Triumphalism Amid the Wreckage

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, December 8, 2008; 1:26 PM

The public has rejected him. The nation is in crisis -- and eager for the massive course corrections promised by an Obama presidency. But none of this appears to have penetrated President Bush's well-defended brainpan.

The president who promised to sprint to the finish is denying reality until the bitter end -- celebrating all his great successes in a continuing series of farewell speeches and interviews.

Dan Eggen writes in Saturday's Washington Post: "After a year of relentless criticism from both parties, the departing president has embarked on a valedictory tour, touting his record in television interviews and public appearances while admitting, with some hesitation, that things did not always go as planned.

"Bush asserts success in combating AIDS in Africa, preventing new terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and snatching a measure of victory in Iraq. And in a speech on the Middle East yesterday, the president sketched out a strikingly optimistic portrait of a region that has embroiled the United States in war and conflict for the past eight years. . . .

"For Bush, to be unyielding is a matter of principle. 'The thing that's important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, "I did not compromise my principles," ' Bush said in an interview with ABC News. 'And I didn't. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make.' . . .

"About two months ago, White House counselor Ed Gillespie began meeting with agency heads as part of an effort aimed at compiling the major accomplishments of the Bush administration.

"The campaign so far has included a series of television interviews, speeches and other appearances in recent weeks focused on some of Bush's favorite programs, such as initiatives to provide HIV/AIDS medicine to the developing world and to include faith-based groups in federal assistance programs."

Bush sat down with National Review editors and writers in the Oval Office on Friday. Byron York and Rich Lowry write that "during the interview -- which the president compared to doing 'jumping jacks for my own book that I'm going to be writing' -- Bush strongly defended his decision to go to war in Iraq; argued that the U.S. has better relations with many foreign nations than ever before; said he is certain that Harriet Miers would have been a great Supreme Court justice; defended his failed effort to reform Social Security; and, finally, expressed concern over Barack Obama's reported intention to undo Bush policies on, among other things, stem-cell research and missile defense."

Bush ducked even a friendly attempt to get him to say whether or not he would invaded Iraq had he known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. A president doesn't "get an opportunity to redo a decision," Bush said.

As for the future of the Republican party, York and Lowry note that "the president conceded that his eight years in office have sometimes been tough for conservatives, but said his philosophy of 'compassionate conservatism' is still the guiding belief of a majority of Americans."

But here is Bush's odd new definition of that term: "Compassionate conservatism basically says that if you implement this philosophy, your life would become better. That's what it says. And that's what it's all about. It's saying to the average person, this philosophy will help you make your life better. It's the proper use of government to enable a hopeful society to develop based upon your talents and your success."

About That Intel

The New York Times editorial board writes on Sunday: "We long ago gave up hope that President Bush would acknowledge his many mistakes, or show he had learned anything from them. Even then we were unprepared for the epic denial that Mr. Bush displayed in his interview with ABC News's Charles Gibson the other day, which he presumably considered an important valedictory chat with the American public as well. . . .

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