The Obama-Bush Love In

President honored his predecessor's Points of Light initiative for good reason.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

There's been a lot of talk lately about bias in the media. We all have biases, based on our life's experience and the opinions we've formed along the way. The problem is when people don't admit they have one. So I'm going to do what the folks on cable news aren't willing to do: I'll admit I'm biased, especially when it comes to President George H.W. Bush. I worked for him years ago, and now I'm on the advisory board of his presidential library. He's like a dad to me, and I love him very much. If you're looking for disparaging remarks about him—or Mrs. Bush—you won't find them here.

So when President Obama traveled to College Station on Friday to honor President Bush on the anniversary of the Points of Light initiative, friends sent me all kinds of coverage: the White House transcript, the Washington Post coverage, the C-Span video (just watch the first few minutes and you'll see how funny he is these days). But there wasn't much commentary. None of the pundits in Washington seemed to say much about the visit.

That's a shame for two reasons.

First, this was an example of the bipartisanship we need so badly these days. (I guess people were too busy yelling at each other to notice.) President Bush has, once again, reached across the aisle—as he did when he famously joined up with President Bill Clinton to raise millions in humanitarian aid; as he did when he honored Sen. Ted Kennedy years ago at the library; as he does regularly when he reaches out to people outside the usual GOP circle to support good causes—people like Tiger Woods and George Clooney and LL Cool J; and, of course, as he did last week when he invited President Obama to speak at his library despite the protesters outside. "The two presidents, separated by generation, party and philosophy, looked like longtime friends on stage at Texas A&M University, joking, smiling and putting their arms around each other's backs with easy bonhomie. Mr. Bush, 85, praised Mr. Obama as someone who 'genuinely cared about helping others.' Mr. Obama, 48, hailed Mr. Bush as 'a citizen whose life has embodied that ethic' of public service," reported Peter Baker of the New York Times.

Second, the reason that President Obama went to see President Bush was to mark the beginning of the volunteer movement under President Bush's leadership. People's perceptions of volunteerism have gone through a sea of change in America over the last two decades, and it all started with George H.W. Bush. Years ago, I remember the pastor at our church, Father Bill Byron, saying that he hoped that some day "community service" would be more than something that one gets sentenced to as part of the criminal justice system. George Bush fixed that. He made community service a noble calling and a part of everyday life at the same time. "From now on in America," President Bush said repeatedly throughout his term in office, "any definition of a successful life must include serving others." Now it does. According to the Dallas Morning News, 62 million Americans volunteered in 2008 alone. 

Before he left College Station, President Obama saluted what he called the idea at the heart of President Bush's vision:

... that each of us has a role to play, and all of us have something to contribute ... And today, 20 years later, think for a minute about the impact that he's had. Think of the thousands of people and organizations who've been named Points of Light—and the countless others he inspired to do their part. Think of all the people they touched and the lives they changed—and all of those who were helped who went on to help others. That's the extraordinary ripple effect that one life, lived humbly, with love for one's country, and in service to one's fellow citizens, can have.