There is a combative, acerbic tone to our politics today. My friends in Washington, D.C. say it’s a darker place than when I was there almost 20 years ago. There is less unity, less collegiality, and shockingly even less patriotism.
For a couple of days this past weekend a family reunion (of sorts) in our nation’s capital hit the pause button on the caustic tone and tenor. People came by the hundreds, from 47 states, to celebrate the patriarch of an extended political family: the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.
The family that gathered was comprised of the hundreds of campaign and administration officials who tethered their lives to President Bush in the tumultuous first decade of this century. I was honored to be a part of it. It’s been more than ten years since Bush left office but the Bush Center’s alumni association brings us together from time to time to renew old friendships.
There were dozens of intimate house parties, cocktail receptions and bars filled with old friends from the political trenches. Thanks to this rather odd political family, Washington had a little more laughter, smiles, embraces and even some tears as the years and miles melted away for a few short hours.
There were videos and photos of those bygone days on screens throughout the rooms where people congregated. There were stories of our raucous younger years and plenty of scrolling through photos of children and grandchildren who were only dreams when we served together in government.
One man made this far-flung group a family. One man drew us to him in such a way that we felt compelled to leave our homes, schools, communities and comfortable careers to join him on a fantastic and uniquely American journey. I assume every administration’s staff feels that way – or at least it should.
Bush reminded us in strong terms that we must keep serving America in whatever capacity we could. Protecting freedom requires us all to accept the proposition that this nation can be better tomorrow than it is today because of our individual contributions to that advancement.
We were happy warriors. We were mission-focused, hard-charging, stressed-out, frustrated, and relentless in our work. We battled with a biased press in the days before people lost themselves in social media.
And we knew that we were serving not just one man but an institution, which served all Americans. The president himself reminded us of that often.
As we reminisced, we were transported back to a time when each of us was part of what I liked to call “the great American adventure” – a journey that took us from the fields of Iowa, to the streets of Florida, to the White House and around the world.
Together as a team we faced a series of national and global events none of us could have anticipated when we became part of the family: the Sept. 11 attacks, the Global War on Terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the financial crisis, to name a few.
But this wasn’t just a reunion. There was a message. It didn’t come to me until we all gathered to hear President Bush on Saturday night.
In between jokes about his grandchildren and post-presidency life, Bush reminded us in strong terms that we must keep serving America in whatever capacity we could. Protecting freedom requires us all to accept the proposition that this nation can be better tomorrow than it is today because of our individual contributions to that advancement.
This family reunion was a reminder that a little bit of class and courtesy can go a long way. That any measure of success is never achieved alone. That America is still at its best when ordinary people pull together to do extraordinary things.
The message to our American family is the same: Each of us must find a way to use our God-given talents, intellect and capabilities to ensure that this nation continues to be driven by optimism, opportunity, freedom and individual liberty. Whether in politics or some other form of service, Americans must live by the old axiom, “Of those to whom much is given, much is required.” Improving the human condition at home and in the far reaches of creation is only achievable with an America that is steadfast in protecting its own formula for greatness.
As we went our separate ways we were inspired. Some colleagues will head to work this week for President Trump’s administration. Some will head back to the private sector far from Washington. Some will go home and talk to their grandchildren about the time they served the president of the United States.
All of us would do right to carry the message that we are all servants of this great experiment we call America. It will take all our effort in these days to keep it free.
Thank you, Mr. President.