January 16, 2009

Dubya's Farewell

The text of George W. Bush's Farewell Address:

Fellow citizens: For eight years, it has been my honor to serve as your President. The first decade of this new century has been a period of consequence -- a time set apart. Tonight, with a thankful heart, I have asked for a final opportunity to share some thoughts on the journey that we have traveled together, and the future of our nation.

Five days from now, the world will witness the vitality of American democracy. In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people. Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose history reflects the enduring promise of our land. This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-Elect Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two beautiful girls.

Tonight I am filled with gratitude -- to Vice President Cheney and members of my administration; to Laura, who brought joy to this house and love to my life; to our wonderful daughters, Barbara and Jenna; to my parents, whose examples have provided strength for a lifetime. And above all, I thank the American people for the trust you have given me. I thank you for the prayers that have lifted my spirits. And I thank you for the countless acts of courage, generosity, and grace that I have witnessed these past eight years.

This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house -- September the 11th, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor. I remember standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center three days later, surrounded by rescuers who had been working around the clock. I remember talking to brave souls who charged through smoke-filled corridors at the Pentagon, and to husbands and wives whose loved ones became heroes aboard Flight 93. I remember Arlene Howard, who gave me her fallen son's police shield as a reminder of all that was lost. And I still carry his badge.

As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.

Over the past seven years, a new Department of Homeland Security has been created. The military, the intelligence community, and the FBI have been transformed. Our nation is equipped with new tools to monitor the terrorists' movements, freeze their finances, and break up their plots. And with strong allies at our side, we have taken the fight to the terrorists and those who support them. Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school. Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.

There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil. This is a tribute to those who toil night and day to keep us safe -- law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts, homeland security and diplomatic personnel, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Our nation is blessed to have citizens who volunteer to defend us in this time of danger. I have cherished meeting these selfless patriots and their families. And America owes you a debt of gratitude. And to all our men and women in uniform listening tonight: There has been no higher honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.

The battles waged by our troops are part of a broader struggle between two dramatically different systems. Under one, a small band of fanatics demands total obedience to an oppressive ideology, condemns women to subservience, and marks unbelievers for murder. The other system is based on the conviction that freedom is the universal gift of Almighty God, and that liberty and justice light the path to peace.

This is the belief that gave birth to our nation. And in the long run, advancing this belief is the only practical way to protect our citizens. When people live in freedom, they do not willingly choose leaders who pursue campaigns of terror. When people have hope in the future, they will not cede their lives to violence and extremism. So around the world, America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity. We're standing with dissidents and young democracies, providing AIDS medicine to dying patients -- to bring dying patients back to life, and sparing mothers and babies from malaria. And this great republic born alone in liberty is leading the world toward a new age when freedom belongs to all nations.

For eight years, we've also strived to expand opportunity and hope here at home. Across our country, students are rising to meet higher standards in public schools. A new Medicare prescription drug benefit is bringing peace of mind to seniors and the disabled. Every taxpayer pays lower income taxes. The addicted and suffering are finding new hope through faith-based programs. Vulnerable human life is better protected. Funding for our veterans has nearly doubled. America's air and water and lands are measurably cleaner. And the federal bench includes wise new members like Justice Sam Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

When challenges to our prosperity emerged, we rose to meet them. Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy. These are very tough times for hardworking families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted. All Americans are in this together. And together, with determination and hard work, we will restore our economy to the path of growth. We will show the world once again the resilience of America's free enterprise system.

Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.

The decades ahead will bring more hard choices for our country, and there are some guiding principles that should shape our course.

While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient, and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.

At the same time, we must continue to engage the world with confidence and clear purpose. In the face of threats from abroad, it can be tempting to seek comfort by turning inward. But we must reject isolationism and its companion, protectionism. Retreating behind our borders would only invite danger. In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.

As we address these challenges -- and others we cannot foresee tonight -- America must maintain our moral clarity. I've often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense -- and to advance the cause of peace.

President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." As I leave the house he occupied two centuries ago, I share that optimism. America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.

I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger, and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America's character all around us. And Laura and I have invited some of them to join us in the White House this evening.

We see America's character in Dr. Tony Recasner, a principal who opened a new charter school from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina. We see it in Julio Medina, a former inmate who leads a faith-based program to help prisoners returning to society. We've seen it in Staff Sergeant Aubrey McDade, who charged into an ambush in Iraq and rescued three of his fellow Marines.

We see America's character in Bill Krissoff -- a surgeon from California. His son, Nathan -- a Marine -- gave his life in Iraq. When I met Dr. Krissoff and his family, he delivered some surprising news: He told me he wanted to join the Navy Medical Corps in honor of his son. This good man was 60 years old -- 18 years above the age limit. But his petition for a waiver was granted, and for the past year he has trained in battlefield medicine. Lieutenant Commander Krissoff could not be here tonight, because he will soon deploy to Iraq, where he will help save America's wounded warriors -- and uphold the legacy of his fallen son.

In citizens like these, we see the best of our country - resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there's more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire, never falter, and never fail.

It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. There have been good days and tough days. But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country, and uplifted by the goodness of our people. I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other - citizen of the United States of America.

And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God bless this house and our next President. And may God bless you and our wonderful country. Thank you.

I think I'm far from alone in saying that I have mixed feelings about the eight years of the 43rd Presidency.

In that time we suffered the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, saw an economy rebound from one economic recession before plunging into another, and began two campaigns of a multi-millennial war that we first engaged in under Thomas Jefferson's watch. Neither campaign ended while he was in office, and it remains to be seen if the incoming President has the intestinal fortitude or political will to succeed in either conflict.

