The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” I don’t often take issue with William Shakespeare but on this one I think the Bard got it mostly wrong. Mark Antony may have been merely manipulating the crowd at Julius Caesar’s funeral with such a claim, but for most public figures it seems that death is the quickest route to achieving the universal recognition that was often denied in life. At least, it must be said, when the dead are conservative politicians.
George HW Bush, whose funeral took place in Washington yesterday, is merely the latest figure on the right to have received gushing eulogies from media and establishment figures who did nothing but disparage him during his political career.
The 41st president has been almost universally acclaimed as a statesman, a model of civility, a man of dignity and integrity. These are, of course, all true but it wasn’t what they said about it him when he was alive.
From the moment he stepped on to the national stage in the 1970s, Mr Bush was variously a wimp, a philanderer, a snob with no understanding of or interest in the concerns of ordinary Americans. A sidekick to Ronald Reagan, he was cast as either a hypocrite or as someone conniving in the Iran-Contra illegal arms sales scandal.
His campaign for the presidency in 1988 was denounced as racist. Its use of an advert depicting a black man who had been allowed to leave prison — under a policy overseen by Michael Dukakis, governor of Massachusetts and Mr Bush’s opponent — and gone on to rape a woman was reported by the press as pandering to racist sentiment and irrational fears.
In short, he was a Republican, and as a result subjected to a set of rules and standards by most of the media that apply only to one side of the political ledger.