WASHINGTON — With a year to go in the White House, President Bush has said he will sprint to the finish line.
But in his lackluster final State of the Union address this week, the president acknowledged that he is leaving behind a troubled nation and a shaky economy for his successor.
He also offered no clue on how to end the needless war he started five years ago against Iraq. He finds solace in a drop in the U.S. casualty rate, with 160,000 American troops and nearly as many mercenary private contractors on assignment in Iraq.
But American soldiers are still dying in Iraq — there were five lost on the day he spoke to Congress.
On another front, Bush said "our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty." That's a huge euphemism in light of the assessments by some economists that the country is already on the verge of a recession.
"And at kitchen tables across our country, there is concern about our economic future," he added.
Bush set no lofty goals in his farewell address but simply pushed the measures that fit into the art of the possible. "Minimalist" is probably the best way to describe his lame-duck agenda.
Oh yes, he is proposing $300 million to help children in poorly-run schools to attend private schools. It's a pseudonym for school vouchers.
Why not use this money to improve our public schools and pay better salaries for hard-pressed teachers?
Bush is going out with a whimper, and leaving a stash of unfinished business.
Of course, you wouldn't have known it from the boisterous welcome he received Monday night from star-struck members of Congress. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle fell all over themselves to shake his hand and get his autograph.
He delivered his remarks in a defiant manner — sometimes dripping with sarcasm — such as his comments during Congress to make his tax cuts permanent.
"Others have said they would be personally happy to pay higher taxes," he said with a smile. "I welcome their enthusiasm, and I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders."
He was rewarded for that jibe with a big laugh from the crowd.
Bush, who once styled himself a "compassionate conservative," did not tell the nation he is leaving behind a $9 trillion national debt — something for future generations to deal with.
Throughout his speech he spoke of his "trust" in the American people.
"And so long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our union will remain strong," he declared.
Unfortunately, Bush has conducted the most secretive administration in recent history, so the trust has not been a two-way street.
If he actually trusted the will of the people he would have pulled up stakes from his Iraqi blunder a long time ago. The polls have shown that the American people want to bring the troops home from Iraq. They also show Bush is hovering around 29 percent in popularity.
Bush seems to have no qualms in dumping the mess he created in foreign and domestic matters on his successor.
Among the first priorities for a successor Democrat or Republican–is to repair the U.S. standing in world opinion. If Americans want to claim that they are "Canadian" when they go abroad — and many have — we surely have lost our pedestal.By the way, Canada — our friendly neighbor — listed the U.S. in a military training manual as among the nations that tortures prisoners.
As he heads into the sunset, it can be said the president has been consistent, never wavering in his self-righteous defense of his unprovoked attack on Iraq; tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, and taxpayer revenues for government social programs shared with private religious charities, among other things.
Bush seems to be confident that history is always kinder and forgiving toward past presidents. That may be his consolation.
c.2008 Hearst Newspapers