Don’t believe your lying eyes

DON’T BELIEVE YOUR LYING EYES…. Presidents don’t have to give televised farewell addresses at the end of their term. Indeed, George H. W. Bush didn’t bother, preferring to let his record speak for itself. The son would have been wise to follow his father’s example.

Watching Bush’s final speech as president, delivered from the White House’s East Room last night, was an odd experience. It was both painful and dull, which usually don’t accompany one another. Bush didn’t seem particularly engaged with what he was saying, seeming to read the speech, rather than deliver it. You could almost hear him thinking, “Who’s idea was this again?”

Most of the address was pretty boilerplate. Other than the deadly terrorist attacks that occurred on his watch, his record on national security is just wonderful. Other than his administration’s behavior on torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions, “America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity.” Other than the current collapse, his administration “took decisive measures to safeguard our economy.” Whatever.

This, however, was the quote that got my attention:

“Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.”

When reflecting on his two terms, in other words, Bush’s argument is that he didn’t deliberately fail. He acted with the nation’s best interests in mind? He did what he thought was right? Well, of course he did. What president goes around trying to undermine the country, making decisions he hopes are wrong?

The president, in this sense, set the bar as low as it can go. When parents tell a little-leaguer, “It doesn’t matter if you succeed, just do your very best,” it’s the right way to offer support to a child. Similarly, Bush seems to think having the right intentions, as he perceives them, should count, regardless of the results. He’s effectively asking the nation, “How about an ‘A’ for effort?”

I’ve heard quite a few Bush defenders of late quibble with the notion that his presidency should be considered an abject failure. But how much debate can there really be when Bush’s pitch to Americans can be boiled down to, “I gave it my best shot”?