President Bush gave his exit interview with the press. I was struck by the extent to which Bush agreed to many of the critiques of his critics. On the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on his Mission Accomplished photo op, on his handling of Hurricane Katrina, Bush admitted mistakes. For administration members to have even privately acknowledged these only a few years ago would have been entirely forbidden.
The Right is already at work with its attempt to reassess Bush. See Rich Lowry’s earlier National Review interview with Bush or Charles Krauthammer’s earlier piece. ABC’s Jake Tapper tried to push Bush beyond platitudes at today’s press conference getting him to address not the goals of his policies, but the execution of his plans. Kudo’s to Jake for that.
Bush did say one thing today which I believe will serve him well in his attempt to remake his image. “And the other thing is, when I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage,” Bush said. ” I believe there ought to be, you know, one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”
The best thing Bush can do from the standpoint of his legacy is get off the stage. I’d joke and say he should stay there. That’s too easy, though. Bush fundamentally has to give people time to forget about him.
Right now, Bush faces grim prospects. Publishers are interested in what his wife has to say, but not him. Over time, I’d expect him to put together memoirs — even if doesn’t garner a big advance. A modest presidential library — in contrast to Bill Clinton’s self-monument — a political center at a university, and maybe some work following the domestic model of Jimmy Carter, may slowly help Bush capture some stature. A gesture in the direction of rebuilding New Orleans would be a good place to start — and the right thing to do.
Here’s Bush’s predicament. He’s the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon left office. Yet he lacks Nixon’s tremendous will to come back as well as Nixon’s brain. His best hope for any semblance of a legacy may be the fact that Americans have short memories.