Monday, January 28, 2008


Last week, we all had a chuckle at the Onion piece "Bill Clinton: 'Screw It, I'm Running for President.'" It was accompanied by a picture of Clinton eagerly shaking hands in a crowd; the caption "quotes" Clinton as saying, "Damn, this feels good."

Tonight I watched Clinton's successor -- the president in my lifetime who has aged the least while in office, even though he's served nearly two full terms and dealt with terrorism, war, recession, and utter rejection by the American public. I don't think it's just the mountain biking -- tonight as I watched his speech and watched him transition from domestic matters, which clearly bore him, to the parts about Iraq and Iran, which seem to send a jolt of bitter, angry energy right across his neck and shoulders, it became obvious to me (if it wasn't already) that these have been great years for George W. Bush, because he feels he's doing vitally important things, he feels all kinds of people hate the way he's doing those things -- and he just loves both those feelings.

Clinton often radiates utter glee on the campaign trail; Bush's bliss doesn't manifest itself in glee but, rather, in smugness and defiance -- in looking down at his enemies and thinking, "I won. You lost." His victory, of course, is permanent war -- he's a Really Important Person now and nobody can take that away from him.

It wasn't all angry bliss in the foreign-policy part of the speech. Tonight I couldn't help sensing a bit of disappointment, a barely detectable slump of the shoulders, as he said this:

In the past seven years, we've also seen images that have sobered us. We've watched throngs of mourners in Lebanon and Pakistan carrying the caskets of beloved leaders taken by the assassin's hand. We've seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets, and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs. On a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant. These horrific images serve as a grim reminder: The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America, and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.

What he seemed to be thinking was: More! I want more! For years, all the really bad things have happened overseas! Some of it should happen here, so I can be even more important than I am!

But all was well after that, because he moved on to talking about his wars, secure in the knowledge that he'll have them for all 357 remaining days of his presidency. The swagger shot back into his shoulders.

As he talked about the start of the surge a year ago -- "So we reviewed our strategy and changed course" -- I began to think that of course he didn't try to change course before then, because he couldn't bear to run the risk of losing the one thing that had ever made him feel like a significant person; he had to let the war drift along for four years because he couldn't risk the possibility of completing the mission. That would have turned him back into Dumb Old George, long before his term was over; now, fortunately for him, there's no chance of that.

Sorry, troops, that's what you've fought and bled and died for.


AND: Jacob Weisberg ended his op-ed in Monday's New York Times by talking about one aspect of Bush's persona and making a prediction for the State of the Union address:

The Compassionate Conservative will surely pay us a final visit tonight. He remains an appealing character, but a largely fictional one. I wonder how the last seven years might have turned out if he had actually existed. In the final year of a failed presidency, I bet Mr. Bush does too.

Really? I don't. Weisberg has just published a book that puts Bush on the couch, but if Weisberg thinks Bush has any doubts or regrets about anything he's done in the past seven years, he's not a very good shrink.

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