I was 25, newly married, and had never been to the White House before that day. But senior staff at National Right to Life, all of whom had handshake photos of themselves with Reagan or Bush, generously donated their tickets to junior staff the day before the election. They must have known the polls were not promising, and they wanted to give us the chance to witness presidential history as they had. Our election night party in the office was bleak. I was still clinging to a bit of immature magical thinking. We had worked hard enough, surely. And then there was a fax that came in sometime in the afternoon with internal polling from the campaign projecting a defeat. After that, things became somber and deathlike for the rest of the evening.
Still, the next morning dawned, and I dressed in my cute blue checked dress that I had bought before my wedding, braided my hair and set off with my friends and co-workers. Our group was perhaps isolated from other WH staffers and major campaign donors who were present there; we felt that we had worked our little hearts out, but Bush's own staff had let him down. I remember comments from those months... staffers shopping their resumes and not focusing on the election; campaign director sleeping with the enemy, no real loyalty to the President. And the American electorate has always been fickle, and the press has always been hostile to Republicans, but something changed in that election cycle. We knew we were in for 4-8 years of a really difficult time, and most of us were teary-eyed for much of the time we were there. But White House events must go on. We were handed flags to wave by staffers; it was a gray day but not bad weather for November, as I recall. I was running on adrenaline and nerves, which always makes me feel especially socially awkward. It was a pretty large crowd.
The Bushes got off Marine One, and the crowd cheered wildly. Most of us were toward the back of the crowd; I don't think we're in the video, but I can't be sure without better eyes and a bigger screen. It must have been a bitterly difficult day for the President, and I'm sure he was emotional, but his speech was short, upbeat, and focused on others. He could have talked about the big accomplishments of his administration; the coalition he built for the Gulf War; the fall of the Communist regime, but he didn't. He simply praised his supporters for their hard work, encouraged them to support the Clintons, and expressed confidence that "we" had served America well... "And maybe history will record it that way." That short, offhand sign-off has stayed with me all these years.
Yes, I do think history will record your nobility of character and your lasting positive influence on America. Thank you for your life of service, George H.W Bush. RIP.