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Bush’s Farewell Address & His Legacy

Sometimes when I watch a speech, see an item on the news or read something on the web, an idea hits me and I feel “compelled” to blog on it.  Other times, an idea steeps over time (as with my points on Bush’s mistakes).

And then there are times, when as a blogger, I write about something because my readers expect me to do just that.  I doubt I would have watched the presidential debates last fall had I not felt obligated to y’all to comment on these exchanges.

Tonight, however, I watched the president’s Farewell Address not because I felt obligated to, but because I wanted to.  I was curious to see how he would defend a tenure where he has had some remarkable successes and made some serious mistakes.

As our nation is about to inaugurate its first African-American president, it is interesting that two of the four men outgoing president singled out at the conclusion of his address are black.   Another is Hispanic.

And Bush began his final speech as president by offering kind words for his successor: “Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land.  This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole Nation.”  It is indeed a moment of pride for our nation which once allowed the enslavement — and later sanctioned the discrimination — of individuals of African heritage.  Black slaves once built the White House.  Now, a black man will live there.

The president focused on his record in keeping us safe.  He cited the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan.  While he acknowledges there can be “legitimate debate” about many of the decisions he made

. . . there can be little debate about the results.  America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.  This is a tribute to those who toil night and day and night to keep us safe — law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts, homeland security and diplomatic personnel, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Note his grace in praising those who carried out his policies. He devoted a considerable amount of time to talking about the promise and meaning of America, contrasting our “guiding principles” with the ideology of our opponents in the current global struggle, our system “based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God and that liberty and justice light the path to peace.”

Liberty, freedom. George W. Bush understands our founding ideal.

I will miss the moral clarity of his speeches on the War on Terror. Would it that he had delivered such addreses more often.

He noted another of his great achievements, the appointment of “Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.”

While we may fault the President for not holding the line on federal spending, we must commend him for keeping our nation safe. He’s right when he says:

While our Nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.

Let’s hope his successor takes those words to heart.

Note again how little he praises himself, but instead focuses on the condition of the nation he leaves to his successor.

So, what will George W. Bush’s legacy be? It’s far too soon to tell. Given the attacks of 9/11 and the global struggle against Islamofascism, his may turn out to be one of the most consequential Administrations in our history. I expect he’ll rank somewhere in the middle of US presidents, but only when the passions and disappointments of these past few years fade will we be able to find a true measure of his success.

But, for now, we know that he kept us safe. And that’s no small thing. And that nearly three-quarters of Americans think he is a good person even if they don’t approve with the way he has run the country.

He might enjoy higher approval ratings had he given more speeches like that he just delivered, making his case to the American people and defending his actions by relating them to a larger purpose and to the noble principles which define this great nation.

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26 Comments

  1. How little he praises himself? Please. It was the swan song of an arrogant narcissist. Like this line:

    As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did.

    Oh woe is you, Mr. President.

    Comment by Erik — January 16, 2009 @ 12:32 am - January 16, 2009

  2. When I tell liberals that Bush has freed more human slaves than any president except Lincoln, their jaws drop. It has been important to liberals to demonize him such that they can feel good about their failed agenda. It’s just an ego issue for many people. They are unable to show any form of balance, else they’d have to rethink their essential positions and they are far too closed minded for that.

    Comment by Carolynp — January 16, 2009 @ 1:35 am - January 16, 2009

  3. A very good piece by historian Andrew Roberts in the Telegraph.

    President Bush’s disapproval ratings were about where they are long before the current economic meltdown, and they got there primarily because he left the American people out of the loop.

    But presidential legacies are defined not only by their time in office, but by what happens after they leave. We are still paying the price to this day for Jimmy Carters ineptitude and to a lesser degree, Clinton’s corrupt, do-nothing presidency. I suspect Bush’s vision will prove right in Iraq, in that it will not only remain a democracy, but will have a transformative effect in the region. If it does, he will be regarded by history among the near-greats, maybe greats.

    Even if Iraq does not transform the region, I think he will be remembered as well above average, certainly better than the failed Carter, who continues his plunge to the very bottom, and most likely better than Clinton and his father who are currently regarded as average (the latter ascending, the former, rapidly descending).

    As James Taranto once wrote, history does not punish presidents for bold action that fails, as much as it does for inaction.

