W’s farewell address last evening had about the same impact as a performer who’s taken one too many curtain calls, with the applause dying and house lights going up before he’s even off the stage.
It had the look of a living room recital, of the Von Trapp children singing their goodnight song. Proud family members surrounded and encouraged the little tyke, who grinned through much of his recitation—the little poem he learned, the little speech. The speech itself was as predictable as the monthly bills arriving in the mailbox and as transparent as a kid in a Halloween costume thinking he’s fooled you into believing he’s really Superman.
He paid homage to democracy, neglecting to mention what an inconvenience the Constitution proved to be during his tenure, and he wished the incoming president well, though last May he wasn’t above stoking the politics of fear by comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlain and claiming that he’d follow a policy of appeasement toward terrorists—and saying so while standing in the parliament chamber of a foreign government.
Of course, he was barely through the greetings and pleasantries before he brought up 9/11: “I remember standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center … surrounded by rescuers who had been working around the clock.” And didn’t the camera just happen to pan, at the very moment, to the face of the fire chief who stood with a cocky president’s arm slung over his shoulder while Bush uttered his threats of vengeance through a bullhorn.
But with bin-Laden still on the loose and uttering his own threats just days ago, one would think W might show some humility, maybe not want to bring our attention to all that machismo that amounted to just so much talk. But no, there he was, reciting the familiar litany, his greatest hits of the past eight years, which echoed from the altered reality in which he’s lived—and in which he's tried to convince the rest of us that we lived also:
“Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al-Qaida and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school. Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.”
No remorse, no perception that none of this is true, that acid attacks on women occur commonly in Afghanistan, where teachers risk life and limb; that Iraq isn’t quite the stable little democracy – a quaint little place, like, say, Belgium – that he imagines it to be, or wants us to imagine.
Vice President Darth sat up front, proud grandpa; wife Laura sat across the aisle, smiling, hands folded on her lap, also proud. Throughout the room were the people he would recognize – soldiers, a charter school principal, an ex-con who runs a faith-based counseling program. “Good” versus “evil” was still the theme of American diplomacy, sanctioned, of course, by “Almighty God.” “Freedom” would be delivered throughout the world, force-fed, if necessary, whatever the cost, and if you listened carefully, you could hear the code: just insert free-market whenever you heard freedom.
Well, in an irony that not even the most clichéd and maudlin made-for-TV movie could have rivaled, Bush was upstaged by a plane flying low over Manhattan yesterday afternoon. Only this time it landed safely, even if in the cold waters of the Hudson River, and thanks to the experience and ability of a pilot who has a lot of new friends this morning, everyone survived with little more than a few bruises and some badly shaken nerves.
So, whatever chance Bush had of making the front page of today’s papers evaporated as he was bumped not even to below the fold but right off the front page in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and even my local paper, The Kansas City Star.
So long, farewell, Mr. Bush!