WASHINGTON -- HBO recently aired a first-rate look at the first Bush presidency, that of George H.W. Bush. The title was, not surprisingly, "41." The program was somehow comforting, with lots of time for him to talk, in his charming mixture of upper-crust East Coast and funny slang. Eighty years old, this man has seen a lot, done a lot and, until now, been misunderstood a lot.
But this lengthy show -- it could have gone on all evening for my taste -- mostly showed the man: the way he was raised; the gentility of the Eastern Establishment then; his mannered mother warning him never to push himself forward but to listen to others; his handsome father representing what a true "conservative" congressman should be.
But then, George, having married the beautiful Barbara, who was then as finely molded as a porcelain bird, moved the Bushes to West Texas. Well, there are things we could say that would not be unkind, but I'm not sure where I'd find them. West Texas is the opposite end of the world from Kennebunkport and Newport and all the watering holes of the New England coast.
Indeed, those who expected George W. to be like his father in the presidency (like me, for instance), were simply not thinking. George W. was born and raised in Texas. He was a cowboy, not a courtier; he'd a'danced on that wall in Berlin in 1989 like all hell.
I was privileged to know "41," and as a cat-lover, the greatest thing I could say was that he was the "cat's meow." He and Jim Baker ran a tight and rational ship the likes of which we'll probably never see again. They set up the Madrid Conference in 1983 and almost made peace in the Middle East. They freed Eastern Europe and let the Soviet Union collapse by wisely not crowing about it ("41's" mom). They won the Gulf War. George wooed and knew every leader in the world, but then the American people, in their infinite wisdom, threw him out because he had the chutzpah to raise taxes.
But don't mistake me, please, that we are talking only about his and Jim Baker's foreign policy, as polished as it was. No, like the HBO show, I want to point out the manners of these older Bushes from the New England coast.
They were, probably in our era, the last family we will remember from the Eastern Establishment who had run the country almost from its start. These were the descendants of the founders of the country and of the "robber barons" who then built the country, its railroads and its libraries -- the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Harrimans.
Foreign policy, like everything else, was argued out among them, and they did it pretty damn well. It wasn't that others couldn't enter their awesome presence, but they had to have manners, they never swore before ladies, they gave the other guy a chance, and they set an example of behavior for the entire country.
Which brings me to talking about manners today. The f-word is used as casually as asking for a glass of water. Newspapers, which kept up standards, are dying or decreasing, and cable television is growing more disgusting by the day. The other night, looking for "41," I happened upon an HBO show with two totally naked people (they called them brother and sister) having violent sex, with "Game of Thrones" having a head of George W. on a spike ("We had to use what we had around," one director commented).
Virtually every sadistic, degenerate, cruel thing we can do to other people is now being done ad nauseam on cable TV, in books and magazines, on the Internet.
Where do you go next to shock? I fear to think of it. Yet, this is actually what we are already seeing -- not in special programs or in pornographic magazines hidden away -- but as everyday fare, available for everyone.
I see no answer except a return to censorship. Tell the truth -- wasn't the world better when movies were controlled for obscene content? Aren't the four networks better than all the cursing on cable?
Meanwhile, China excels in teaching children to play Western classical music. It is what their parents take pride in. Let's hope they're not reading American newspapers or watching our movies these days.