    The great hope in Obama’s transition has been that he has tossed so many campaign promises under the bus. I have no doubt he will be a domestic nightmare, but from Guantanamo, to Bin Laden, Obama has abandoned his campaign rhetoric and adopted the policies of the Bush administration. (I suspect those daily threat assessments are largely responsible.) This at least gives me some hope that he will be less of a foreign policy nightmare than I feared. Dont get me wrong, he will still be bad, just hopefully, not as bad as I feared.

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 1:44 am - January 16, 2009

  4. FILTERED! (said in exactly the same tone as Ricardo Montelban spat, “KHAAAAAN!”)

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 1:46 am - January 16, 2009

  5. oops, that would be Captain Kirk wouldnt it.

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 1:46 am - January 16, 2009

  6. AE, alas that Montalban just passed. And with his passing, I learn his politics. Turns out he was one of the good guys even though on screen, he portrayed one of the great bad guys of interstellar travel.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — January 16, 2009 @ 1:51 am - January 16, 2009

  7. Erik, that’s not praise, that’s just saying that he did his job. Why are you, as so many of his critics, so ready to throw out insults which have so little to do with the actual character of the president.

    Flaws he has many, but arrogant narcissist he is not. Indeed, that term might be better used to describe his predecessor —- and quite possibly his successor.

    Interesting how Bush critics use terms to describe the outgoing president that might better describe the politicians with whom they have become enamored.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — January 16, 2009 @ 1:54 am - January 16, 2009

  8. I didn’t know his politics until yesterday. Laura Ingraham related his comments on becoming pro-life that were very eloquent. I’m glad he took the role of Khan, otherwise all I would have to remember him by would be the truly awful Fantasy Island, and that really wouldn’t be fair. (I wonder if mourners at his wake will be told “Smiles, everyone, smiles!”)

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 3:19 am - January 16, 2009

  9. It is indeed a moment of pride for our nation which once allowed the enslavement — and later sanctioned the discrimination — of individuals of African heritage.

    That would be the democrats and yankees.

    How little he praises himself? Please. It was the swan song of an arrogant narcissist. Like this line:

    The act of an arrogant narcissist is to poke Chris Wallace’s knee and circle the wagons around Sandy Burgler.

    It’s a damn shame, eh Erik, that we won’t forget the attacks on our country.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 16, 2009 @ 4:56 am - January 16, 2009

  10. Erik epitomizes the “it’s only OK when my side does it” attitude of politics.

    Comment by V the K — January 16, 2009 @ 8:49 am - January 16, 2009

  11. This is his legacy:
    1st – His powerful VP signaling his own personal weakness
    2nd – Formalization of a Torture regime. Its likely, more stories of innocents being tortured will come out and will be baaad.

    Comment by gillie — January 16, 2009 @ 10:07 am - January 16, 2009

  12. Last night as I watched Bush 2.0 give that speech, I continued to think something I’ve thought about him for at least the past 7 years. “Here is a man in WAY over his head”. I voted for the guy…loyal Republican…but he just wasn’t ready for the office he took. If 9-11 and Katrina hadn’t happened GW would have served his term with little trouble and been relegated to a long list of do-nothing one term leaders. He was a man in the right place at the totally wrong time…advised by much stronger personalities and possibly “evil” compatriots with agendas of their own and not the good of our country and our party in their heart. I honestly kind of feel sorry for the guy!

    Comment by David — January 16, 2009 @ 11:38 am - January 16, 2009

  13. His farewell was really a class act. In retrospect I think his greatest failing was after 9/11 was to have encouraged the people to resume their normal lives. He took on the burden himself. Instead of telling people to resume living their nomal lives, as much as we could under the circumstances, he should have asked people to join in on this war on terror and make some sacrifices. Then the nation participates, not just he, the security agencies, and the troops in the field. I wonder how many people understand that Saddam Hussein ranks with Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin for genocide. I only hope that Barak Obama has the same sensitivity that George Bush has.

    Comment by Roberto — January 16, 2009 @ 11:43 am - January 16, 2009

  14. W is and will remain, I believe, an enigma. He’s a strange man — erratic, yet seems to have some sort of core; incredibly speech-challenged but clearly not an idiot (to those who are somewhat objective); tone-deaf to public opinion, that being both good and bad; defiant to terrorists, yet willing to serve Congressional Democrats in an unprincipled spirit of bonhommie. His inability to communicate has and will always damage his legacy, whatever that may be.

