Hours before former President Bush would say farewell to a nation prepared to greet his departure with relief laced with joy, another great drama was being played out in New York City... the crash of a jetliner carrying 155 people in the Hudson River.
Literally within seconds, ferries, rafts, boats of all description surrounded the wreckage. Divers plucked frozen survivors from the frigid waters. Time was of the essence, so wrapped in blankets, the survivors were quickly ferried to the mainland, and whisked to hospitals to prevent hypothermia and to receive treatment for their physical and emotional injuries.
Everyone survived. Using inordinate skill and smarts, the pilot and co pilot had performed a miracle and averted a disaster. Along with a supporting cast of New Yorkers from the Coast Guard, the Police and Fire departments and hundreds more whose names we'll never know -- millions of Americans sat riveted in front of their television sets and witnessed The Miracle on the Hudson.
It was on every channel for hours before Bush's speech. Had he not witnessed it as well?
If not, surely one of his aides must have told him about it.
In saying farewell there was not even a mention of this extraordinary day in the country he led for eight years. In speech after speech, he had extolled the greatness of the American character, and the exceptional resilience of the American spirit.
He told us again and again that it was, in fact, that spirit of know-how and resilience that he wanted to export as he led the rest of the world out of darkness and injustice and into one of liberty and freedom.
That very spirit was on display for each of us to witness as we watched nameless heroes rescuing one life after another from the icy river that in a matter of minutes could have become their grave.
The former President could have thrown his teleprompter away and used the ferry captains and the pilots and the flight attendants and the divers as examples of that unique American spirit. In his farewell speech he could have celebrated the heroes of that day, particularly the pilot whose know- how, courage and skill embodied the American character.
He could have done this in the same way that he chose individuals to be present at eight years worth of State of the Union addresses as he applauded them for their emblematic value as either benefiting from the fruits of his accomplishments or embodying his idiosyncratic view of the special qualities of the American character.
But the same narcissism that fueled his eight year folly of a presidency blinded him from seeing the part he played in the destruction of an American city, of thousands of war dead and injured, the creation of several million refugees, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of civilian lives, and a bankrupt government both literally and figuratively as well as unemployment spiraling dangerously to records not seen in years.
That same narcissism did not allow that thought to enter his mind.
The day before George W. Bush's Farewell address hundreds of Americans had performed wondrously. And he never noticed.