Well, it's an honor to be back here at the Prospect, even for the day, subbing for Ezra, who said in his final post last night that he couldn't bring himself to watch George Bush's farewell speech to the nation.

I did. I even bit a hole through my lip while listening to Bill O'Reilly claim afterward that the American people like Bush as a person, as a "man," even if they don't like him as president.

Here's what bothers me most about the way in which Bush justifies and rationalizes his presidency: He uses counterfactuals and hypotheticals when they suit him, and not when they don't.

For example, he likes to boast that he kept the country from being attacked again after September 11. He pointed to that objective fact and took credit last night, as he has been for some time now and did in the run-up to his 2004 re-election. But moments earlier in last night's speech from the East Room, Bush came close to admitting that the economy was in horrible shape but conveniently explained that away by suggesting that matters would have been worse if not for the actions his administration took.

So, when an objective reality is good -- and no further attacks is an objectively good reality, even if it came at great expense (use of torture, domestic surveillance) -- the credit is his, and when the objective reality is bad, well, that's only because the hypothetical alternative would have been far worse. This is Bush's heads-I'm-great, tails-I'm-still-great standard for presidential accomplishment.


Tom Schaller

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