I am feeling something this week for The Decider (aka George W. Bush) that I have never felt before, an emotion that I never even expected to feel. In the midst of an economic downturn verging on depression, with two fronts in an ill-begotten war, and with his approval ratings lower for longer than any president since the statistics have been kept, The (Soon to be Retired) Decider sat down for his first "exit interview" with Charles Gibson. As I watched, I imagined what how it must feel to know that you are at the end of the road as the most powerful person in the world, and I felt compassion for him.
Now, as usual with The Decider, there were gaffes, the most hilarious of which being this one:
"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, y'know, a decade or so -- before I arrived as president, during I arrived as president."
Who says "during I" anything? And who doesn't fix such a verbal misstep when one hears it? How do you just let that go? Oh yeah. I forgot that when you're the most powerful person in the world, you don't have to be self-censoring. But oddly it seems that Soon-to-be-former Pres. Bush is becoming more self-critical in the waning days of his final term.
For years now, as his contemporaries have judged him and found him wanting, Bush has depended on the judgment of history to redeem him. He has relied on the idea that while his policies may anger or even outrage the generation he serves, generations-to-come will look back on his presidency with respect and admiration, especially with regard to his foreign policy. Now, however, he has had to come to terms with the fact that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And nothing about the backward glance from ages to come will change that fact. He actually seemed humbled, especially when Gibson asked him would he have gone to war had he known that there were no WMDs.
I'm convinced that what The Decider is finally coming to terms with is the fact that his deciding days end on 20 January 2009. (Actually, they've already ended; Rachel Maddow does call him the "lamest duck" after all.) He won't control the White House. And he won't control how his legacy is judged. To hear him tell it, he's not even going to control where he and Laura live next. It's all up to her. Listening to him, I felt compassion.
Nothing about the world as I have experienced it makes it likely that Bush will take my advice, but I am going to offer it nonetheless:
Mr. President, take a page out of the book(s) written by the best human being ever to occupy the White House. Don't tell me you don't know who that is, and no, I don't mean George H.W. Bush. I mean James Earl Carter, known by all as Jimmy. To say the least, Carter's presidency was not one for the history books. But his life and witness post-presidency is what he will be remembered for; it's also what he won the Nobel Peace Prize for. Although your days as the most powerful person in the world are nearly over, with God's grace, you have a lot of living left to do. Use it for good. Your history is still being written.