…so it had that going for it. Otherwise, George W. Bush’s farewell address was a bit of a strange creature, with its tone at odds with its agenda. Message-wise, it was of a piece with the contentious last press conference Bush held this week, where he defended his record and tried to bat down notions that his administration had failed, even in such visible missteps as the handling of Katrina. (To paraphrase The Daily Show, after years of sidestepping the mainstream media, Bush was suddenly doing press “like Jan. 20 is the day his album drops.”)
Last night—addressing the public directly instead of the faces in the White House press corps—Bush had a similar defensive agenda. (I’ve tried to soften the economic crash, whether I was wrong or right I stuck to my beliefs, and I will remind you we haven’t had a terrorist attack in America since 9/11, etc.) But it was necessarily packaged in a tone of softness and even wistfulness. Bush seemed on the one hand resigned; but on the other, less tense than he sometimes had in his addresses as President. (Maybe even relieved?) As before, Bush sounded nothing but gracious in turning over the White House keys to Barack Obama and his family. He utilized the old State of the Union device of inviting beneficiaries of some of his programs into the audience.
And above all—as has often been his approach—he tried to deflect the judgment of his policies into a judgment of himself, the person. Even if his policies were now unpopular, he argued, he stuck resolutely to what he believed. The man who ran for President in 2000 as the candidate “you’d most like to have a beer with” (his biography as a redeemed drinker notwithstanding) was trying to leave office as the President whose resolve and principle you admired, even if you disagreed with his choices (notwithstanding that one of the chief criticisms of Bush has been that he stuck stubbornly to bad policies even against all evidence to the contrary). He did what he did out of love for America and freedom, Bush seemed to be arguing, and that ought to count for something.
Message: President Bush still loves you, America, even if you’re not so into him anymore. But will you text him back?