NEW YORK (AP) — With a week commemorating the death of former President George H.W. Bush due to climax with a memorial service Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral, the national media has almost inevitably focused on the contrast between his era and the present day.
Even without President Donald Trump giving fresh fuel to those comparisons, they led to at least one angry television confrontation Monday on ABC’s “The View.”
TV networks marked Bush’s passing late Friday with reminiscences and coverage of Bush’s body being flown Monday from Texas to Washington, D.C. The top broadcasters and cable news networks will cover Wednesday morning’s ceremony live with Bush’s son, former President George W. Bush, delivering one of the eulogies. A funeral service will take place Thursday in Houston before Bush’s body is laid to rest.
Like when parents die, giving rise to remembrances among their families, the death of a president is one for a country to reflect on the world when the president was in office, between 1989 and 1993 in Bush’s case, said Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief and now a George Washington University professor.
It’s also a moment for familiar faces like Sesno, ABC’s Cokie Roberts and NBC’s Tom Brokaw to return to television to tell stories of a man remembered for his personal decency and being the last of the World War II generation to serve as president.
“It’s been said he represents another era,” said ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who served on the staff of Bill Clinton, the president who defeated Bush for re-election.
The mourning for Bush was immediately reminiscent of former Sen. John McCain’s funeral in September. Trump was not invited to attend McCain’s funeral, given bad blood between the two men, yet his presence was felt as contrasts were drawn with the current president’s harsh brand of politics. Trump is scheduled to be at Bush’s ceremony, however, and has publicly praised his predecessor since his death despite some past criticism.
“The president’s feud with John McCain was a feud that John McCain won,” Sesno said in an interview Monday. “If Trump has learned anything in office it should be to pick your battles and find moments of grace. If there is to be a moment of grace, there is no moment more pressing and visible than when a former president of the United States dies.”
McCain daughter, Meghan, was involved in a testy exchange with Joy Behar, a co-host of “The View,” when Behar compared Bush’s support of environment legislation to some of Trump’s stands. “I don’t want to talk about Trump,” McCain said, interrupting her.
“I don’t care what you’re interested in,” Behar said. “I’m talking.”
Responded McCain: “I don’t care what you’re interested in either, Joy.”
At that point, show moderator Whoopie Goldberg swiftly jumped in and cut to a commercial.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, co-host Mika Brzezinski said every bio about Bush makes obvious the contrast with Trump. “Over the last two years, deviancy has continued being defined down by this current president, his cronies, his supporters,” said Brzezinski, back from her honeymoon with co-cost Joe Scarborough.
She predicted that Trump “fakes more respect” for the Bush family in the coming days.
The Washington Post wrote that Bush, in tributes like that by Clinton who called him “honorable, gracious and decent,” has become in death a yardstick for Trump.
“In death, presidents are measured not only by their accomplishments but by what their tenure says about sitting presidents — and in this case, the contrast appears stark,” wrote the Post’s Greg Jaffe.
Prep work paid off for CBS’ “60 Minutes,” which conducted interviews with former presidents Clinton, Barack Obama and George W. Bush on the promise they would run after the senior Bush’s death. They were featured on Sunday’s show.
Maureen Dowd, columnist for The New York Times, wrote a memorable piece about her warm relationship with Bush despite the need to sometimes write harshly about him when she covered the White House, and about his son when he was president.
She told of notes from Bush with the signoff “‘Love’ scratched out and replaced with the handwritten rebuke, ‘not quite there yet.’”
“In another life, I probably would have been serving President Bush his vodka martini, made to perfection with a splash of dry vermouth, two olives and a cocktail onion,” Dowd wrote. “But I came along just as the old world of Ivy League white men running everything was breaking up.”