Richard Davis: Ozzie and Harriet have never lived here

The death of former President George H.W. Bush has caused some Americans to believe that Bush led a kinder, gentler nation when he was in charge. That is a good example of delusional thinking and we know that, today, there is no lack of delusional thinking.

As a man and father and a friend to those close to him, Bush was a nice guy. He was humble, heroic and a staunch American patriot. But when we look back on history during the mourning of a president we have to look at the entire picture because presidents shape the world and their legacy can affect us for decades.

Some of us want to believe that Bush was a clone of Ozzie Nelson and that the Nelson family set the tone for the country when he was president. But Ozzie and Harriet was a fantasy that too many Americans bought into and they wanted to believe that the Nelson family should be the standard by which we compare all American families.

That same kind of delusional thinking persists and many of those who mourn Bush are making themselves believe that he was cut from the same cloth as Ozzie Nelson. The Nelson comparison ended as soon as Bush became a politician.

Bush was in power as AIDS cases were reaching epidemic proportions. According to a December 6 report on the People's World website, "Former President George H.W. Bush was in two of the highest government offices during the peak of the AIDS epidemic, and his policies and biases harmed the effort to deal with the health crisis. Bush, as vice president to former President Ronald Reagan, was part of an administration that refused to speak publicly about HIV/AIDS for several years. When news about the disease began to spread, it was closely associated with gay men, and therefore deemed the 'gay-plague' by the media."

They also noted that, "During a 1992 presidential debate with opponent Bill Clinton, Bush, when asked about the HIV/AIDS crisis, stated, 'It's one of the few diseases where behavior matters. And I once called on somebody, 'Well, change your behavior! If the behavior you're using is prone to cause AIDS, change the behavior!'"

But at least Bush was able to change his stance to a considerable degree and he ended up signing the Ryan White Care Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act that both banned discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS.

And then there is the troubling Willie Horton saga. During the 1988 presidential campaign, Bush's campaign manager, Lee Atwater, crafted one of the nastiest and most virulently racist political ads this country has ever seen. Horton was a black man and a convicted murderer. During a weekend furlough from a Massachusetts prison he raped a white woman and stabbed her husband.

Neither Horton nor his friends and family referred to him as Willie. He was William to them. But Atwater knew that Horton would sound meaner and more criminal with such a nickname. One could make a case that the Horton ad sealed a Bush victory in 1988. A case could also be made that American politics was never the same after the Willie Horton ads.

Bush tried to claim he had nothing to do with the ads and that an outside organization made them. But Bush made no effort to stop the ad campaign and he became the 41st president, in part, because he played the race card and fanned the embers of American racism.

Americans need to stop trying to pretend that this country was ever kinder and gentler. It has been less horrible at times, but never kind or gentle. The Addams family is now in the White House and that is no fantasy. Gomez may have lighter hair and Morticia may be more vain, while uncle Fester has become the media mouthpiece.

Sometimes reality seems too real and that is why too many of us find solace in delusions.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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