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Reconsidering George H.W. Bush’s Presidency

You’ve got to wonder what George H.W. Bush thinks of this presidential race. You can wonder, but he won’t tell us, a reticence that may be one reason the 41st president is lately being reevaluated in a distinctly kinder, gentler way.

Pulitzer-Prize winner Jon Meacham discusses Bush in a new Washington Post podcast, in particular how Bush “keeps looking better and better” in today’s environment. Meacham’s biography of Bush, Destiny and Power, was an instant No. 1 bestseller when it appeared late last year, which should have told us something – a book about a one-term president, a “failed president” as Bush once harshly judged himself, doesn’t sound like bestseller material. But then you realize that Bush embodies virtues that seem jarringly out of place today, at war with a culture that has given us the two least liked, least trusted candidates ever measured.

Today we hunger desperately for traits – restraint, modesty, willingness to compromise, reluctance to blame others or claim credit for oneself – that were not especially remarked upon during Bush’s presidency. Critics in his own party considered him a small figure, which he clearly was by comparison with Ronald Reagan. He had no vision for America, a criticism that stung. Meacham quotes him responding in frustration, “Well, what’s wrong with trying to help people, what’s wrong with trying to bring peace, what’s wrong with trying to make the world a little better?” After which Meacham observes, “Exactly why, he wondered, wasn’t that vision enough?”

We know a bit of what Bush thinks about this election, despite his public silence. He clearly disapproves of Donald Trump, whom he has refused to endorse – remarkably for a former Republican president and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Even more remarkably, he will apparently vote for Hillary Clinton according to several people who have spoken with him. As for his view of his nephew Billy Bush’s role in the notorious Trump tape released last week – we can only guess.

Bush 41’s virtues stand out more sharply just now by comparison with Trump, who offers the opposite of modesty and restraint. The differences go deeper. Trump is thrice-married; Bush remains devoted to Barbara, his wife of 71 years (you read that right). Trump was exempted from military service after college by a heel spur that somehow didn’t prevent him from playing football, tennis, and squash and somehow later stopped bothering him without treatment. Bush enlisted in the Navy in World War II at age 18 and flew 58 combat missions over the Pacific, including one in which he was shot down and rescued.

But the new appreciation of Bush predates Trump’s appearance as a candidate. “The farther the country moved from his presidency the larger Bush loomed,” Meacham writes, “and the qualities so many voters found to be vices in 1992 came to be seen as virtues—his public reticence; his old-fashioned dignity; his tendency to find a middle course between extremes.”

He was a far-from-perfect human, of course, and an unpopular president on the Harvard campus, where the political tilt has if anything inclined leftward since then. Yet in 2014, when Harvard gave this old Yalie an honorary degree, he got a standing ovation from the assembled thousands — now, at age 92, a man for our times.

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What We’re Reading Today

Democrats try to take advantage of GOP split
As some Republicans in Congress turn their backs on Donald Trump, Democrats push for a wider margin of victory for Hillary Clinton that could bring major gains in Congress. Georgia and Arizona, typical GOP strongholds, may be within reach for Clinton. Her lead in the polls has grown so big that a super PAC for her campaign may begin providing funds for Senate races. NYT

Fake accounts at Wells Fargo were flagged as early as 2005
A former branch manager sent a letter to then-head of regional banking Carrie Tolstedt in early 2006 outlining a few instances of employee misconduct, including opening unauthorized accounts. Tolstedt became Wells Fargo’s Head of Community Banking in 2007 and retired shortly before the scandal broke. CEO John Stumpf was grilled in congressional inquiries about why Tolstedt received her severance and $19 million in bonuses. She has since forfeited the money. Ars Technica

Moonves needs 5 years of freedom…
…if Viacom and CBS merge, says fund manager Mario Gabelli, the second largest owner of voting shares in Viacom and CBS. Gabelli says for the proposed merger to work, CBS chief Les Moonves would need Shari Redstone and the rest of the Redstone family to say, “I will stay off your case.” Sumner Redstone, through the family controlled National Amusements, owns 80% of voting shares of Viacom and CBS. Fortune

Toyota and Suzuki consider a partnership  
Citing auto industry consolidation and technical innovations, Akio Toyoda‘s Toyota and Osamu Suzuki‘s Suzuki Motors said they are exploring a possible partnership. How it would work is still unclear. Toyota completed its purchase of Daihatsu Motors earlier this year. Susuki competes with Daihatsu in the minivehicle space. Reuters

Building a Better Leader

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10% of directors believe…
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The search for good bosses
A boss who boosts productivity can define the company’s mission and explain how employees fit into it, according to new research. Stanford Insights

Worth Considering

Clinton campaign claims Donald Trump aide…
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Lawyer for Christie aide: The governor knew about the bridge closings…
…before they happened. The lawyer for Bridget Anne Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, says she and Christie had a conversation about closing lanes on a highway before it occurred in September 2013. Kelly and another aide are on trial for authorizing and covering up the lane closings in order to punish a political adversary of Christie’s. NYT

Amazon launches music subscription service
Joining other technology companies in music streaming, Jeff Bezos‘s Amazon launched a $10-a-month commercial-free service. But it’s only $8 a month for Prime subscribers and $4 a month on its personal service speaker Echo only. Some music industry insiders believe getting under $10 a month will attract far more subscribers. Amazon will subsidize the differences to test the pricing structure. Re/code

Up or Out

Nestle has hired Paul Navarre as CEO of its dermatology unit. Fortune

Former Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson has stepped down as the airline’s executive chairman. Former Home Depot CEO Frank Blake will become Delta’s non-executive chairman.  Air Transport World

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Bed Bath & Beyond spent less than $12 million…
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IMAX to open a virtual reality center
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Playing Pokemon Go extends lives…
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Quote of the Day

“It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me and I can now fight for America the way I want to.” — Donald Trump  Twitter

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