President George H. W. Bush might not have been too popular when he left office in 1993, but both history and his personal character have been kind to him. In retrospect, his winding down of the Cold War (without needlessly embarrassing Russia) and skillful winning of the first Gulf War make him a worthy successor to Ronald Reagan and, arguably, superior in diplomatic mastery to his son. While conservatives excoriate him for appointing David Souter to the Supreme Court, it's also a fact that he placed Clarence Thomas there as well.
But there is also a basic decency and playfulness about the senior Bush that makes him unique. While he's worked with Bill Clinton on important charitable work like the tsunami relief, he chooses not to engage in policy and charitable work 24/7 like either Clinton or Jimmy Carter. He will do occasional statesman work, but he also likes to show another side.
Demonstrating once again that he might be the coolest ex-president ever, Bush once again celebrated a big birthday by going on a skydive, showing that he is a vibrant and active man in his 80s: .
"Just because you're old, that doesn't mean you can't do fun stuff. And you don't want to sit around drooling in the corner. And so it's a wonderful release.
"And you know, because I was president it sends a message all around. Go out and get something doing. Just 'cause … old guys can still have fun and still do stuff."
On top of that, he gave a rather nice defense of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. This was somewhat significant because, as much as Democrats point out that she was initially appointed to the federal bench by Bush, the fact is that she was part of a bipartisan political deal carved by New York's two senators at the time -- Democrat Pat Moynihan and Republican Alphonse D'Amato. In other words, had it been two Republican senators, Sotomayor would not have been Bush's first choice.
And so, Bush didn't really have to say anything much about the judge, if asked. He could have just said, "Let the process play out." Instead, he was rather warm about her: "I'm going to leave that to others to analyze, but she should be given a fair hearing, She should be accorded every courtesy that goes with her record as a judge and her aspirations to be a Supreme Court justice."
He also slammed those calling her racist. "Well, that's not right. I mean, it's not fair. It doesn't help the process to be out there name-calling. So let them decide whether they want to vote for her or not, and get on with it."
Decent, loyal, energetic and still quite-opinionated. And, happy to be a role-model as a senior citizen. In short, a good man. And, yes, a very cool ex-president.
Happy birthday, Mr. President.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.