On Monday, President George W. Bush delivered his final press conference - barring him declaring marshal law in the next week. It was another stunning performance from our dear departing commander in chief, a man who in so many ways has defined this generation. While not always on the flavorful cusp of the nation's best-and-brightest idiocies, let us give the man credit: he does his best.
When offered a chance to demonstrate some - hell, any, or whatever - humility and admit any mistakes, Bush offered a stirring treatise slamming the criticism he's received for his administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. In some ways, this small nugget of wisdom encapsulates the entire Bush presidency:
"I've thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that and -- is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, how could you possibly have ﬂown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police ofﬁcers that were needed to expedite trafﬁc out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?"
Where to begin... So the other alternative on the table for him and his staff, other than ignoring a drowning city for five days, allowing people to die of dehydration, was landing his own personal plane in the heart of New Orleans? While I considered looking back into the press coverage, I'm going to go out a limb stead: nobody suggested that. No one. Not a single biased liberal journalist.
To Bush's credit, it's a compelling narrative. Imagine the video footage, grainy and handheld, as journalists follow the president off of his plane, down the gangplank, and through the ruined streets of New Orleans. He comes to the body of a fallen child; he picks the little boy up, only to have the child sputter back to life in his arms. Bush holds him close, and the cameras would pull in for the close-up. He carries women and children back to the plane, pulling them to safety and putting them in the hands of medical professionals. Others would rise up around him, following his lead. He would walk the streets as the city's savior, endangering his own life to bring hope to the hearts of these people.
Like with the Iraqi people, Bush could capture our hearts but he never bothered with our minds.
This sort of mythic imagery, big and bloated, as melodramatic as the latest Dan Brown novel, is old hat for Bush. He loves it. He positively revels in it, even when it's necessary. Remember his speech at Ground Zero? The Axis of Evil? Calling out Saddam Hussein on national TV? Mission Accomplished on an aircraft carrier? His political capital after the 2004 election? This pattern is the administration's approach to everything: go big, go dramatic, go meaning over substance, symbolism over competence.
In the end, it's a fitting goodbye to this nation's 43rd President. Instead of offering a heartfelt apology to the people he has failed, Bush gives them one more dramatic flourish that, like a ill-formed concluding sentence at the end of a newspaper editorial, is full of sound and fury, signifying not much at all.