Wednesday, January 14, 2009

George Bush's Final Press Conference.

President George W. Bush gave his very last press conference this past Monday. Throughout his time in office, Dubya has made a point of showing his disdain for the national media by giving it few opportunities to substantially question him about national policy. Even when he did appear in front of the press, he was evasive and cocky. Now that he is in his last week as the national executive, he is obviously thinking about his legacy. So he apparently decided to give a handful of reporters an opportunity to help him get a head start in rehabilitating his record. I stumbled across the live coverage by accident. The Q-and-A session was held during lunchtime on a workday. I have no doubt the White House communications director insisted on that.

If you went from being a major world leader with a near-record-high approval rating in the first year of your presidency, to a documented record-low by your last year- would you be eager to stand up and face the nation in prime time? This guy is literally slinking away under the weight of his own failure. He doesn't have much wiggle room to make himself look good. What could he possibly say that would make the average American feel better after the last eight years (besides an acknowledgment that he is leaving)? Certainly there was a bit more than a hint of bloodthirsty anticipation apparent in the tone of some of the journalists lobbing their queries. It was clear that a lot of them felt they deserved a shot or two after two frustrating Bush terms.

Yet I have to give him credit for having a sense of humor. Bush knows how much many of the Washington correspondents dislike him and his administration. And naturally he has a response for that, filled with a complicated mix of hubris and unreflective comedy. In fact this was one of the highlights of the entire press conference as far as I'm concerned- he actually compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, pointing out that the 16th president had plenty of critics too (just like the 43rd). But the funniest thing is that he said that he came about this revelation from reading a lot about Lincoln's presidency. It makes me wonder about the authorship of the literature that passes through Bush's hands.

Still, when the POTUS says that the press often "misunderestimated" me, it does show a certain cognizance of the general level of respect many Americans have for him. No doubt the average citizen could come up with a laundry list of mistakes he/she believes that Mr. Bush has made. And one wouldn't even need to necessarily read books to compile items for that list. That reality makes it especially difficult to understand George Bush's demonstrated inability to assess his own record. At least he has finally come around to identifying the "Mission Accomplished" carrier landing as a "mistake". To wit- "It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.

When it comes to talking about "the enemy', George W. Bush has never had any trouble in using the broadest and most sensational terminology. Yet when it comes to his own actions, he can be a master of understatement. The debacle of Abu Ghraib... the response to Katrina,.. starting a "pe-emptive war on the pretext of WMD that never turned up- these were things (in Dubya's words) that "didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way." Give him credit for realizing that some folks viewed these issues as serious. During the majority of his presidency it was often hard to figure out just what the hell was going through his mind. Some people will insist that he was just plain stupid, but I'm not sure I agree. Either way, I'll leave you with a few other choice cuts from his "ultimate exit interview":



"I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be damaged amongst some of the elite, but people still understand America stands for freedom, that America is a country that provides such great hope."

"And in terms of the decisions that I had made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the Constitution of the United States, and putting plans in place that makes it easier to find out what the enemy is thinking, because all these debates will matter not if there's another attack on the homeland."

"We had a -- people -- we -- I had a fabulous team around me of highly dedicated, smart, capable people, and we had fun. I tell people that, you know, some days happy, some days not so happy, every day has been joyous."

"And I thank you for giving me a chance to defend a record that I am going to continue to defend, because I think it's a good, strong record."

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