Dole’s salute stands out amid funeral events for former president Bush
photo by: Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A salute by former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole at the casket of late President George H.W. Bush stood out among a host of tributes leading up to a state funeral Wednesday.
As long lines wound through the hushed Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, Dole was helped out of his wheelchair by an aide, slowly steadied himself and saluted his old friend and one-time rival. Bush died on Friday at age 94.
Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 was just one point of intersection for Bush and Dole, now 95, who was one of its leading advocates in the Senate.
Bush and Dole were fellow World War II veterans, Republican Party leaders, fierce rivals for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination won by Bush (“Stop lying about my record,” Dole snapped at Bush) and skilled negotiators. Dole, an Army veteran hit by German machine gunfire in Italy, has gone through life with a disabled right arm. Bush, a Navy pilot, survived a bail-out from his stricken aircraft over the Pacific and an earlier crash landing.
Three days of funeral events concluded Wednesday with a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral, where three former presidents looked on as a fourth — George W. Bush — eulogized his dad. President Donald Trump sat alongside the former presidents, part of a congregation at the cathedral that was filled with foreign leaders and diplomats, Americans of high office and others touched by Bush’s life.
“To us,” George W. Bush said of his father, “his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.”
George W. Bush broke down briefly at the end of his eulogy while invoking the daughter his parents lost when she was 3 and his mother, Barbara, who died in April. He took comfort in knowing “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”
For all the somber tributes to the 41st president’s public service and strength of character, laughter filled the cathedral time after time. The late president’s eulogists — son included — noted Bush’s tendency to tangle his words and show his goofy side.
He was “the last great-soldier statesman,” historian Jon Meacham said in his eulogy, “our shield” in dangerous times. But he also said that Bush, campaigning in a crowd in a department store, once shook hands with a mannequin. Rather than flushing in embarrassment, he simply cracked, “Never know. Gotta ask.”
He recounted how comedian Dana Carvey once said the key to doing an impersonation of Bush was “Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”
George W. Bush said “the man couldn’t stomach vegetables, especially broccoli,” and called that a defect passed down to his children.
Meacham also praised Bush’s call to volunteerism — his “1,000 points of light” — placing it alongside Abraham Lincoln’s call to honor “the better angels of our nature” in the American rhetorical canon. Meacham called those lines “companion verses in America’s national hymn.”
Trump had mocked “1,000 points of light” last summer at a rally, saying “What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? And it was put out by a Republican, wasn’t it?”
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney praised Bush as a strong world leader who helped oversee the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union and helped bring about the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, signed into law by his successor, Bill Clinton.
With Trump, a bitter NAFTA critic, seated in the front row, Mulroney hailed the “largest and richest free trade area in the history of the world.” The three countries have agreed on a revised trade agreement pushed by Trump.
Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, regaled the congregation with stories from his years as Bush’s friend in Washington. More seriously, he recalled that when he went through a rough patch in the political game, Bush conspicuously stood by him against the advice of aides. “You would have wanted him on your side,” he said.
Simpson said Bush “loved a good joke — the richer the better. And he threw his head back and gave that great laugh, but he never, ever could remember a punchline. And I mean never.”
George W. Bush turned the humor back on the acerbic ex-senator, saying of the late president: “He placed great value on a good joke, so he chose Simpson to speak.”
Bush will lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before burial at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953.
After the cathedral service, the hearse and a long motorcade drove to the National Mall to pass by the World War II Memorial, a nod to the late president’s service as a World War II Navy pilot, then arrived at Joint Base Andrews.
On Wednesday morning, a military band played “Hail to the Chief” as Bush’s casket was carried down the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he had lain in state. Family members looked on as servicemen fired off a cannon salute.
His hearse was then driven in a motorcade to the cathedral ceremony, slowing in front of the White House. Bush’s route was lined with people much of the way, bundled in winter hats and taking photos.
Waiting for his arrival inside, Trump shook hands with former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, who greeted him by saying “Good morning.” Trump did not shake hands with Bill and Hillary Clinton, who looked straight ahead.
Bill Clinton and Mrs. Obama smiled and chatted as music played. Jimmy Carter was seated silently next to Hillary Clinton in the cavernous cathedral. Obama cracked up laughing at someone’s quip. Vice President Mike Pence shook Carter’s hand.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that the day marked “a celebration for a great man who has led a long and distinguished life.” Trump and his wife took their seats after the others, briefly greeting the Obamas seated next to them.
Trump ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days.
Bush’s death makes Carter, also 94 but more than 100 days younger, the oldest living ex-president.