The Liberty Medal Ncc Logo


Acceptance Speech


George H.W. Bush
41st President of the United States
October 5, 2006
National Constitution Center
Philadelphia, PA

Thanks for that introduction.  It is a great honor to be here.


I want to salute the elected officers that are here: Senator Santorum, Governor Rendell, Senator Specter, and the Mayor.  It is a pleasure to have them with us.  Joe, we appreciate your leadership in all of this, and all that you have done here for this Center.
And let me start by thanking the National Constitution Center for this high honor—an honor I will always treasure.


Of course I am honored to accept this award with my co-honoree.  A lot of people were surprised, to put it mildly, when President Clinton and I teamed up last year—twice.  First on the tsunami relief as we have seen, and then on hurricane rebuilding along the gulf coast.  I’ve told this story a million times of how Barbara had taken to calling us the political odd couple.  And how the president—the president—joked, that after Bill awoke following his heart surgery, all of his loved ones were there: Hillary, Chelsea, and yours truly.


Suffice it to say, I am grateful to the president for giving me a chance to work with “42” as he is now known in our family.  The experience we have had traveling to Asia last year was something I will never forget.  If you ever have an ego problem, don’t travel with President Clinton to the Maldives Islands.  It was like traveling with a rock star.  “Get out of the way, will ya, Clinton’s coming!”  It was terrible.


It was the same thing when we went to Mississippi and New Orleans and Alabama last fall.   It was more devastation, more heartbreak.  When I was in New Orleans last week—and while the Big Easy still has a hard trip to recovery—I saw hope and resilience and determination in the eyes and voices of the people I visited.


It has been a joy to work with Bill Clinton.  But the truth is that it shouldn’t have surprised people when we teamed up.  After all, when I was president and he was heading the National Governor’s Association, he took a leadership role in a reform movement in American education.


We worked together on that.  I helped him lobby the Congress to pass NAFTA.  And then in

1997, we came together right here in Philadelphia with Presidents Ford and Carter to promote volunteerism.  And true enough, there may have been one or two lapses in etiquette on the 1992 campaign trail.  For example I really did not think that our dog Millie knew more about foreign policy than the governor of Arkansas.  But hey, we were in the heat of the battle—the elbows get sharp, you know!


Which leads me to a key point.  The sharp elbows do come out in national politics.  I have noticed that a lot of people are talking about the poisonous political atmosphere today and no doubt this has been a hard political year.  But you will have a hard time convincing me that politics is tougher and uglier in 2006 than it was during the 1960s and during the 1860s for that matter.  The thing is, every generation thinks that their politics are rougher than at any other time in our history, just as every chief executive feels their media coverage is the most offensive.


After all, President Washington once complained that a newspaper was covering him in terms that could scarcely be applied to a common picket pocket and it was the same thing with Chester Arthur.  Many of you remember old Chester, I am sure.


And in 1861, President-elect Lincoln had to travel incognito to Washington for his first inauguration for fear of his safety, so polarized was our nation at that traumatic time.  What makes these regular assaults on our political sensibilities, the outrages of the press bearable, is the same living, breathing Constitution under whose aegis we would gather here this evening.


So as I accept this wonderful award for my work with my former political adversary, I do so also in defense of the proper role of partisanship in our politics.  The fact that Bill Clinton and I have come together as we have does not mean in any way that we have placed our deeply-held convictions in a blind trust, or even in a lock-box, thank you Al Gore.  And rest assured, I am still every bit the loyal Republican and defender of the president, and nobody needs to ask where his partisan loyalties lie.  That’s as it should be. 


Gathered as we are in the heart of this political season, let’s not forget that our nation, indeed any nation, benefits from a vigorous debate on the issues and the competition of ideas in the political marketplace.  It doesn’t matter if it is Democrat versus Republican, liberal or conservative, or Coke versus Pepsi.  Competition is a good thing—a needed thing—indeed the very thing on which our national progress is built.


Now would I like to see more bipartisanship in Washington?  Absolutely.  Do I resent the attacks on the president’s character?  You bet.  We need less cynicism and more civility to help us overcome the deficit of decency.  But because of our Constitution, our system is resilient enough to withstand the gusts and gales of even the most insidious political season.


So thank you for this wonderful award which I will always treasure.  But more importantly, thank you for the work you do to continue bringing the message of our Constitution, a timeless document which continues to change and transform our world, to the masses.  The work of our Founders remains as current and timely as ever.  Without your leadership, and selfless efforts, fewer people would be touched by its magic.


Thank you very, very much.