Watching President Bushâ€™s final press conference yesterday reminded me of the phrase â€œfailing upward.â€ Never in recent (and not-so-recent) history have we had a president so thoroughly unqualified for the job.Â Many sneered at Ronald Reagan because of his acting background, but few would deny that serving seven years as president of his union (Screen Actors Guild) introduced him to the art of politics in ways that would help him as governor of California, and then as president.
With George W. Bush, however, I get the sense that he went into the family business of politics because, well, there was nothing left to do.Â He had already run his business into the ground and had proven that he was not the most adroit person at heading up a baseball team, but, to his credit, he had succeeded in one thing: becoming an alcoholic.
What Karl Rove saw in George W. Bush Iâ€™ll never know.Â Perhaps it was Bushâ€™s old money insouciance that impressed the intellectually rich but monetarily poor Rove.Â Perhaps it was the idea that he had found a guy who had a high â€œEQ Factorâ€ with the masses, but was fine being a sock puppet when it came to day-to-day decisions. Maybe it was his frat boy belief that he could do anything to anyone and get away with it that made him perfect for Roveâ€™s Machiavellian designs.Â Itâ€™s difficult to know, since Turd Blossom and Dubya donâ€™t really talk about their relationship. But watching and experiencing the last eight years of the Bush Administration, itâ€™s clear Bush and his team were in awe of radical transformation. However, the fountainhead of that radical vision wasnâ€™t Bush — and therein lay the problem.Â Bush was surrounded with radicals but, if pushed, was really interested in the status quo of the country club set.Â His intellectually incurious mind, his inability to form coherent sentences, his failure at grasping the complexities of political events and exerting an artful diplomacy when needed reinforced that even Bushâ€™s puppet masters couldnâ€™t get the dummy to convincingly act the part.
Even as he stumbled his way through his final press conference, trying in vain to promote his successes (i.e., â€œIn the first 24 hours after Katrina we airlifted 30,000 people out of there.â€), and demonstrating that he could buck his free market ideological conditioning by supporting government bailouts for the financial sector, when asked about mistakes made during his presidency, he was quick to point out that the â€œMission Accomplishedâ€ sign on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 was a big mistake.Â Why?Â Well, it sent the â€œwrong messageâ€ when his administration was trying to convey â€œsomething differentlyâ€ by sending that message, but people got the wrong message.Â Ah, now that was a classic Bush moment — and something I suppose Iâ€™ll miss from our departing leader: non-sequiturs.
But even as I try and unpack the deeper meaning behind Bushâ€™s admission that he made mistakes, I couldnâ€™t help but notice that the â€œmistakesâ€ he was referring to were P.R. mistakes.Â If that damn sign wasnâ€™t there on the aircraft carrier … if he’d landed Air Force One in Baton Rouge, the press would complain that his presence would take away law enforcement from helping the public to safety … Abu Ghraib was a â€œdisappointmentâ€ … not finding WMDs in Iraq was a â€œdisappointmentâ€ … trying to reform Social Security was a mistake, but only because he didnâ€™t address immigration to dispel the view that the GOP is the party of resentful white males.
For his last hurrah in front of the press — and one where he could be as unguarded as he wanted — Bush displayed plenty of what has made him such a frustrating public figure (i.e., being mostly vague, often vacuous, rarely enlightening, and prone to annoyance).Â As I cringed through his last press conference, it was clear that the man-child who became president of a radical group of right-wingers never really drank the Kool-Aid of the movementâ€™s ideology.Â The most horrendous things could happen on his watch (i.e., wars, rendition, torture, erosion of civil liberties, financial collapse), but because this guy was obviously wrapped in cotton for the last eight years, he couldnâ€™t be bothered by it all. â€œLet history be the judgeâ€ was his recurring defense — which was probably the most politically telling thing about our 43rd president.Â In other words, itâ€™s Bushâ€™s public image that concerns him the most.