    Bush’s biggest failure has been that he never clearly defined himself, allowing both his enemies and friends to weaken his ability to make his own case. I found myself often wanting to like him, but I’ve always found it difficult to like those for whom I’ve little respect. Some will say that I’m over-thinking it and that standard expectations of politics and philosophy don’t apply to an essentially simple man, but who does that indict?

    Comment by Ignatius — January 16, 2009 @ 12:49 pm - January 16, 2009

  15. Instead of telling people to resume living their nomal lives, as much as we could under the circumstances, he should have asked people to join in on this war on terror and make some sacrifices.

    When did Bush NOT do that? I remember him doing it repeatedly. Led by Democrats and other leftists, the people simply chose to ignore it.

    I’ll concede partial truth to your point, as follows: Bush should have asked the Congress for budget cuts and fiscal discipline after 9-11. That would have strengthened our nation financially (then and today). Oops. Also, Alan Greenspan decided to start creating masses of new money to try to re-inflate the stock market bubble (and instead inflating a real estate bubble). Bush said: Yeah, sure, why not? Drat him for that.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — January 16, 2009 @ 2:09 pm - January 16, 2009

  16. W…’s a strange man — erratic, yet seems to have some sort of core; incredibly speech-challenged but clearly not an idiot (to those who are somewhat objective); tone-deaf to public opinion, that being both good and bad; defiant to terrorists, yet willing to serve Congressional Democrats in an unprincipled spirit of bonhommie. His inability to communicate has and will always damage his legacy

    Well put.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — January 16, 2009 @ 2:11 pm - January 16, 2009

  17. Let’s be honest, folks. W’s ‘legacy’ is the (soon to be permanent) Democratic majority in both houses and the election of Barack Obama.

    Thanks, W. When you weren’t busy with Iraq, would it have been too much to ask that you paid at least a LITTLE attention to the United States?

    Comment by DaveP. — January 16, 2009 @ 3:28 pm - January 16, 2009

  18. Nah, if that were the case DaveP, Bill Clinton’s legacy would be George Bush and the Republican congress, Truman’s legacy would be Eisenhower, Eisenhower’s legacy would be Kennedy, Carter’s would be Reagan etc. The fact is power changes hands fairly regularly in the US — its called politics.

    And Bush paid a great deal of attention to the US. He kept us safe, disillusioned the world of the view that America is a weak “paper tiger”, he brought us very quickly out of the dot.com recession, staved off a second recession after 9/11, gave everyone who pays taxes tax relief, twice, instigated 52 consecutive months of job and economic growth, made it possible for more minorities to own their own businesses than ever before, protected innocent life, ended unconstitutional discrimination against religious organizations, improved school accountability and performance, launched the biggest, fastest, most effective rescue effort in history, made the air, water and earth cleaner while reducing onerous regulation, increased (despite the complaints of my fellow conservatives) border security for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower, seated two of the finest, most responsible Justices to ever sit on the supreme court, not to mention a great many lower courts, and tried numerous times to end the Democrat policies that caused the financial mess we are now in.

    Not only does George W Bush leave office with a strong record, it will be increasingly recognized the longer Obama holds office.

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 4:12 pm - January 16, 2009

  19. Also, I’d point out that Republicans in congress did an abysmal job of sticking up for themselves. They have no one to blame for their losses but themselves.

    Comment by American Elephant — January 16, 2009 @ 5:13 pm - January 16, 2009

  20. That is a point, DaveP, with implications for Obama.

    Under Jimmy Carter, Angola and Nicaragua fell to the Soviets, and we damn near lost El Salvador, too. With China financing the Dear One’s economic “stimulus,” the US will be powerless to intervene should China move on Taiwan. Pakistan is also in a very precarious state, and Mexico is on the verge of civil war.

    The Dear One would be out of his depth managing even one of those crises. Imagine if he hits the trifecta.

    Comment by V the K — January 16, 2009 @ 5:13 pm - January 16, 2009

  21. #1: If GWB is a narcissist then I’m going to have to do a little research to find a new word to describe Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. GWB may be a lot of things (doormat comes to mind) but narcissist?

    #20: VtK: I have to refer you to a couple of things John Derbyshire has mentioned in the past:

    1. The Chinese are wrestling with some big problems of their own and may decline to loan us money (so we’ll have to inflate the currency).

    2. China will take Taiwan. We will protest. The Chinese will reply “We are willing to lose two or three cities over this. How many are you willing to lose?”

