W’s Return

Yesterday former President George W. Bush returned, briefly, to the national stage.  He was campaigning for his brother, Jeb Bush, who is hanging on for dear life and hoping to make a good showing in the South Carolina Republican primary.

According to press reports, the former President gave a short speech that endorsed his brother and described some of the qualities, like integrity and judgment and character, that he believes are needed in a good President — implicitly drawing a contrast with the blustery bombast of Donald Trump, without mentioning Trump or any other Republican candidate by name.   “W” also recounted some memories from his former campaigns in South Carolina and added some of his trademark self-deprecating humor.

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush Campaigns With Brother George W. BushIt was a bit jarring to see news reports of George W. Bush at the podium.  I hadn’t seen him for a while, and of course he looked older, and thinner.  Since he left office seven years ago, former President Bush has consciously avoided the public eye and maintained a pretty consistent non-partisan, apolitical tone.  His speech yesterday sounds like more of what we’ve come to expect from him in his post-presidential years.  He was there to support and help his brother, but he did it without attacking other candidates by name or, for that matter, mentioning President Obama or criticizing the Obama administration.

George W. Bush remains a figure to be mocked and reviled among some on the left side of the political spectrum; seven years later, he’s still blamed by many, inside the Obama administration and out, for virtually all of our current problems.  Now Donald Trump has joined in, by repeating the debunked conspiratorial theories that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to maneuver us into an unnecessary war and ignored clear intelligence that America would be attacked on 9/11.

Through it all, former President Bush has publicly remained above the fray, no doubt believing that, having served in the nation’s highest office, former Presidents shouldn’t engage in rancorous partisan politics or bash their successor on talk shows.  It’s an old school approach that speaks of personal humility and properly recognizes the dignity of the presidency.  His ego obviously doesn’t compel him to stay in the media spotlight.  Instead, he’s taken to painting, he’s written a book about his Dad, former President George H.W. Bush, and he’s focused on charitable and humanitarian efforts.

Yesterday, George W. Bush listed some of the qualities we want in our President.  I think the former President’s personal conduct since he left office illustrates those qualities — and draws a pretty sharp contrast with the vulgar, egotistical, limelight-loving loudmouth who currently is leading in the polls.

 

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For Equal Treatment Of Failure And Success

Two weeks ago I was getting my hair cut by the Recently Blonde Stylist when she inadvertently let slip that she’d received a nice recognition at work.  I congratulated her, and she immediately pooh-poohed her accomplishment.

How many humble people do that, reflexively?  They take their defeats forever to heart but shortchange their successes and rarely talk about them.  They see failures as the direct result of personal shortcomings but treat victories as the inevitable product of luck and circumstance.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to view that approach as pernicious, and the road to unhappiness.  No one wins every battle.  If you carry around every failure and focus only on them, after a few decades of work you’ll be weighted down by a depressing number of mistakes and missteps.  It’s important to leaven those learning experiences with some pride in your achievements, too.  I told the RBS that she should be pleased with her honor, rather than discounting it, and feel satisfaction that she was so good at her job.

I’m not advocating for a world of preening braggarts; we all know them and they are a tiresome lot.  Instead, I’m in favor of a balanced internal approach in which equal treatment is given to positives and negatives.  Learn from your mistakes but recognize that they happen to us all; allow yourself to feel pleasure when you helped a friend or did a good deed or had a successful result in your job.  Life is full of peaks and valleys, and one is not more important than the other.

On Applying, And Getting Rejected

Richard has begun the second year of grad school, and Russell starts his first year of grad school next week.  It got me to thinking about my law school days, and specifically about the application process.

I was working on Capitol Hill for U.S. Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie when I decided to take the LSAT and look at going to law school.  I had a solid undergraduate record, I got a good LSAT score, I had that Capitol Hill job on my resume, and I had a nice recommendation from Mr. Wylie in my application packet, so I aimed high, for Harvard and Yale among other schools.  I was a confident, and foolish, young man.

I was taken down a peg when, very shortly — embarrassingly shortly — after I sent in my Harvard application, I got the standard form rejection letter.  It hadn’t taken them long to figure out that I wasn’t Harvard material.  My rejection from Yale came a few days later.

I soon realized it wasn’t the end of the world.  I was accepted into other good schools, went to Georgetown University Law Center, got a good legal education and met some great people, and have moved on.  I now think that those once-embarrassing rejections were a good thing, because they helped to motivate me to work hard in law school and because everyone needs to experience a little humility in their lives.  And, I’ve also come to believe that it’s not where you go to school, but what you do with the education you receive that counts.

Rejection isn’t the end of the world.  Often, it’s something you can build on and learn from.