Courtesy of Bill Moyers Journal, and Public Affairs Television:
Bush's Farewell Hallelujah Chorus
By Michael Winship
With all the interviews President Bush has been giving out lately, you'd think he has a new movie coming out for Christmas. ABC, NBC, National Review, Middle East Broadcasting, the Real Clear Politics website – even a talk with the Washington Post's NASCAR expert.
For a fellow who's sometimes gone for months without a press conference, suddenly, the President's a regular chatterbox, spreading the word in these final days that his eight years in office really, really weren't all that bad. Honest. Regrets, he's had a few. But only a few. Or so he told ABC's Charlie Gibson: "I think I was unprepared for war… In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents – one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."
But of course he anticipated the war. He and Cheney and the neo-con biker gang had been gunning for an invasion of Iraq long before 9/11. Not that Gibson followed up and asked about that.
This is a President, you'll recall, who once said he couldn't think of any mistakes he's made. Instead, he regrets what he sees as the blunders of the intelligence community, not himself.
"The biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq," he said to Gibson. "A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is [sic] a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."
Truth is, as far as intelligence goes, the President heard what people thought he wanted to hear, shaped it to his purpose, turned his agents loose to scatter rumors and hearsay on the Sunday talk shows, and bullied a frightened Congress into compliance. He stirred up fears of smoking guns and mushroom clouds where there were none.
Nor was he ready to take the rap for the financial meltdown, even though he said he was sorry people were losing their jobs and savings. As he explained to ABC's Gibson, "You know, I'm the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President."
Odd syntax aside, point taken. Many of the seeds of economic woe were planted by lax oversight and deregulation during Bill Clinton's watch (and Ronald Reagan's and that of the President's father). But whatever happened to, "The buck stops here?"
This legacy tour – few dare call it victory loop – is all part of a strategy, the Washington Post reported, devised two months ago at a meeting in the White House, when White House counselor Ed Gillespie "began meeting with agency heads as part of an effort aimed at compiling the major accomplishments of the Bush administration."
The Los Angeles Times got hold of two pages of positive talking points that have been sent out to officials so they can be included in speeches and interviews. According to the Times, the memo states that the President "'kept the American people safe' after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained 'the honor and the dignity of his office.'"
Would that the mainstream media would open up the questioning to the rest of us. For one, Mr. President, did you value abject loyalty over know-how and wisdom?
Mother Jones magazine reports that recently Republican Senator George Voinovich asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for questions to ask Barack Obama's political nominees. He got back more than he bargained for – a 150-page list of issues left undealt with during the Bush years.
Among the revelations within the GAO's report, according to the magazine's Jonathan Stein, "The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Agriculture have no plan to work together in the event of a food-borne disease outbreak or terrorist attack. The Department of Defense's security clearance process takes so long it jeopardizes classified information. The EPA's chemical risk assessment program is improperly influenced by private industry…
"Problems like the politicization of the Justice Department are not mentioned. But this report serves as a peephole into the myriad internal problems of the executive branch, depicting a federal bureaucracy that is rife with mismanagement, inefficiency, and faulty communication practices--all of this combining to jeopardize both the nation's health and security."
No one has asked George Bush about this. Instead, the reporters granted the President's valedictory interviews have asked perfunctory softball questions about Iraq and the economy, then segued to inquiries about domestic life in the White House and what he'll do in Texas after January 20.
For one, the man who Newsweek once said was too busy making history to read it, is going to write some – he told National Review's Byron York and Rich Lowry that his interview with them was "jumping jacks for my own book that I'm going to be writing."
Will it answer any of the tough questions? Perhaps. But almost certainly not the biggest one, from which he will divert, splintering off into a thousand digressions and self-deprecating anecdotes: Why?
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program
Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.