Against my better judgment, I watched Bush's farewell speech last night. Like his final press conference earlier in the week, I mostly found myself wondering if I'd somehow managed to tune into a speech being given by an alternate reality Bush in which his policies had actually worked and made sense. He clearly has not and never will accept a shred of responsibility for the cavalcade of disastrous mistakes he's made over the last eight years and won't suffer a moment's regret over them.
I was almost literally stunned during his press conference that his idea of something he might have done differently during Katrina was land Air Force One somewhere in the affected area instead of doing a flyover. I have no fucking clue how he thinks that would have helped or why he thinks that would have been better. He may actually be stupider and more vacuous than even I, a firm believer since before his election as President that he was -- with no hyperbole -- a moron, thought, if this is a good example of his hindsight and what he thinks about when he thinks about how he could have done a better job.
And he actually tried to take credit for a quick Federal response by using the rescue of victims from the roofs of homes by Coast Guard helicopters as his example. Except that those Coast Guard helicopters weren't part of any organized Federal response stood up in response to Katrina. Those Coast Guard helicopters responded independently as part of the Coast Guard's normal mission.
You see, the Coast Guard is always ready to do stuff like that, because their job is to like, you know, guard the goddamned coast, which kind of entails being ready at a moment's notice. The Bush regime didn't have a damned thing to do with it. The Coast Guard's mission was exactly the same under Clinton and they'd have done the exact same thing then, they'd have done the exact same thing if Gore had been President, and they'll do the exact same thing if something like that happens under Obama. The part Bush and his political appointees did have control and responsibility for, the part of the Federal response that isn't automatic and needs to be coordinated, the FEMA part, the Homeland Security part, the National Guard part, all that, well, that's the part that got screwed up, jackass. You don't get to take credit for the one part that happens automatically just because it is the one part that worked.
But, back to the speech, he sort of had this paternalistic, self-satisfied, almost condescending thing going on that I probably should have been pissed off about, but somehow, now that he's finally about to retire to being brush-clearer-in-chief, just reminds me of the fact that he's only acting like he knows what the hell he's talking about. That, though he thinks he's kind of wisely reiterating the past eight years from his priveleged vantage of knowledge from on high, he's really just reciting false talking points that he has come to believe are true. He's the emperor standing naked before us, but he's the only one who doesn't realize he has no clothes.
In fact, the speech made me realize that, given how we all, to a greater or lesser extent, rewrite out memories, consciously or unconsciously, Bush almost certainly believes things about himself that are clearly untrue to the most casual outside observer. It occurs to me that Bush almost certainly believes that he did not freeze in that school the morning of 9/11 in front of all those kids. I mean, he clearly did. You can see it on his face. When he's told a second plane hit the towers, he freezes up like spit in Antarctic wind. There's nothing going on behind his eyes. I think he understood, probably, that it was a terrorist attack at that point... it was pretty impossible not to (though after the Katrina 'landing Air Force One' thing I can't be sure). I'll give him that much, anyway. But there's not another damned thought in his head. There just isn't. But I'm telling you now, that Bush doesn't remember it that way. Truly, truly doesn't remember it that way. Not in a bullshit, lying to himself but knows better sort of way, either, but seriously. Things he didn't think of until hours or days later, he now thinks were running through his head in that very moment, right then, holding that children's book in that school. I just know it. No one can lie to themselves as well as Bush would have to to believe what he believes. And I'm telling you that I'd bet a lot of money on the fact that Bush believes that his mind leapt into action in that moment, the morning of 9/11, and that he didn't freeze, and you will never, ever convince him otherwise, because that is how he truly remembers it.
Amazingly, though, out there in the blogosphere, Bush still has his defenders. The people who think Bush did a great job and people like me just don't want to see it because of how much we hate Bush because we have "BDS," or Bush Derangement Syndrome. They, like Bush, talk about how Bush will be vindicated someday by history. Perhaps. It's always possible. But I wouldn't put money down on it. The evidence is pretty firmly against it, enough so that the people who make that claim are really making it on little more than wishful thinking. But it is still amazing to me how some people can really look at Bush's record and think that anyone who finds it lacking must be ideologically biased not to see that it is excellent. People who watched his speech last night and spent the whole time nodding in agreement with everything he said. Yes, it's true, there are people, who were, at the exact same moment you (if you did) and I were watching Bush's self-serving, unintentionally ironic, reality-defying speech, who, as far as they were concerned, were appreciatively watching an accurate, truthful, and heartfelt summation of Bush's legacy. It's true.
