Perhaps I am going soft in my dotage, but I felt a twinge of sorrow for George Bush as he stood next to Barack Obama during the 9/11 anniversary ceremony at Ground Zero on Sunday morning. There was that familiar facial expression somewhere between a smirk and bewilderment, and a reminder that his greatest legacy will forever be launching the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was behind the terrorist attacks. Yet I found that the anger I had long felt for the frat boy from Crawford has pretty much evaporated.
It also occurred to me that things might have been different -- perhaps very different -- had Dick Cheney not be Bush's vice president, the guy whom he refers to as "Uncle Dick" in Pat Oliphant's powerfully biting political cartoons of the era, a guy who we are re-reminded in his recently published memwow never made a mistake and, it turns out, never learned from all the mistakes that he never made.
So despite the fact that Bush screwed up nearly everything he did, some of it without the help of Uncle Dick, and left Obama with a steaming stable of offal to shovel out from Day One, putting all that Hope and Change stuff on hold, he really had the deck stacked against him.
Bush, after all, got into politics in the first place because he was a failure at everything else (thank you, Poppy Bush and Karl Rove). Then he had to figure out what to be and became a compassionate conservative whose heart, I have come to believe, was in the right place but he had a big hole where the ideas were supposed to germinate. Not to worry, sociopathic Uncle Dick and the malodorous Neocon Brain Trust took care of that and before you could say Mission Accomplished they had beaten every last shred of compassion from his agenda.
Then Bush felt the buzz saw of what Sarah Palin, in a recent unguarded moment of actually saying something intelligent, referred to as the "permanent political class" that governs the U.S. that is drawn from both parties and is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people.
Finally, Bush let down the Family Values crowd, which eventually sensed that he was not really one of them, accelerating the great schism that characterizes today's Republican Party with the moderates pretty much locked in the superintendent's office and the inmates running the asylum.
That has gifted us with one of the three leading GOP presidential wannabes believing that Social Security is a giant con game and another claiming that Obama is going to open Soviet gulag-like reeducation camps, while the third is suffering the slings and arrows of political adversity because he engineered a landmark health-care reform law with the help of Democrats and Republicans and Catholics and Protestants alike that has left a national low 5 percent of Massachusetts residents uninsured. For shame!
There has been only one president in my life whom I hated and that was Richard Nixon. (My mother trained our collie to growl when he heard Tricky's name.) That hatred, in part engendered because of the friends who made one-way trips to Vietnam because of Nixon's lies, has never dissipated. You see, he was on my Enemies List, but even during the darkest days of the Bush administration I never hated Dubya.
Anyhow, I remarked to an acquaintance over a cold one later on Sunday that I felt sorry for Bush, thereby breaking one of the cardinal rules of the things I never discusses in bars (politics, religion and whether O.J. was guilty).
"What? You feel sorry for a war criminal?" he shot back, uttering perhaps the first political statement in our 35 years of friendship, as well as a rare display of anger.
"Okay, forget about it," I replied. "The next round's on me."Photograph by Justin Lane/Getty Images