Former Speech Writer Of George H.W. Bush Discusses President's Legacy

18 hours ago
Originally published on December 1, 2018 7:02 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Christopher Buckley was a speechwriter for President Bush when he was vice president, and Christopher remained close to the president over the years. He joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY: Good morning, Scott. Not such a good morning after all, but good morning nonetheless.

SIMON: And what are your thoughts today?

BUCKLEY: Well, my thoughts right now are - I'm trying not to blubber on live radio. It's a sad day. He was - but what a life - 94 years. He was - like, it - I feel a little bit as the way I did when I lost my father nine, 10 years ago. He was - George Herbert Walker Bush was - I've heard this - many people say it. He was the father you wanted.

SIMON: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: And we shall not - I certainly won't see his like again. He was also incredibly fun. And so that's the thing to try to hold onto.

SIMON: He wrote a lot of letters by hand, didn't he?

BUCKLEY: He wrote tons of letters. I bet there are a hundred thousand - hundreds out there signed, all the best, George Bush. Many of them are compiled in a lovely volume he did. His - you know, he was the son of a mother who insisted that he not talk - that one not talk about oneself. He was - so when it came time to write a book after he left the presidency, he didn't...

SIMON: Oh, right.

BUCKLEY: His mother's ghostly influence was such that he felt it would be too puffed up to write a standard memoir. So he wrote a - he essentially published a compilation of his letters. I believe it's called - the title is "All The Best, George Bush." Famously, in 19 - excuse me - '88, when he was running for president of the United States and he was home and in Greenwich for Thanksgiving, sitting around the table, telling, you know, pretty interesting stories about running for president, his mother rapped on the table and said, George, you're talking about yourself too much. Stop it.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Now...

BUCKLEY: And that - you know, that - it totally imbued his soul. He was - you know, I've been in the presence of a lot of great men. And almost all of them preferred to talk about themselves. He wanted to talk about you. And that's what made you fall in love with him.

SIMON: Yeah. I don't want to draw everything to what's going on now. But, you know, you would have dinner with President Bush. You would talk about things. Did - can we draw distinctions between the kind of president he was and what we see in the country now?

BUCKLEY: Oh, Scott, there will be time for that conversation. And I'm sure it's being held. And of course there's - we're in a very different world now. But I think George - I can almost hear George Bush right now saying, now, now, let's not have any of that. He...

SIMON: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: He was a Christian gentleman. And he was the paradigm of the Christian gentleman. He didn't have - he had no mean bone in his body. I'd never heard - you would hear him perhaps talk a little bit askance about someone. But he - but I never heard an ad hominem attack or caustic comment come out of him. He had a beautiful soul. And it was always radiant and on display.

SIMON: Yeah. In the minute we have left, I sometimes would look at him, and it was hard to imagine him as the very young, teenage, just graduated from a prep school who enlisted and became the youngest flyer in the U.S. Navy.

BUCKLEY: The youngest flyer and a decorated aviator at the age of 20. If you see those photos which have been playing across screens today, he looks like he's 14 years old.

SIMON: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: And he - you know, when I was working for him, when he was vice president, you couldn't get him to talk about his war record. And it drove his political advisers crazy because they say, my God, you've got a war hero here. You've got to oomph (ph) it up. And I - if I put that in one of his speech texts about how he was shot down at, you know, the age of 20, he would take it out (laughter). He was...

SIMON: Yeah.

BUCKLEY: He could be maddeningly self-effacing. But that was part of the reason you loved him.

SIMON: Christopher Buckley - he wrote speeches for George H.W. Bush when he was vice president for Ronald Reagan. Christopher, thanks so much for being with us on a sad morning for you. Thank you.

BUCKLEY: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF YO LA TENGO SONG, "CORNELIA AND JANE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.