In a parting gesture, young Mr. Bush gave us the opportunity to laugh him off the world stage, perhaps the only fitting way to celebrate the end of his tragic reign of pratfalls. On January 12, Shuckin' and jivin' and smirkin' and quirkin', Bush gave his farewell press conference. Part sulk, part self-affirmation, part psychotic outburst, his antics before the White House press corps were high farce that could have been penned by Moliere or Aristophanes.
The only mistake he made with Hurricane Katrina was not landing Air Force One in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. He's thought "long and hard" about that one, and when asked what has be done about Katrina's aftermath three and a half years after the fact, he replied, "Well, more people need to get in their houses."
Bush's only flub with Iraq was hanging the "Mission Accomplished" sign from the aircraft carrier. Some of his rhetoric, he admitted, "has been a mistake." Everything else that went wrong on his watch was the fault of Congress, or of "certain quarters in Europe" that blame "every Middle Eastern problem on Israel" (as opposed to Iran), and that try to be popular by "joining the International Criminal Court" and "accepting Kyoto." Mr. Bush felt Kyoto was a "flawed treaty," presumably every bit as flawed as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other treaties that people in certain quarters join in order to be popular. Our moral standing, says Mr. Bush, "may be damaged amongst some of the elite," but for the likes of Joe the Plumber, America still provides "great hope."
Did I Mention 9/11?
Though more tightly scripted than the press conference, Mr. Bush's formal farewell address on January 15 was every bit as absurd. The opening remarks included "gratitude" for Dick Cheney, a sentiment both hilarious and horrifying. Once the throat clearing was out of the way, Bush cut to the chase: His thoughts returned "to the first night I addressed you from this house—September the 11th, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor."
Ah, yes, the "new Pearl Harbor" young Bush's neoconservative masters needed in order to justify an invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Bush evoked vignettes of himself standing tall as our leader after the terrorist attacks: with rescue workers in the rubble of the World Trade Center, with "brave souls who charged through smoke-filled corridors at the Pentagon" and with "husbands and wives whose loved ones became heroes aboard Flight 93."
My unforgettable image of Bush after 9/11 is his "What, me president?" moment, sitting in a classroom among small children, making the sound of one jaw dropping and holding My Pet Goat in his lap.
"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11." But not Mr. Bush: he had to spend seven grueling years finding someone else to blame it on, and recruiting scapegoats for the two disastrous wars he recklessly led us into.
Mr. Bush intoned his single tangible achievement: "America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil." This, in Mr. Bush's mind, is the point defense of his legacy, the sole irrefutable fact of his efforts "to do everything in my power to keep us safe."
That we haven't been attacked again is most probably the result of a regulation change for the people who serve in acronym and tri-graph agencies like NORAD, JFCOM, FAA, FBI, NSA and the other domestic security agencies whose job it was to prevent 9/11 from happening in the first place—they now have to drink coffee while on duty and sleep on their own time.
That the 9/11 attacks occurred at all was a breathtaking study in institutional Onanism, a compendium of dysfunctional leadership, organization and communication. Nobody taking a paycheck to defend this country needed a whole new cabinet department or a Patriot Act or illegal wiretapping to prevent 9/11. They just needed to do their jobs like they were supposed to, something that was, and has continued to be, all but impossible during the crony-driven Bush regime.
Mr. Bush thinks he has "taken the fight to the terrorists" in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he's done so "with strong allies" at his side, and that his two campaigns have been successful. Almost without exception, the adversaries we have created during our expeditions in the Middle East had nothing to do with 9/11 and wouldn't be fighting us at all if we hadn't pitched a tent in their back yard. The closest thing we have to allies now are the European countries that contributed troops to the effort to bail us out in Afghanistan, and they only did that as a last gasp effort to save NATO, whose reason for existance crumbled along with the Berlin Wall.
Mr. Bush's victorious surge in Iraq has left us with a dead man's switch in our hands. His "main man," General David Petraeus, bought an uneasy peace by bribing militiamen not to use the weapons he gave them. Now we have to stick around forever to make sure the payola gets to the right warlords or the country will go up for grabs again. And we're about to embark on Son of Surge, deploying 30,000 additional troops to "repeat the success" and pay off crooked Afghan chieftains.
"Our nation is safer than it was seven years ago," according to Mr. Bush, but global terror has skyrocketed since 9/11, and as Bush himself admits, "the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack."
Mr. Bush took "decisive measures to safeguard our economy" in the closing days of his regime, but it was the interminable days before them that doubled our national debt as we pursued self-defeating wars that were entirely avoidable.
There has been "no higher honor" for Mr. Bush than serving as our military's commander in chief, but there has been no greater shame than the way in which he abused his stewardship of our troops: sending them into appalling wars, neglecting them when they came home wounded, and exploiting them for his own political gain.
At his press conference, Mr. Bush said that the thing he worried about most was "the Constitution of the United States." Thanks to him, the rest of us have to worry whether it will ever be restored.
Throughout his tenure as president, Mr. Bush had "the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right."
Bush's conscience is that of a spoiled, rich ne'er do well whose daddy bought him a set of values in the person of Billy Graham for his 40th birthday. People like Bush never have to pass a test they can't cheat on or commit a sin they can't make someone else burn for. Bush and his kind make moral decisions by paying someone to tell them whatever they did was the right thing.
And so Mr. Bush—part Macbeth, part Richard III, part Lear, but all fool—has taken his curtain call.
It's too bad we didn't give him the hook a long, long time ago.