George H.W. Bush and Clarence Thomas: Two Dudes with Bad Attitudes

Here’s a good definition of “naive”: someone who is shocked by reports of former President George H. W. Bush’s (literally) underhanded behavior towards women. At least five women have been scarred by his sexism:

The number of women accusing former President George H.W. Bush of groping them has grown to five, with two of them saying he did so during photo shoots in Maine.

The women include two actresses, a Pennsylvania journalist, a best-selling author raised in Bangor and a former Maine Senate candidate.

Amanda Staples, a former Republican state Senate candidate from Standish, wrote in an Instagram post that Bush fondled her in 2006. Staples, who was 29 at the time and running for the Kennebunkport area’s Senate seat, visited the former president at Walker’s Point when he “grabbed my butt and joked saying ‘Oh, I’m not THAT President,’ ” Staples wrote alongside a picture of her standing next to Bush.

“I can only imagine how many women have had their butt grabbed in a photo op,” she added in the post, noting that if she had a daughter “I’d never tell her to shrug it off because he was president.”

The allegations – which come amid a wave of sexual harassment and assault scandals that have ensnared movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Fox host Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin and other powerful men – threaten to tarnish the legacy of the 41st president, who spends summers at the family estate in Kennebunkport and has enjoyed a family-man image since leaving the White House in 1993.

Best-selling author Christina Baker Kline on Thursday night posted on Slate an account of being groped by Bush in 2014, and an actress who witnessed Bush groping her roommate during a photo shoot at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 2016 said the former president had earned a reputation among staff and recurring crew for grabbing women’s rears during his visits to the theater.

It’s a shame that it took this long for Bush’s false image as one of the “good Republicans” to finally go down in flames. Bush long ago made clear his commitment to chauvinism when he nominated Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court.

If Bush had even the slightest for women, he would have withdrawn Thomas’s nomination the moment Anita Hill’s credible allegations surfaced; his conscience would not have allowed him to inflict such psychological damage upon women by standing behind the noxious nominee. Of course, it’s now clear that Bush always shared Thomas’s views towards women.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is wrong. Age and ill health are not excuses for misogyny. If former President Jimmy Carter—who, like Bush, is in his 90s and has battled health maladies—had allegedly groped women, no one would make excuses for his behavior. So why trot out excuses for Bush? (What is Bush’s real excuse for his alleged behavior, anyway? I guess he figured, just like another Republican President, that if you’re a celebrity people will let you do it.)

Excusing Bush’s behavior is yet another example of mainstream-media figures bending over backwards to pacify Republicans. Bush has for years been depicted in the mainstream press as a textbook example of a civil and reasonable Republican, despite his embrace of extremism in his 1988 Presidential campaign and his nomination of the ultra-conservative Thomas. Mitchell and others apparently don’t want to abandon that image of Bush, even though it’s completely phony.

Speaking of Bush and women, I originally decided not to listen to a recent NPR interview of Bush’s granddaughters Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, finding the prospect of doing so less than compelling. Later, I changed my mind, and after listening to the interview I came away feeling sorry for both women: imagine what it must be like to have Gropey McFeel for a grandfather and a war criminal for a father. I can’t imagine the level of cognitive dissonance both women (who presumably have confronted the same chauvinism that women with less famous last names have endured) must experience when they read about the latest allegations against Grandpa.

Jenna and Barbara Bush can’t be blamed for their family’s actions, but George H. W. Bush can indeed be blamed for fostering a culture of institutionalized sexism and sleaze in this country by putting Thomas on the bench—an action that sent a clear signal to the Harvey Weinsteins of this world that the odds of being held accountable for treating women like third-class citizens were low. When he made that awful choice, Bush did something every bit as grotesque as his alleged groping: he effectively gave Lady Justice the back of his hand.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.