Wednesday, January 14, 2009

How We Will Remember President Bush

So what is with politicians who like to talk about themselves long after most people are still interested in hearing about them? Back when Sarah Palin was selected to be John McCain’s VP pick, there was a line of people clamoring to hear her speak and answer questions. But her campaign did its best to make sure that only a few selected people could interview her. And most notably, she never appeared on any of the Sunday morning interview shows unlike the other three presidential and vice presidential candidates. But now that the campaign is over, she simply won’t go away and speculates on what went wrong in the campaign — due of course to the faults of others.

Most recently, we have President Bush who during his presidency was notorious for how few press conferences he held, has appeared (in addition to VP Dick Cheney) on a number of news and talk shows to give "exit interviews" defending the years of his presidency. Indeed both Bush and Cheney have repeatedly said while in office that polls and popularity are unimportant to them but now at the end of their terms they are now working on trying to make sure we remember them favorably. If they didn’t care what we thought of them while they were in office, why do they care now what we think of them?

The most recent installment was his
final press conference which he used to mostly defend his record and reluctantly admit some mistakes although making no apologies. While it is easy for Bush’s many critics to list many things worth griping about, some of what he specifically said at the press conference is worth reflecting on.

In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession; I am ending on recession. In the meantime there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth.

But as even the conservative Wall Street Journal wrote, when it comes to job growth, Bush has the Worst Track Record on Record especially compared to Bill Clinton.

There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.

Abu Ghraib in graphic photos showed the world that we tortured. Our standing in the world community took a major fall. And while not finding those weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify our war in Iraq was a “significant disappointment”, his VP Dick Cheney said that based on what we now know about Saddam Hussein’s lack of WMDs, it was still the right decision to invade Iraq. So this gives ample ammunition to those who feel that Bush and/or Cheney had decided early on in their administration to invade Iraq whether they could find WMDs or not.

But while the president enjoyed support from especially his Republican base on the economy and Iraq, his mishandling of Katrina gave those of all political persuasions reason to believe that his administration was not only insensitive to those in need but also incompetent. For Bush, doing something apparently means flying into the disaster area for a photo-op instead of actually helping the people of New Orleans to recover from the disaster.

I've thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that and -- is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, how could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?

And the other thing is, when I get out of here, I'm getting off the stage. I believe there ought to be, you know, one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I've had my time in the klieg lights.

When many of us think of Bush in the klieg lights, we can't help but remember his address to Katrina victims from New Orleans’ Jackson Square.

Mr. Bush delivered his speech, carried live by the major television networks, in the middle of the city's darkened French Quarter, where Army troops from the 82nd Airborne Division were on patrol. The Bush White House, well practiced in the art of presidential stagecraft, provided its own generators for the lighting and communications equipment that beamed Mr. Bush's remarks to the nation.

"And tonight I also offer this pledge of the American people: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," Mr. Bush said.

It was a wonderful speech that gave the evacuees comfort and encouragement.

When Mr. Bush talked about breaking the cycle of poverty and increasing the rate of home ownership on the Gulf Coast, one evacuee shouted, "Thank you! Thank you!" Others at the shelter, at the civic center in Houma, a small city southwest of New Orleans, nodded in approval at several points during the speech.

"I feel very encouraged because he's accepted responsibility, and in doing that, I feel that he has stepped up to the plate," said Evelyn Green, 58, a retired health care worker from the New Orleans area. "He touched me. I know now he's going to be there to help us rebuild our cities and towns. I take him at his word. I want to see everything he said tonight fulfilled."

But for the many who took him at his word and gave him the benefit of the doubt, they soon found the speech to be little more than false hope.

In the president's State of the Union speech (in 2006), delivered just five months after the disaster, the devastation merited only 156 words out of more than 5,400.

On Tuesday night (in 2007), the president spoke for almost exactly as long before a joint session of Congress. But Katrina received not a single mention.

That pretty much says it all. Despite all of the “exit interview” fluff to the contrary, the economy, the war in Iraq, and the legacy of devastation and suffering still going on in some parts of New Orleans is how most of us will remember the presidency of George W. Bush.

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