Bush, by Eugene O'Neill


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.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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