George H.W. Bush: Life, Liberty, and the Attainment of Happiness

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Within the spring of 2001, I obtained a name from my buddy Patrick Dillon, then a California-based Forbes journal editor who was getting ready a year-end particular concern. Pat wished to know if it was doable to get U.S. presidents to talk or write concerning the enduring American idea of “the pursuit of happiness.”

The long-lasting phrase involves us from Thomas Jefferson’s preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the finale within the well-known trilogy (after “life” and “liberty”) that People think about our birthright. Having lined the White Home for the higher a part of a decade, I used to be intrigued by the problem of making an attempt to get the present and 4 former presidents to expound on the thought.

I’d heard all 5 of them — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Invoice Clinton, and the youthful Bush — allude in speeches and interviews to the Preamble. Ronald Reagan had, too, though by then the Gipper was misplaced to the mists of Alzheimer’s. However what did they actually imply after they talked of pursuing happiness? How did the phrases encourage them personally?

As I started making an attempt to corral the world’s most unique membership, issues went about the best way you suppose they’d go: Jimmy Carter’s operation was too dysfunctional to reply, as an example, whereas Jerry Ford agreed instantly to be interviewed. Invoice Clinton signed on, though he wished to do it his means: Clinton requested if he may write an essay about TJ as an alternative, explaining that his personal center identify is Jefferson. Though Bush 43 was busy operating the nation, he lastly agreed, by way of White Home press secretary Ari Fleischer, to provide me some quotes. The shock was Bush’s father: As spring turned to summer time, I couldn’t get a dedication. Lastly, in early August, he turned me down flat.

Naturally, Bush was supremely well mannered about it. Jean Becker, his chief of workers, referred to as to precise her regrets, including that the 41st U.S. president wished me success on my challenge. As pretty an individual as Jean Becker is, this didn’t set properly with me. “My challenge,” I identified, “is interviewing former presidents.”

Becker understood my frustration — however there was solely a lot she may do. Nonetheless, I had one other thought. “Pay attention, Jean, anybody who celebrates his 75th birthday by parachuting out a superbly good plane as a result of he did it as a younger Navy fight pilot when the aircraft was on hearth over the Pacific, properly, that man is aware of one thing about happiness the American individuals want to listen to,” I instructed her. “Let’s do that: Inform your boss what I simply instructed you — and write down what he says in response. Then learn it to me and I’ll use that.”

She charmed me by laughing aloud — and agreeing to attempt. I then went right into a workers assembly in my Washington workplace. Once I got here out an hour later, there was a voice mail from Becker saying that she’d finished what I requested and that Forty-One had modified his thoughts on the spot. Bush wished to jot down an essay for the journal piece on what the pursuit of happiness means to him in any case. Would subsequent Friday be too late?

Subsequent Friday was high-quality, I instructed Jean Becker, who was at George Herbert Walker Bush’s bedside this previous Friday night time when he handed over to the opposite aspect.

“Expensive Carl,” Bush’s August 9, 2001, missive started. “You ask about Pursuit of Happiness at a superb time in my life. I’ve pursued life itself over a few years now and with various levels of happiness. However now, at 77 I discover that I’m completely content material to let historical past be the choose of these issues I obtained proper and of my errors in life as properly.”

He cited the nice pleasure he derived from his kids and grandchildren and in his relationship with the love of his life – his spouse, Barbara – and from his profession, too.

“Mine has been a cheerful life,” he mentioned. “In aggressive enterprise I used to be very comfortable — although stressed and considerably pushed. In politics I had victories and defeats however for essentially the most half I used to be comfortable. In huge authorities jobs right here and overseas I used to be lucky to get to dwell my life’s creed, which says public service is a noble calling.

“As president I knew the challenges and preferred them; I labored onerous to do my greatest, to perform issues of magnitude. All via these enterprise and political years I used to be pursuing targets, making an attempt to perform issues, making an attempt to have my life be one which advantages others. Now I not pursue happiness. I’ve happiness – nice happiness.

“A few of it nonetheless comes from making an attempt to be in my very own small means a real ‘level of sunshine.’ I imagine I used to be proper after I mentioned as president, there could be no definition of a profitable life that doesn’t embrace service to others. I don’t search a Pulitzer Prize. I don’t want press consideration. I don’t crave sitting on the head desk or profitable one of many many coveted awards provided by the various organizations throughout the land.

“No, I’ve discovered happiness,” he added. “I not pursue it, for it’s mine.

“Satisfaction in my household ensures that,” Bush continued. “Having one son be the president of america could say all of it, but it surely doesn’t. Our governor son in Florida is a part of this, as a result of via him and the president I can nonetheless be part of the huge political scene. However my happiness stems, too, from our different two sons and our solely daughter, from all 5 spouses and 14 grandchildren. A lot of my true happiness stems from watching these grandkids and fishing with them and difficult them and teasing them.

“And there’s Barbara Bush. Together with her I pursued my happiness earlier than we had been married means again in early 1945, however now there isn’t any pursuit. Our happiness collectively is locked in. It’s, as they are saying in golf, a gimme. It’s robust, unbendable and rock stable.

“So let the nice philosophers and those that nonetheless attempt to be one thing pursue and write of that pursuit. For these not fairly there but, I say, ‘Pursue happiness till you discover it. The pursuit should embrace serving to others, giving of your self to a trigger greater than your self, and it should absolutely embrace love of household.’

“Some suppose there isn’t any pot of gold on the finish of that putting rainbow,” George Herbert Walker Bush wrote in conclusion. “Life is that rainbow, and having pursued happiness throughout my life, I’ve discovered it; will probably be mine till the day I die.”

This might have been a pleasant solution to finish my story, however lower than a month later these hijacked planes hit the World Commerce Middle, the Pentagon, and a area in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 People had been killed, and Bush’s eldest son was thrust into the position of wartime commander-in-chief.

Apprehensive that the president’s father would discover it jarring to learn phrases he’d written earlier than 9/11 that weren’t printed till after, I reached out once more to Jean Becker, considering Bush may need to change what he’d written. She suspected he may, too. We had been each in for a shock.

Beneath a heading marked “POSTSCRIPT,” here’s what George H.W. Bush despatched me:

“I wrote this ‘pursuit of happiness’ essay earlier than the tragic occasions of September 11th. When…requested [if] I wished to revise it to mirror my post-September 11th ideas, my first thought was that I in all probability ought to. However as I reread this, I spotted that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is actually one in every of our inalienable rights as People. It’s simply as vital now, because it was after I wrote this, that each one of us take part in and have fun one in every of our most treasured freedoms. It’s simply one in every of many the reason why I’m so proud to be an American.”

Thanks, Mr. President. Relaxation in peace, sir. You earned it.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Attain him on Twitter @CarlCannon.