It's true what he said: we misunderestimated him.
George Bush came into his presidency with a huge wave of goodwill. Not from me, but from the others. An amazing number of people who should have known better thought of him as a charming guy whose intellectual limitations would somehow be as benign as Ronald Reagan's, whose promise of a fairly passive presidency would be as survivable as Dwight Eisenhower's. So he couldn't seem to get a sentence out straight, so what? And as for his religious rigidity, that was simply his way of dealing with an alcohol problem without the sloppy conventions of AA.
He was misunderestimated in every way. It was hard to imagine that this feckless leader could do so much damage. But even as the worst emerged, he was given the benefit of the doubt because of the ongoing mysteries of his administration -- mysteries that have remained unsolved in spite of the skills of hundreds of gifted journalists who have attempted to uncover them:
- Who exactly was running the country these last eight years?
- What did the President know, if anything, and when did he know it, if ever?
- Was he capable in any way of even one sleepless night, much less the ongoing insomnia that any sentient person would suffer after so many wrong decisions and pointless deaths?
- Did he mispronounce the word "nuclear" 1) on purpose, in order to make himself seem folksy 2) because he actually thought he was pronouncing it correctly or 3) just to piss us off?
The exit appearances that Bush has made in recent weeks will be something future presidents will refer to as often as Lincoln's Second Inaugural, although for different reasons. Here's what he said:
- We did the best we could under the circumstances.
- It's not easy being President.
- It wasn't completely my fault.
- Everyone makes mistakes.
- I kept America safe, except for this one time.
- After that one time I worked really really hard almost every day and had to read a lot of stuff about foreign countries.
This is Bush's legacy -- a stunning series of alibis. This is what he will crawl off to Texas with, hoping that it will fool a publisher into giving him a substantial book advance and contributors into giving him money for a library full of pilfered papers.
On Monday, we will have to get used to a different thing entirely, a president who's in the loop, who reads history, who speaks decent English. He will rob of us of something -- of the burning anger that has sustained us the last eight years, and that will take some adjusting to. But we're up for it; after all these years in the dark, we're ready for a little overestimation. Which is, unlike misunderestimation, an actual word. But come to think of it, misunderestimation ought to be a word. I certainly know what it means.