Bush allowed Iran to become a nuclear power and triggered a Middle East nuclear arms race as a result of his inaction; only time will tell if that failure to act will be translated into millions of lives lost in a nuclear exchange.

Bush tremendously expanded government and abandoned conservative free market principles. He made many, many bad decisions, and history is not likely to be kind to his legacy.

All of that acknowledged, Bush was President during a time in history that no other candidate offered during that time period in either party is likely to have done any better.

If Al Gore had won the 2000 election we don't know precisely how he would have faced the challenges of 2000-2004. We don't know—can't know—how he would have reacted to 9/11. We don't know if he would have chosen to engage Saddam Hussein, or Iran, or North Korea, or Pakistan. We do have strong circumstantial evidence that the Goracle's status as high priest of the global warming cult would have likely led to policies that would have plunged us into a deeper recession, faster, than what we've seen so far. Even if booted out after one term, his legacy would have been crippling the U.S. economy as the result of adhering to junk science lore and politically driven models over proven scientific methods.

The other potential Democratic President, John Kerry, would have likely chosen to lose the Iraq War. Once can only imagine what kind of failed state would remain there if Kerry had lived up to his campaign promises, and if the cruel hand of Sunni insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would have bee raised in triumph, spurring other young Muslims into Jihad. Kerry's cronyism with the Barney Frank's and Chris Dodd's of the Senate would have assured our housing market crash and economic spiral downward all the same. His big government prescriptions also championed by our incoming administration, promise that government will keep interfering in market economics until they completely wreck what they don't understand.

Would a Gore or a Kerry or even a McCain have led us to a Jan 20 inauguration with a world much different than we see before us now?

I somewhat doubt it.

Palestinians would still be trying to commit genocide against Israelis and crying when Israel had the temerity to strike back. Iran would still be developing their nuclear weapons program. The Chinese would still own our economy in our strange symbiotic economic relationship, and Europe would still see us as crude and unsophisticated even as their own cities streets became overrun with violent youths of indeterminate religion or nationality burning cars and chasing the police. Presidents are important, to be sure, but they are nowhere as powerful as they like to think they are.

Bush did what he could and what he thought was right because he sincerely thought it was right, not out of political calculus of what would make him popular. For better or ill, he had more courage than many Presidents.

After eight years, the man who came into office as the most popular and bi-partisan Governor in Texas history, who planned to pull both parties together, will leave office in a nation far more partisan and angry than when he came in. In a bit of delicious irony, the same forces that sought to bring him down and undercut him at every turn are now left drunk with their own self-importance (if flailing futures), and now have a product of their own design about to swear the Oath of Office. The honeymoon will assuredly be short.

People forget that "hope" and "change" put George W. Bush in office, too. While there, he gave us the best he had under difficult conditions. In hindsight, I still would have voted for him over fanatical Gore or patrician Kerry. It may not mean much. But it is something.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 16, 2009 10:26 AM

Gore was not Algore in 2000. He was, of course, the supposed centrist and cool-headed shepard. I doubt if he had been President he would have gone all warmist etc but I'm glad we never found out.

From the very beginning, media awareness to the contrary, Bush has framed the GWOT as, from memory, the generational struggle of our day; a twilight conflict that will be fought over decades, by Presidents of BOTH parties. I guess we could have predicted that our beloved Left-leaning citizens wouldn't be on board until this particular prediction came true. It is to Barack's credit that he seems to be taking the GWOT more seriously than nearly any other Dem, even Clinton, whom he whipped so savagely and so dishonestly with this issue in the primaries. The only possible explanation, that two figures nearly polar opposites, at least in the public mind, would assume a nearly identical posture here is that these actions taken by the abomination Bush were and are the only reasoned course given the circumstances. Bush the Sr gave a bit of wisdom years ago, saying that you have a chance to be only two things in politics, either a bitter dissappointment or a pleasant surprise. We've seen the dissappointment of the peace-nik Left pile up like snow drifts even before the inauguration. It seems unlikely this course will change much knowing our adversaries both domestic and international. So, kudos to Bush. Thank you, sir and I apologize on behalf of my countrymen for making these difficult decisons more difficult. Kudos also to Barack. It appears, despite the evidence of last year's campaign, that he is actually educable. For a politician that is indeed change I can believe in. Provisionally.

Posted by: megapotamus at January 16, 2009 01:34 PM

I think Bush's legacy 50 years from now will be much, much more favorable than it is today.

Global terrorism will be what history focuses on in his presidency: The lack of another 9/11, or smaller scale strikes like occurred a few times on Clinton's watch, will take greater weight in history once the current generation of personal political bias fades out.

The fact the Afghan War (the hot war) was incredibly quick, and involved minimal US ground forces, compared to the Soviet experience will also grow in importance over time.

As will the fact Afghanistan did not deteriorate into complete chaos. Bush's effort in Afghanistan will never be considered an "unqualified success" - but because ultimate success there was so impossible to contemplate beforehand, he will be given significant credit for things not falling completely to shit there.

Iraq War II will also gain in positive weight over time - due to the short duration of the hot portion of the war and where we are at in Iraq as he leaves office. Today's society, bombarded by a relentless press, has been trained on the negatives of Iraq War II we saw so graphically before the surge had success. History will focus more on that success.

The economic collapse could have been the big killer on Bush's long-term legacy - but the Fannie Mac nature of the crash will provide Bush with some long term shielding though his economic policy will be viewed as a negative overall.

In short, historians will look beyond our current press when it comes to evaluating Bush's legacy 50 years from now.

Posted by: usinkorea at January 17, 2009 07:11 AM