Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Farewell Speech Bush Should Have Given

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 2

George W. Bush gave his farewell speech last Thursday night. In many ways, it was the predictably clueless utterance of a president still incapable of recognizing his shortcomings and those of his administration, and unrepentant about the cost to the country and the world of his eight years in office.

So, since George W. Bush was unwilling or unable to candidly address his legacy, I have taken it upon myself to draft the speech he should have made last week. This is the speech he owed us.

Fellow Americans, and fellow citizens of the world, tonight I stand before you for the last time as President of the United States. The eight years of my administration have been turbulent, and many have wondered whether my untroubled demeanor during my time in office has demonstrated the calm certainty of one who has the courage of his convictions, or the delusional numbness of an incurious and epically untalented leader isolated within the confines of a political and psychological bubble. 

History will render its verdict, of course. And it is to aid that final judgment that I stand before all of you tonight to tell you that in so many of the areas where I believed myself to be right, and where all of those around me whom I trusted assured me I was right, I must now, finally, acknowledge that I have been wrong. With distressing frequency, I have been fatally and disastrously wrong.

I came into office in 2000, of course, not as the result of victory at the polls, but rather at the fiat of an impetuous and misguided Supreme Court. Rather than acknowledging the trauma which the manner of my taking office inflicted upon our political institutions and civil society and endeavoring to heal those rifts, I unleashed a political operation from within the White House to fracture our country to the greatest extent possible, playing each side against every other side, knowing that the resulting tumult would leave me the freer to act as I would, regardless of the opinion of the majority. Indeed, the thinking went, when voters are split into microcosms of narrow interests, there is no majority. That was our strategy, and in the early years of my term, it worked only too well. 

Our strategy worked so well, in fact, that I was able to squander a trillion dollar surplus with a tax giveaway to the wealthy like none other the world had ever seen. I was able to shred years of patient and skillful diplomacy that led the world tantalizingly near to a serious consensus to arrest the causes and begin to reverse the effects of global warming. I rolled up and discarded regulatory protections that for more than a half century had safeguarded our economy from the excesses that had too often in the past resulted in boom and bust cycles in which the benefits accrued to the wealthy in good times, and the pain in bad times piled upon the shoulders of the poor and the middle class. 

And then came the attack against our homeland on September 11, 2001. To their everlasting credit, the American people, even in the midst of the horror and loss of that terrible day, overcame the petty and the transient, and united as one people in their resolve to triumph in the face of an unprovoked and dastardly attack. And inspired by the unity and resolve of our people, people all across the world united with us. It was an historic moment of courage and determination across the globe.

With the people united behind us, we took the fight to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, vowing to never rest until justice had been visited upon those who carried out and aided the attacks against us. But at the very moment we had al-Qaeda’s senior leadership cornered in the caves of Tora Bora, at the very moment when the justice we had vowed was about to be achieved, I, as Commander in Chief, shifted the focus of our armed forces away from the crucial fight in Afghanistan and directed them to begin preparations for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 

Our victory over Saddam’s military was swift, and seemed to confirm the rightness of my decision to liberate Iraq. But I cannot deny the disappointment I experienced when it became clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction, the lynchpin of my decision to invade, found in Iraq. Many of my advisors assured me that these weapons were in Iraq, and were being aggressively stockpiled by Saddam Hussein. But there were others who cautioned that this might not have been the case, and the fact that they were not heeded, and, indeed, often suffered professional retribution for expressing their view, highlights the fact that my administration, my advisors, and ultimately, I myself, were too hasty in beginning a war that to this day has eluded my ability to honorably end.

The subsequent occupation of Iraq and the chaos and suffering it has brought to the people of that long-oppressed land has been a bitter disappointment to many, and to myself most of all. The men and women of our armed forces have always performed honorably and heroically in executing the mission I, as their Commander in Chief, ordered them to perform. The mismanagement of the occupation, the introduction of al-Qeada into Iraq when it had never been there prior to the invasion, the deprivation and violence experienced by the people of Iraq, the atrocities perpetrated at Abu Ghraib, were the result of no failure on the part of our armed forces, but rather, were the result of failure by senior officials of my administration, and, most of all, by myself, and I take full responsibility for those decisions and their consequences. The burden and blame are mine alone.

And as we struggled to contain crises abroad, we were struck once more by tragedy at home, this time not perpetrated by foreign terrorists, but by Hurricane Katrina. As the storm approached our shores and warnings of the potential for destruction began to be raised, my administration did not fulfill its obligation to protect the people who lay in Katrina’s path. Even as Katrina made landfall and the true scale of the devastation became apparent, the actions of my administration were, again and again, inadequate, belated, and, far too often, just too poorly executed to render the help that the people of the Gulf Coast so badly needed. Once again, these failures were ultimately mine, and, once again, the consequences were ultimately born by others.

The same can also be said of our current economic situation. In my administration’s desire to make good on its promise to reduce the role of government in the lives of the American people, we paid too much heed to the voice of Wall Street, and too little to the voice of Main Street. We cast aside the oversight required to prevent our financial markets from the excesses that, as I speak to you tonight, have brought them to their lowest pass since the 1930s. In doing so, we failed not only Main Street, but also the very Wall Street players we sought to help. The result and the ruin of that decision, the cost in lost jobs and bankrupt companies, lay all around us tonight.

And so it is that, as I leave office in a few days time, our country finds itself with two unfinished wars, the city of New Orleans still stricken years after Katrina made landfall, and our economy in tatters. The solution to all these problems will be left to my successor, and sincerely I wish him well in dealing with them. I have only this council to offer, the lesson I have learned too late as I reflect upon my term of office: all the American people have ever asked of their leaders in times of crisis is the assurance that the work of government will be done competently and impartially, and that the hard work and sacrifice of our people to meet the challenge of the day will not be squandered. 

I have failed the American people in this, and hope and pray that my successor will be able to overcome the staggering challenges he faces as he assumes office. For all of this, to all of you, across our country and in nations around the world, I am so sorry. I am so very, very sorry.

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