January 15, 2009
President George W. Bush gave a brief and dignified goodbye speech to the nation from the White House tonight, expressing gratitude for the honor of serving as president, and reminding people of his administration's accomplishments. He extolled the promotion of democracy around the world, combatting the spread of AIDS and alleviating the suffering of AIDS patients, and the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- something which I believe was a big mistake. I took sharp issue with the President on economic policy, and his vow to "show the world once again the resilience of America's free enterprise system" rings a little hollow to me. On the other hand, I heartily agreed with his choice of two new Supreme Court Justices: Samuel Alito and John Roberts. This paragraph was especially poignant:
Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.
(The full text of the speech is at whitehouse.gov.) Though he exhibited just the right attitude of humility and grace, Bush's presentation left a little to be desired stylistically; he remains awkward in public appearances, just as his father was. (Likewise for his last press conference a couple days ago.) There were several moments when a tear glistened in his eyes during tonight's speech, revealing the increasing strain he has been under for the past eight years. He will no doubt be relieved to be relieved of duty, and that goes doubly for his warm yet stoic wife, Laura. Michelle Obama will find it hard to match the current First Lady's kindness and deep sincerity.
President Bush can justly claim credit for keeping this nation safe from terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, and critics of Bush (like me) need to weigh that against his failures and shortcomings. One problem is that it's nearly impossible for anyone in the general public to know just what was done to thwart the subsequent plots against us. Those things are classified, and in any case, you can never prove why something didn't happen.
As the Internet has matured during the past decade, the issue of controlling the official White House Web site becomes especially dicey during this presidential transition. Fortunately, no one is seriously questioning the legitimacy of Barack Obama's electoral victory, in contrast to what happened eight years ago. Increasing reliance on electronic communications and record-keeping also poses a challenge to archivists and historians who want to do research on the Bush administration. The Bush legacy will depend in part on how hard his outgoing staff works to ensure that official White House computer files are handed over to the Obama team complete and intact.