“The Ultimate Exit Interview”

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George W. Bush at His Final Press Conference

W.’s Final Steps in Rewriting His Legacy

He walked in affable and waving. After all, it was going to be his moment. He greeted the Washington Press Corps as if they were old friends about to have a final chat. The amiability was short and sweet. The first question hit like a boxing glove, and George W. Bush’s plans for a friendly get together took it right on the chin.

“I hope the tone is different for him than it was for me . I’m disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. . . . It’s just that the rhetoric got out of control, declared George W. Bush during his final press conference of his administration. And I think that it’s a very telling quote. George W. Bush is still in denial. The press made everything so negative for him, and his response was “disappointment.”

But let us pause her a moment to reflect with the 43rd president. His disappointment was over things such as the abuse of prisoners (torture) at Abu Ghraib, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Well, okay. I believe the American people are disappointed over Abu Ghraib, the response to Hurrican Katrina, and the fact that we were led into a war because of the loud declarations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The difference? Bush’s disappointment seems to be that things did not go as he expected or as he wanted. The use of torture was made public, and can be chalked up to a few rogue people. The response to Katrina was very slow in coming, and if only there were WMD in Iraq, he could say, “I told you so.”

Our disappointment with the same things but for different reasons: The ire of Abu Ghraib wasn’t over the few people involved, it was over the use of torture and that use being condoned by those in positions to make those decisions. The response to Katrina was very slow in coming: Looking down from an airplane on the mass destruction below is not a president being on the scene, and by the way, how are the levees coming? And WMD, we didn’t believe in them in the first place.

For example, while discussing one of the worst storms to hit the country in history, Bush said that he debated as to whether or not he should land when flying over Katrina but decided that he did not want to “burden” local officials with his presence. Why does he still not understand that at a time of crisis as encompassing as Katrina, the President of the United States needed to be seen and heard, but more than that, he needed to be reacting in a timely way.

 The record shows how poorly the administration reacted even though they were warned in advance that the landfall was going to be devastating. But don’t say that to President Bush: “Don’t tell me the federal response was slow when there was [sic] 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed.”

(And by the way, people who fly helicopters are called pilots, not drivers, but as the president pointed out: “Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.”)

What’s amazing is that W. still doesn’t understand that coming clean doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand what you did wrong. Confession may be good for the soul, but confession without self-realization is wasted rhetoric. For example, take his comment on Abu Ghraib: “I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way.” And the plan was to make sure that the public did not find out about the torture? Or was there another plan?

Also very telling was W.’s preface to many answers with phrases such “the challenge was,” “the problem was,” and “the question is.” No, Mr. President. The point of the press conference is to talk about your administration’s answers and solutions. 

Bush’s biggest problem has always been the perception of his intentions. Believe it or not, I don’t think of W. as an evil man, certainly nowhere in the leagues of Dick Cheney. I just think that the current president has always been just one step out of sync with just about everything that he has done, right down to choosing the people who advised him—Cheney and Rumsfeld anyone?

Again, in the department of admissions of things that went wrong, Bush mentioned the huge “Mission Accomplished” banner: “Clearly, putting `Mission Accomplished’ on an aircraft carrier was a mistake,” he said. You think? It was that whole cowboy mentality that so many people found shocking just two months after the war in Iraq had begun, especially in light of the fact that the U.S. was still suffering casualties even as the president was declaring victory. How does a nation’s citizenry reconcile two such disparate images?

Bush’s demeanor during the press conference ranged the gamut from playful (“It’s a pretty cool job”), to regretful (on the “Mission Accomplished” banner: “It sent the wrong message), to self-deprecating (answering question about critics: “Sure. You know any?”), to downright defiant: “I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged,” when responding to a question about America’s standing in the world. “But people still understand America stands for freedom; that America is a country that provides such great hope,” he continued.

In the end though, George Bush still came across as a man who really does not know or cannot accept how the world sees him, declaring at one point, “You know, presidents can try to avoid hard decisions, and therefore avoid controversy. That’s just not my nature. I’m the kind of person that, you know, is willing to take — to take on hard—hard tasks.”

And then a few minutes later saying, “One thing about the presidency is that you can make—only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand . . . You don’t—you don’t get to have information after you’ve made the decision. That’s not the way it works. And you’re—you stand by your decisions and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made.

Crystal clear.

Self-justification, hostility, defiance, imagined self-pity to take the glare of the real self-pity . . . It wasn’t great oratory, but it lasted over 46 minutes, and Bush gave us more of his real legacy in this 46 minutes than he realizes. All attempts at legacy refurbishing at this point are meaningless. After all, W. himself said, “You know, where does a president’s—did a president’s decisions have the impact that he thought they would—or he thought they would, over time?”

And in conclusion: “My view is is that most people around the world, they respect America. And some of them doesn’t like me—I understand that—some of the writers and the, you know, opiners and all that. That’s fine. That’s part of the deal.”

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President Bush Leaves His Final Press Conference

I would have to say, though, that there was one point about this press conference that I truly enjoyed: Its conclusion. It’s the last press conference with a president that we’ll hear in quite a while in which the English language is turned on its ear.

For anyone wishing to check my use of Bush’s quotes, I direct you to the source: the actual transcript of the press conference, which can be found at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/01/12/raw-data-transcript-bushs-white-house-press-conference/. (I deliberately used Fox News for the transcript lest I be accused of relying too much on MSNBC.

And that gentle folks, leaves us with 7 more days in which George W. Bush can attempt to persuade us that all is well and has been for eight long years, in spite of 9/11, two wars, natural disasters, rising unemployment, and a fiscal crisis bordering on the Great Depression.

Of course, there will be more later. Peace.