BUSH: WHY I DESERVE AN INCOMPLETE
Frank Rich has a fine column in today's New York Times, in which he tries to explain a paradox: Why does George W. Bush, a man who failed on such a titanic scale, seem like a small, pathetic, laughable, forgettable person rather than a Shakespearean villain or tragic figure? Rich's analysis of the "narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever" whose "arrogance ... allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step" is mostly spot-on -- but I have one small quibble. It's with this:
The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush's final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. "I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting," he told C-Span.
Actually, if you look at that C-SPAN interview, he doesn't seem to be feeling sorry for himself so much as acting like an irresponsible undergraduate who hopes we'll buy his excuse for not finishing an assignment on time:
Q You've had a tough couple of years. Most second Presidents have had tough second terms. Why is that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in my case, I was a wartime President and war is very exhausting. War is hard for a country.
Notice that pivot -- from himself to the country. Or is he even talking about himself when he says that "war is very exhausting"? It's almost as if he's saying mistakes were made because the country was too tired to do a good job in his second term.
That would certainly be in keeping with other Bush remarks in recent interviews, some of which are cited by Rich -- about the economic collapse being the result of "decisions that were made on Wall Street ... over a decade or so, before I arrived," or about 9/11 and the failures in Iraq being the result of facts that were unknowable, or misunderstood by other people.
I'd love to charge Bush with a "bottomless capacity for self-pity," but I just don't think it's that exactly -- he just wants us to feel sorry enough for him that we'll absolve him of responsibility for anything that went wrong on his watch. He certainly doesn't seem to have found presidentin' to be very exhausting; quite the country, as he explained to ABC's Charlie Gibson:
I think, at least from my administration, I think they'd be surprised at how our team has worked so closely together. Some days we're not so happy, some days happy; every day has been pretty joyous, though -- that when you have a purpose in life, that no matter what it may look like from afar, that we're a highly motivated group of people that are honored to serve.
In other words, I think people look at the White House and say, oh, man, what a miserable experience it is to be President. You know, there's a lot of noise, a lot of criticism, a lot of name-calling, a lot of this, a lot of that. But I think people would be surprised when they walked in the Oval Office and the White House to see a highly motivated group of people that really enjoy what we're doing.
See? It wasn't his fault. He was joyous and motivated. His subordinates were joyous and motivated. As on his many jogging and biking jaunts with honored guests, he was fine -- it was the country that got tired and couldn't keep up.