    Comment by SoCalRobert — January 16, 2009 @ 7:40 pm - January 16, 2009

  22. I don’t feel kindly about President George W. Bush as he leaves office but I say the following with sincerity: I hope and pray that as time passes history will have reasons to treat him kindly.

    His recird is such that it will take time to sort things out in order to fairly judge him and his administration.

    Comment by Jack Allen — January 16, 2009 @ 9:23 pm - January 16, 2009

  23. 2nd – Formalization of a Torture regime. Its likely, more stories of innocents being tortured will come out and will be baaad.

    To have “more”, don’t you have to have, at least one, to start with?

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 17, 2009 @ 4:59 am - January 17, 2009

  24. V the K. We are close to losing El Salvador today. Tomorrow the nation
    will go to the polls to elect mayors and deputies to the National Assembly, and on March 15th, the presidential elections. Hugo Chavez has contributed to the coffers of the communist FMLN. Their presidential candidate Mauricio Funes, a former tv news commentator, is leading in the polls with his campaign slogan of ¨Esperanza y Cambio,¨ ( hope and change – where we heard that before?) The Republican candidate, Rodrigo Silva, is somewhat like Senator John McCain, lacking charisma, except he is willing to cionfront his opponent for the communist that he is. Here ther no political party symbols, e.g. donkey, etc ., but party flags and I have seen more red flags than at any other time. I have an almost uncontollabler desire to publicly burn one in response thier having burned the stars an stripes after 9/11 so I can say ¨somos igual Pascual¨ (we´re even Steven). But as a resident whose status is not yet permanent and won´t be for four more years. it would be cause for my deportation.

    The fact that Eric Holder holds Jimmy Carter in high esteem has to be worrisome for not only the United States but for freedom loving people in other countries with a fragile democracy. We have the problem of Hugo Chavez and expanding his empire in Latin America. He seems to be following the historical growth of communism from its inception in Russia and how they formed and linked with cells in other european countries with the goal of a Communist Europe. The rise of Hugo Chavez is a failing in the Bush legacy. He and his State Department focused so much on the middle east that they almost totally neglected latin america (other than wanting to give amnesty to illegals) except to immediately recognize, along with El Salvador, the new president of Venezuela in the 48 hour coup of April 2002. Financing the defeat of the right in El Salvador is revenge for Chavez. Barak Obama is willing to sit down with him as Chavez who said he is willing as an equal to sit with Obama and believes he will be a friend.

    ILC, if President Bush called on Americans to make sacrifices for the war on terror, I never heard it. You could be right. It might have gone over my head, if he did, it certainly wasn´t clear to me as the clips of old newsreels of FDR´s speeches at the start of WWII.

    Comment by Roberto — January 17, 2009 @ 12:43 pm - January 17, 2009

  25. Bush 43 is a good man. He decided after 9/11 he would not lose 3,000-30,000 more Americans to the terrorists. Simple. The media and half the country forgot quickly about 9/11 a President can’t. Bush 43 tried early on to solve such problems as S Security and Medicare and got no takers in Congress. If Clinton had done one large thing during his Presidency, like fix S Security, 16, that’s sixteen years ago we would not be faced with another huge crisis in 10 years like the one we are going thru now. When half the country and half the polititians from day one, don’t want to cooperate and participate with the incoming President, it is difficult to get things done. Most liberals feel the WOT is fake and a sham, invented by Republicans to scare the public in to giving up many constitutional rights. We’ll see how fake the WOT is now that the liberals control the military. Clinton and Carter gutted the military. Obama is much more of a leftist.

    Comment by Gene in Pennsylvania — January 17, 2009 @ 3:33 pm - January 17, 2009

  26. My biggest complaint about Bush is, in what would otherwise be an admirable trait, in your neighbor for example, his ‘turn the other cheek’ passivity when it came to his critics, domestic and abroad.

    Yeah, yeah, he promised his would be a kinder, less partisan, non-judgemental Presidency. But for Pete’s sake, if they’re lying about you, your policies, your results and your accomplishments on a daily basis, shouldn’t you say … something? For the sake of the rest of us, if not your own?

    Personally, I believe that trait alone emboldened his critics to lose their minds with constant rage and no good came of it. None.

    Comment by DoorHold — January 19, 2009 @ 5:17 pm - January 19, 2009

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