Monday, Jan. 12, 2009

Bush's Final Message

Running for re-election in 2004, George W. Bush was stumped when asked to name some of his mistakes. Now, with four years to think about it, he's identified a few. Note to future Presidents: Don't stand under a banner declaring MISSION ACCOMPLISHED unless you're darn sure it has been. "It sent the wrong message," Bush explained at his final press conference. The event was equal parts wistful, wry, confessional and defiant. Set it to music and you'd have Sinatra.

The President even added a little Bushism to his mea culpa, one more for the road. "We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless it conveyed a different message," Bush said — counting, as always, on his inflection, brow-wrinkling and calisthenic widening and narrowing of the eyes to get across his meaning. Maybe they should engrave that one over the doors of the future Bush Library. Love him or hate him, Bush has undeniably been a President who tried doing things differently, but nevertheless got different results. He is the free-market apostle who wound up ordering massive government intervention. The clarion of free trade and lawful immigration who leaves office with protectionism and isolationism resurgent. The would-be uniter with the wedgelike effect.

Though Bush has been "landslided" in the polls (a Bushism for "badly whipped"), he believes his stock will rise eventually. Consider: 52 months of prosperity between recessions. A situation in Iraq less calamitous than it once was. Even in the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, Bush found a silver lining: the large number of people rescued from rooftops after the levees failed. "I think it's a good, strong record," he said.

In the banter we glimpsed again the man who won millions of votes in Texas and tens of millions nationwide. As he set his gaze on life outside "the klieg lights," Bush launched his Administration into the past tense, where he and history can ponder what might have been different.