A week after voters had repudiated him for the second election in a row, George W. Bush was interviewed by his sister, Doro, on behalf of StoryCorps. The subject was Bush’s legacy as president. The White House has now selected and posted some excerpts of the more interesting, or possibly coherent, parts of the interview. This apparently is George Bush at his most reflective.
Q How do you want to be remembered, and what are you most proud of?
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process. I came to Washington with a set of values, and I’m leaving with the same set of values. And I darn sure wasn’t going to sacrifice those values; that I was a President that had to make tough choices and was willing to make them. I surrounded myself with good people. I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions.
I’d like to be a President (known) as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace; that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor; that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get prescription drugs and Medicare as a part of the basic package; that came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements and worked as hard as I possibly could to do what I told the American people I would do.
In case you’re still wondering how the Bush presidency managed to turn out quite the way it did, read that passage a second time and savor it. Can you imagine serving two terms as president and wanting to be remembered for these specific things?
I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions.
And once you’ve gotten over the flabbergast to your syntactical regions, put aside all his gibberish (“came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements”) and consider how far Bush’s estimation of his presidency differs from nearly everybody else’s.
When you think of George Bush does your mind turn instinctively and immediately of his HIV and malaria campaigns, whenever they are said to have occurred? Or his disastrous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? And by the by, is that what he means when he claims to have “liberated 50 million people”, or is Bush referring to what remains of his political base?
The rest of the selected excerpts are if possible even less edifying as a reflection upon eight tumultuous years. I’m not surprised that Bush doesn’t want to be remembered for promoting torture or failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks (yes, those two things are closely linked). But does he get to substitute wholly imaginary successes, such as strengthening religious freedom and advancing tolerance in the United States?
Update: Several reports on this interview have appeared in the trad media. They’ve been timid in the extreme, doing little more than quoting Bush at length. So far I’ve seen only a single critical thought expressed about the nature of the interview or the strained relation between Bush’s depiction of his presidency and reality. It is this slightly sardonic paragraph from the NYT’s David Stout:
The interviewer asked no bothersome questions about the financial crisis, wars overseas or Republican setbacks in the elections. Chances are that the interviewer, Doro Bush Koch, already knew how her brother the president felt about those and other weighty issues of the day.
Apparently that’s it as far as criticisms of Bush’s fragile self-image are permitted to go among the traditional media in the US.