While watching our 43rd president's final press conference two days ago, I noted in real time, here and here, that I felt the first flickers of empathy for a man whose effect on America and the world I have relentlessly deplored. (Try this, for a sample, a story the Atlantic had the guts to put on its cover just before the 2004 election that I'm still proud of.)
I got a fair amount of "how dare you feel sorry for this guy?" response -- but also one note that conveyed a reaction I wish I had captured at the time. In fairness, this came in two days after the press conference, and I was writing in the wee hours in Beijing with a Yanjing beer in hand while Bush was on the air. Still, I thought it impressive. It is from David Carr, not the NYT writer of that name, from North Carolina:
I too thought the final Bush press conference was a remarkable performance; if an actor were to memorize and replicate it, it would seem like something out of Eugene O'Neill, staged in a barroom, and we might feel pity. The inept man without words realizes that he cannot say what he must say: an admission of failures across the board, a realization that his pipe dreams were deadly, an understanding that his nation and the world now hold him in low esteem and wish him gone. And not to be able to say these things is to remain their captive forever. But there is no expiation for Mr. Bush, and that is the objective tragedy. How can he live without awareness? He also must see how much Barack Obama is his opposite, how much he is admired and welcomed to the office, so unlike the stolen Bush arrival in 2000. It's a remarkable achievement for Mr. Bush: every moment of his presidency is touched with a shame that cannot be bathed away. I think he will disappear; I cannot see any post-presidential role he could fulfill without the full recollection of that shame.