No, I didn’t watch George W. Bush’s “farewell address” last night, figuring my blood pressure was high enough. Reading it today brings no particular insights, other than the feeling that Bush’s once-proud claims have now become bits and pieces of self-exculpatory evidence of the sort that criminal defendents offer at sentencing hearings.
Spencer Ackerman, in the Washington Independent, offers the best brief take I’ve seen:
It’s hard to remember, but in 2000, Bush’s campaign plane was called Accountability One. Nearly nine years later, his speech is about why he shouldn’t be judged by his disastrous results, but instead by what was in his heart.
If there’s any real parting gift that George W. Bush has given conservatives, it’s that they can no longer use Jimmy Carter’s presidency as a laugh line. Carter never seriously argued that his presidency succeeded because only 3000 people died from terrorism on American soil while he was president. Indeed, the speech’s most inspiring stories are about people who persevered despite his policies:
“We see America’s character in Dr. Tony Recasner, a principal who opened a new charter school from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina … We’ve seen it in Staff Sergeant Aubrey McDade, who charged into an ambush in Iraq and rescued three of his fellow Marines.”
Indeed, the only “results” Bush could cite in his speech was something that didn’t happen, another terrorist attack on the United States. I’ve always felt that this “accomplishment” was ultimately the reason he was re-elected in 2004, even if few Americans really bought the idea that invading Iraq had cowed or distracted al Qaeda into inaction. But eventually the visible results of Bush’s policies overwhelmed his one invisible claim to success. And that’s why he bids us farewell offering the plea of all failed leaders: I Meant Well.