Bush Ends With a Whimper

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 16, 2009; 1:08 PM

President Bush bid the nation goodbye last night with a simpering speech that may have appealed to those who still believe in him, but offered nothing to change the minds of the vast majority of Americans who don't.

Bush smirked and twitched while delivering a highly defensive farewell address in which he tried to hearken back to his glory days right after 9/11, sought credit for having made "tough decisions" and insisted his intentions were good.

There was no real attempt to bind the wounds he leaves in his wake. There was no apparent awareness of irony when he held up his administration as a champion of moral clarity and human dignity. He even gave himself credit for his response to the financial crisis he didn't see coming: "When challenges to our prosperity emerged, we rose to meet them," he said.

And he tried one last time to conflate his "war on terror" with the unrelated debacle in Iraq, recasting the American troops perilously occupying that benighted country as "part of a broader struggle" between "a small band of fanatics" who demand "total obedience to an oppressive ideology" and a system "based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God, and that liberty and justice light the path to peace."

In a fitting end for a presidency that has often operated in its own reality, Bush was greeted warmly by his audience -- a hand-picked selection of hangers-on and human props -- even as public-opinion polls show that the nation is way past ready to move on.

The Reaction

David Hiltbrand writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "At times, as he spoke before a handpicked audience in the East Room, Bush seemed as if he were channeling the Will Ferrell spoof of him, the blithely unaware leader who had declared the Oval Office 'a bummer-free zone.'

"The closest he came to acknowledging failure was a vague wave in its general direction. 'I have experienced setbacks,' he said. 'There are things I would do differently if given the chance.'

"But the strain Bush has been under showed. His right eye kept narrowing to an uncontrollable squint."

Robert G. Kaiser writes on washingtonpost.com: "This was a sad moment. Bush looked frail and uncomfortable to me. His inappropriate little grins were, I suspect, more a measure of that discomfort than anything else. The country is in a disastrous state, and Bush seemed to want to pretend that he was just another president ending his term of office. Tragically, we are coming to the end of one of the least successful presidencies in American history. In a month or two I suspect we will have put Bush entirely behind us. . . .

"In my view, Bush was talking down to us tonight by assuming, implicitly, that people might actually accept his rosy view of what has been happening to the country and the world while he has been president. I think this tendency to whistle past the graveyard is a large part of the explanation for his remarkably low approval ratings at the end of his presidency."

Tom Shales writes in The Washington Post: "Only his remaining ardent supporters would probably classify last night's TV appearance by President Bush as reality television. On the other hand, detractors -- a sizable group, judging by popularity polls -- would likely say George W. Bush's farewell to the nation, delivered from the East Room of the White House, had the aura of delusion and denial.

"America is suffering what is commonly being called the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, for example. Yet in Bush's speech, that crisis was euphemized into 'challenges to our prosperity,' as Bush took credit for bold steps to remedy the situation."

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