Bush's Eternal Sunshine

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, July 1, 2008; 1:17 PM

As President Bush's time in office winds down, his bubble is as impenetrable as ever.

Bush's approval ratings are in the toilet and there are ample signs that the nation is hungering for a new direction. Yet Bush's aides say they believe the public's attitude has improved -- apparently because he sees less hostility on his increasingly furtive trips outside the White House --- and in a meeting yesterday with a group of sycophantic journalists, Bush insisted that he's in a great mood.

Larry Kudlow blogs for National Review: "President George W. Bush was strong and in good spirits as he met this morning with a small group of journalists for about 90 minutes in the Oval Office. Topics across the board were discussed. As always in these meetings, some of the juiciest stuff is off the record. Too bad, because the president has an awful lot of important things to say on so many of these issues. But ground rules are ground rules."

Kudlow nevertheless paraphrases some of what Bush had to say about the economy, none of it new with the exception of Bush's apparent belief that Europe's economy is even weaker than ours.

"Mr. Bush reiterated what he has said in a number of these meetings, that in the office of the president, character matters a lot. He said you have to have clear principles and strong beliefs to execute all the responsibilities that are part of the job."

Kudlow concludes: "I would say as someone who has been privileged to attend these gatherings in the past, not only did the president show the inner strength he always has, but when he does reflect on the tumultuous events of his tenure, he is completely at peace with himself and his decisions."

Jonah Goldberg writes in his Los Angeles Times opinion column: "The session, maddeningly and often foolishly punctuated by long, off-the-record musings and soliloquies, mostly dealt with foreign policy. . . .

"Dressed in a pale blue suit with a crisp blue tie, the president seemed to be in high spirits as he discussed developments in North Korea and other diplomatic initiatives, crushing my hopes for a poignant 'Bush in winter' column."

It's unclear exactly how much of the following argument -- that Bush's most extreme conduct actually falls within the usual range of presidential behavior -- Goldberg got directly from Bush. But he writes:

"[W]hether it is ultimately deemed a failure or a success, there is one inconvenient fact of the Bush presidency that should prove dismaying to those who've invested so much in demonizing it: It isn't that special.

"Many of its supposedly radical features fit neatly in the mainstream of American presidential history. Extraordinary rendition? That practice (in which we send terrorists to foreign countries to be interrogated under laxer rules) began under President Clinton. Aggressive interrogations, for good or ill, surely predate 2001. Holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo without benefit of a trial? As terrorism expert Andrew C. McCarthy notes in National Review, we were doing that under the first President Bush and under Clinton to innocent Haitian refugees, who got even less due process than we give captured enemy combatants.

"Even the invasion of Iraq will probably seem to historians, in part, as a continuation of trends begun in the Persian Gulf War and extended by Clinton's (and Britain's) attacks in 1998."

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