Gongol.com Archives: May 2024

Brian Gongol

May 23, 2024

News A prudent skepticism

Many Americans are familiar with George H.W. Bush's infamous line, "Read my lips: No new taxes", but it's far from the most significant clause he uttered while in high office. Bush 41 often struggled to communicate with the effectiveness of his predecessor, but he was an exceptionally well-qualified public servant, and an individual well-equipped to see with some clarity the truly epic changes taking place around him. ■ In his 1988 nomination acceptance speech, the same address that gave us "Read my lips", Bush articulated a recognition of the facts that have an eerie resonance 35 years later. ■ Said the nominee: "The tremors in the Soviet world continue. The hard earth there has not yet settled. Perhaps what is happening will change our world forever. Perhaps not. A prudent skepticism is in order. And so is hope. Either way, we're in an unprecedented position to change the nature of our relationship. Not by preemptive concession -- but by keeping our strength. Not by yielding up defense systems with nothing won in return -- but by hard, cool engagement in the tug and pull of diplomacy." ■ Those "tremors" ultimately came to a crescendo when the Soviet Union fell forever at the end of 1991. The "war" part of the Cold War may have been won, but it is evident now that the peace wasn't, neither permanently nor completely. ■ If we had truly secured the peace, Russia's government today wouldn't invade some of its neighbors, menace others, or conduct unconventional warfare against the United States. In our eagerness to cash in the "peace dividend", America ignored Bush's call to "prudent skepticism" -- and not just in the afterglow of Cold War victory. Long after it should have been obvious that "keeping our strength" needed to mean more than just having weapons, a sitting President glibly mocked the very idea of recognizing that the peace was incomplete. ■ In his own way, Bush was telling the American voter that we couldn't anticipate having dessert without eating our vegetables, too. It's rarely a popular message to tell people that temperance, sacrifice, and skepticism will be required of them. Even great leaders have a hard time cultivating what isn't already in the makeup of their people (even if those character traits are dormant and need re-awakening). But if we don't habituate ourselves to those characteristics, history has a way of forcing us to reckon with their absence sooner or later.

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