush was headed to "another institution, somewhere in the south" later in the day for his 50th reunion.
Alan K. Simpson, director of the Institute of Politics (IOP), gave a second introduction, describing Bush as a "force of good in this land."
Bush seemed pleasantly surprised by the large turnout, which packed the ARCO Forum.
"I thought this was a passing thing," Bush said, "but people are hanging out of the rafters."
Among those in attendance were Gordon, a former Crimson editor, who is attending his 75th reunion this week; former first lady Barbara Bush; CEO of the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) Mike Bowlin, and Governor of Massachusetts, A. Paul Cellucci.
Bush noted the prominence of those in attendance and joked about his own status.
"I am having an identity crisis lately," Bush said. "I am now father of the Governor of Texas or husband to the most popular woman in the country. I used to be the President of the United States."
Despite his "crisis," Bush reflected warmly on his tenure as president. "I was blessed, and our nation was blessed," Bush said.
"During my four years a lot of good things happened, though I admit we made some mistakes," he said.
"We solved the Savings and Loan crisis, cleaned up the environment, created more opportunities for 37 million Americans with disabilities and passed a budget agreement," Bush said.
Bush chose not to elaborate on his "mistakes," but he did touch on the problems and scandals of the Clinton administration.
"It is an unseemly spectacle," Bush said, referring to the "rancor" which the accusations of sexual improprieties by President Clinton have created.
"[The scandal] is unbecoming for the sole remaining superpower," Bush said.
Bush said he didn't want to see such a scandal turn "good people" into cynics.
"I believe public service is a noble calling, and good people must get involved,' he said.
Bush began to criticize the "intrusive nature of the national press" as partly responsible for the "rancor" on Washington, but he cut himself short, saying he was advised that bashing the press is "beneath him."
"As Dana Carvey says," Bush said, waving his index finger and exaggerating his own inflections, "Not gonna do it, wouldn't be prudent."
Bush also addressed the current state of the U.S. military in light of the end of the Cold War.
"The enemy is unpredictability, instability, international terrorism, narcotics traffic and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.
"We must not let down our guard, and we can't be a moral force unless our armed forces are credible," he said.
The recent nuclear tests in India and Pakistan also drew comments from Bush. "We can't sit back," he said, suggesting that both diplomatic negotiations and sanctions as options.
"We need to talk sense to India and Pakistan and have it stop," Bush said.
According to Bush, China's reaction is also crucial to resolving the tensions in the Asian sub-continent.
In other military matters, Bush was critical of Clinton's legacy, calling his policy toward the Middle East, "not even-handed."
Bush described his own actions in the Middle East as one of his greatest accomplishments during his term.
"History will look to Desert Storm," Bush said. "We did it with honor. We upheld the integrity of the White House."
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