The Atlantic

What the Tributes to George H. W. Bush Are Missing

The 41st president was the last person to occupy the Oval Office whose opponents saw him as fully legitimate.
Source: Herb Swanson / AP

Since George H. W. Bush’s death, many observers have noted that he embodied a less rancorous, less polarized political era. But underlying that civility was something deeper: Bush was the last person to occupy the Oval Office whose opponents saw him as a fully legitimate president.

That’s because in the contemporary United States, presidential legitimacy stems from three sources. The first source is democracy. Although America’s system of choosing presidents has many undemocratic features, many Americans associate presidential legitimacy with winning a majority of the vote. The second source is background. Throughout American history, America’s presidents have generally looked a certain way. They’ve been white, male, (mostly) Protestant, and often associated with legitimating institutions such

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