The George H.W. Bush Renaissance

As the 41st president celebrates his 88th birthday, HBO releases a documentary about him.

By: Garrett M. Graff

George H.W. Bush. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The renaissance of George H.W. Bush is in full swing these days as he celebrates his 88th birthday. Just days after Maureen Dowd devoted her column to lionizing the 41st president, HBO tonight debuts at 9 a documentary entitled simply 41.

The HBO documentary is, effectively, a first-person story: Bush is the only interview subject for the 105-minute film, and most of it takes place at the location most associated with the Bush family—their windswept family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where 41 still loves a good trip out on his powerboat, Fidelity IV. (Watch the trailer here.)

The onetime congressman and then UN ambassador, Bush later served as ambassador to China, CIA director, and vice president. He has spent the two decades since his reelection loss turning himself into America’s fun, friendly grandfather—parachuting on his 80th and 85th birthdays, teaming up with former President Clinton to help fundraise on issues such as Haiti, and, more recently, wearing some crazy socks to his son’s portrait unveiling at the White House last week.

The force behind tonight’s documentary, producer Jerry Weintraub (of Karate Kid and Ocean’s Eleven fame), told Politico, “He was more prepared for the presidency than any other man who has ever prepared for that office, and I think history is showing that.”

Last year, President Obama awarded 41 the nation’s highest civilian award, the Medal of Freedom, saying, “His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling.” Obama added, “His humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit. This is a gentleman.”

Former Newsweek editor turned book publisher Jon Meacham is now at work on what will likely be the definitive biography of 41, since the elder Bush never published a memoir of his own.

Meacham’s phrase for the Bush renaissance? “Poppy chic.”