The metaphor came from our TV screens. On the day that George W. Bush gave his farewell address, the image that got the nation’s attention was one of relieved survivors scrambling out of a jet that was sinking into icy water.
The gauzy speech itself was filled with spectacular euphemisms for the state in which the country finds itself at the end of his eight years in office. Bush described the current economic situation, which is the worst since the Great Depression, as a set of “challenges to our prosperity.” And it was as much about Bush’s intentions as his accomplishments. “I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right,” he told us.
But as our colleague David Von Drehle noted:
It’s a long way from Washington’s isolationist farewell to Bush’s ideal of universal liberty ushered in by American leadership and intervention. Someone could write a rich history of the world with those two brief speeches as bookends. On a personal level, it’s a long way from the chesty, swaggering George W. Bush of bygone years to the resigned and pensive man in the East Room, who repeatedly acknowledged the large number of people who disagree with his views. “You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made,” he said. “But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”
Hard to imagine, at his zenith, that George W. Bush would ever want to quote the Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, but one of Trotsky’s famous lines would have fit perfectly into his farewell. “You may not be interested in war,” Bush said in essence, “but war is interested in you.”
Instead, he used his own words: “Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again.” With that final warning, Bush entered the past. But was anyone listening?