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Elder Bush: Reagan Helped Push For New World Order

Portland Press Herald | June 6 2004

KENNEBUNKPORT — Former President George Bush, who spent eight years as Ronald Reagan's vice president, remembered his friend Saturday as a kind, decent man whose beliefs did not waver. "I think history will give him great credit for standing for a few principles, and standing firmly for those principles, and thus setting an example for the American people, whether they agreed with him or not," Bush said, standing alongside his wife, Barbara, outside their summer home at Walkers Point.

Bush and Reagan shared a long, complicated political history. They met in the early 1970s when Reagan was governor of California and Bush was chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In 1980, they vied for the Republican nomination, and after Reagan prevailed, he selected Bush as his running mate. During Reagan's years in the White House, the two ate lunch together each Wednesday.

"I'll never forget those lunches - no agenda, he didn't ask you to define certain problems. It was just two people talking," Bush said. "We'd been political opponents and became very close friends."

Earlier Saturday, Bush returned to Maine from a fishing trip in England. Hearing that Reagan's health was deteriorating, the Bushes called Nancy Reagan shortly before her husband's death.

"She made clear to us that his death was imminent," Bush said. "I have unlimited respect for Nancy Reagan and the way she has conducted herself and stood by the ailing president for so many years. She's shown a lot of courage."

"They loved each other - it was clear and obvious that they did," Bush said.

Barbara Bush also spoke about the Reagans' abiding love for each other. And she remembered Reagan as a consummate gentleman.

"I don't think I've ever known anyone who was so innately polite," she said.

As the Bushes spoke early Saturday evening, nearby American flags flew at half-staff. But the couple had yet to speak about Reagan's death with their son, President George W. Bush. Former President Bush said the current president owes much to Reagan.

"The president has great respect for Ronald Reagan. He emulated him in the tax cuts that I now think are helping our economy to recover. But it was more than that," Bush said. "It's respect for the human being that is Ronald Reagan."

Asked whether Reagan's domestic or foreign policy would leave a greater legacy, Bush declined to choose.

Bush recalled criticism Reagan faced following a visit to Berlin, when the president said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." In another speech, Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union the "evil empire."

"Some of the liberals in New York were wringing their hands and going crazy," Bush said. "And sure enough, a lot happened on his watch that was very, very positive towards a new world order, toward a peace."

On the domestic side, Bush mentioned Reagan's tax cuts, but said the president was never able to get the spending cuts he wanted. The national debt grew tremendously during Reagan's tenure.

Bush recalled discussions between Reagan and former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, who had deep political differences. The disputes never turned bitter, Bush said.

"They'd argue, and Tip would accuse him of this and that, and President Reagan would smile. And afterward they'd remain friends," Bush remembered.

"I had a vantage point that few others had - sitting at his side for eight years," Bush said. "I learned a lot about how one conducts himself in the highest office in the land."

Bush called the timing of Reagan's death "somewhat ironic" because the current president will speak in France today on the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

Twenty years ago, Reagan gave a touching speech on the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. When the president returned to Washington, Bush asked him how he made it through his remarks without breaking down.

"He said, 'Well, I wrote it down, and I just repeated it over and over again, and tried to get it through my mind without getting too emotional myself,' " Bush recalled. "There were many speeches where Ronald Reagan could just muster the best in us as a country."