What I miss about [George H. W.] Bush is that, while he had no program, and no principles beyond his bromides about service and patriotism, those bromides contained valuable ideas. Namely, that competence, the public good, and integrity matter, regardless of the party in power or the details of the legislation being debated. That there are rules and expectations of decency, which everybody ought to follow.
This essay for First Things celebrates the virtues of the old establishment. There are significant things I disagree with in this article, including some of its criticisms of the elder Bush, who any reader of this blog knows I admire. But I agree with the essays defense of the old civic and patriotic virtues, which I believe I was raised with and was taught in public school and church.
Unfortunately the author diagnoses our current situation-- "our politics has become absurdly high-stakes, even as character has been entirely devalued. There is no room for a politics of character that is not deformed by ideology and partisanship."
But, similar to what I've been writing in the last few months, he believes that a return to these virtues is the only viable path forward, as he concludes:
But all sides can learn from Bush to set up standards of behavior and decency that cross ideological and party lines. We can treat each other as fellow citizens, even if we have very different political beliefs. We can try to hold all politicians to the same standards. We can build a cross-party understanding of decency. And we could do worse than to start with some bromides about service and patriotism.