It's hard to say anything new or interesting about George W. Bush's farewell address Thursday night. But one thing is worth noting about Bush's self-presentation: several times he refers to "tough decisions" that proved unpopular:
Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.
Here's the thing: Bush has never conveyed the impression that he found it hard to make decisions. Quite the opposite. Being "the decider" seemed quite easy for him, something he relished. Bush never really bucked public opinion -- that would imply some reckoning with the reasons for opposition to his policies and for his own unpopularity -- he simply ignored it. And once he made a call he rarely looked back, claiming to be untroubled by whatever negative consequences might flow from it.
So, I think the focus on "tough decisions" is another post-hoc rationalization. Bush's decisions were "tough" not because he carefully weighed difficult issues and possible outcomes, but tough in hindsight because many of those decisions had disastrous results that the public deplored. Bush is trying to make himself look courageous for keeping his hand on the tiller during hard times, implying that was what made him unpopular. But in fact most of this mess was of his own making.