I would like to note, on the occasion of his departure, for the record, that Bush does have two accomplishments for which he deserves praise, and so I, not being deranged, will give him said praise. Firstly, he promised an increase in foreign aid for AIDS sufferers in Africa, and he did greatly increase that funding far beyond what any other President has committed. According to NPR and the BBC, Bush's AIDS programs in Africa have saved countless lives, and he deserves to be lauded for this. Secondly, though I fear that this accomplishment will come to naught as it will likely be cancelled by a cash-strapped Obama administration due to the tough economic climate, Bush did direct NASA to begin work on manned missions to both the moon and Mars. And while this may just seem like something I like because I am a science fiction geek that isn't really important, in truth, in the long run, there is nothing more important to the future of the human race than making sure we aren't all living on the same planet. Because another extinction-level event like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs isn't only likely but inevitable, and if we have all our eggs in one basket, it will be the end of us.
Now, some may wonder why I don't include the surge in Bush's accomplishments. Perhaps some would think I am unwilling to admit I was wrong about the surge, since I vigorously opposed it, and yet things are, by all accounts, in much better shape in Iraq since the surge took place. But I am willing to admit when I am wrong. I just don't know if I'm wrong here or not. The truth is that I don't know if the surge worked. And, whether he admits it or not, neither does Bush, and whether they admit it or not, neither do the neocons. Why not? Because, at the same time the surge started, the US military also started paying Sunni insurgents to stop fighting us and start fighting Al-Qaeda. Now, that's not necessarily a bad idea. It's not clear yet how that, ultimately, is going to work out, because it's not clear how long we're going to be willing to keep paying the Sunnis and what they might do after we stop paying them not to fight us. But the point is that I opposed the plan I was told about: the surge. I'm not sure what I would have thought about the surge + paying Sunnis not to fight us. And the people on the right who argued for the surge who now claim the surge worked? They were supporting the surge, not the surge + paying Sunnis not to fight us. I'm not saying it was illegitimate for the Bush regime to change its strategy or to use a multi-pronged strategy; it certainly was. It's actually wise to do so. (Though, once again, I'm not necessarily endorsing the ones they actually chose). But it does change the landscape of the debate in a way that makes talking about "the surge" as an independent entity mostly meaningless. We can debate about the Bush regime's overall strategy for the past two years or so, but to talk about the surge as a discrete event borders on the ridiculous. That's why I haven't done so, won't, and haven't.
So, anyway, how to sum up eight years? I could go on and on: Gonzales, US Attorneys, Katrina, Abu-Graib, Gitmo, warrantless wiretapping, Patriot Act, Harriet Miers, Halliburton, Rumsfeld's incompetence, the infamous Bin Laden daily intelligence brief, intelligence failures about WMDs in Iraq, Bush gazing into Putin's soul, Cheney shooting a guy in the face, failing to capture Bin Laden, military tribunals, unconstitutional "faith-based" initiatives (that look like they're here to stay), ban on stem-cell research, attempting to destroy social security, squandering a budget surplus and running up an enormous debt, "free speech" zones, the housing bubble, Cheney claiming executive powers for the VP but that the VP isn't in the executive branch, the "axis of evil" speech, letting North Korea get nuclear weapons, failing to engage with Iran and squandering the goodwill of the world after 9/11, signing statements, attempting to do away with habeus corpus, flouting the Geneva Conventions, extraordinary rendition, "losing" e-mails, abuse of executive privelege, the Valerie Plame scandal, push-polling, false claims of voter and registration fraud, illegal political hiring at the Justice Department...
And I'm sure I could think of more. But the fact is that The Onion, in one of its amazing moments of prescience, summed up the Bush regime before Bush even took office, way back in 2000, with an article with a headline that could not have been more perfect:
BUSH: OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE OF PEACE AND PROSPERITY IS FINALLY OVER