George W. Bush gave his final speech to the nation on Thursday night. I skipped it to see my daughter, who has known no other president, perform with her school chorus. But when I later sat before my television to see how the speech was being punditized on the cable news shows, I was surprised. The water-landing of a US Airways flight in New York City dominated the coverage. There was little chatter–almost nothing–about Bush’s farewell.
After watching the speech on the White House website, I understood why. It was flat and short. Bush said little of interest. He dwelled mostly on 9/11 and the so-called war on terror, once again (and for the last official time) characterizing the invasion of Iraq as part of his effort to take “the fight to the terrorists.” He suggested that although the Iraq war was the subject of “legitimate debate,” there “can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.”
Was the nation’s safety ensured because Bush invaded Iraq and did not finish the fight in Afghanistan? No doubt, he and his ever-dwindling band of defenders will continue to insist that it is so–just as a rooster might insist there is a connection between his crowing and the rising of the sun. And Bush defended himself for having been “willing to make the tough decisions”–as if making hard choices is the same as making wise ones.
For most of the 13 minutes he spoke, Bush offered surface-level observations. He provided one quote, noting that President Thomas Jefferson once remarked, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” It’s no wonder Bush fancies this line. Given that he is passing to Barack Obama a country burdened with two unresolved wars and an economy in severe decline, Bush certainly would rather look forward (and hope his now unpopular presidency comes to be seen in better terms down the road) than face the present-day consequences of his actions and inaction.
Ernest Hemingway, I believe, once observed that what one doesn’t put on the page is as important as what one does. And what Bush did not discuss in his farewell address also defines his presidency. Here is a partial list:
* Climate change
* North Korea
* Osama bin Laden
* Nuclear weapons
* Health insurance
* National debt
* Budget deficit
* Trade deficit
* Wall Street
* Financial regulation
* Dow Jones
* Retirement security
* Social Security
* Automobile industry
* Subprime credit
What else is there to say? In the end, after eight long and traumatic years, Bush did not have much to tell us. Who wouldn’t rather watch a miracle airplane landing than a failure saying goodbye?
This was first posted at www.davidcorn.com.
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