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Published: Saturday, 12/6/2008

Bush the revisionist

IN AN ATTEMPT to shape how history will view him, President Bush is giving interviews to the media as he prepares to exit the White House.

It is fully understandable that Mr. Bush is putting on a full-court press as he leaves office to work himself out of competition with James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Herbert Hoover for the title of Worst President Ever.

The media have become his willing accomplices, first, because it is hard to refuse an invitation to sit by a fire and ask questions of a president who all too often has been unavailable to the press as events unfolded. Second, there is always some hope that he might say something unexpected or even elucidating. Third, it's the holiday season.

At the same time, reading the texts of these interviews, one of which was a widely reported sit-down with ABC's Charles Gibson, leads to some interesting conclusions about how the nation's 43rd president wants the public to remember him.

To hear it from Mr. Bush, one would think that his Oval Office service was a string of unbroken successes: He and his team did not miss the warning signs of the 9/11 attack (which took place early in his first term, but on his watch), nor did he abandon the generally meritorious war in Afghanistan to attack faux enemy Iraq under false premises.

There were other similarly feeble assertions. The intelligence agencies didn't obtain and provide the right information to the President on either Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction or its non-collaboration with al-Qaeda. The war was simply an "intelligence failure," Mr. Bush says.

Similarly, letting New Orleans founder after the hurricanes, having put incompetent people in charge of the emergency response capacity of his government, didn't happen that way. Finally, the train wreck that the American economy suffered, resulting in no small part from his having let the foxes guard the henhouse, had nothing to do with him.

So, either Mr. Bush has been asleep at the switch for the past eight years, or he is able to fool himself and try to fool the American public that it was a great two terms in spite of a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

It will be partly the fault of the media if, as he packs for the final helicopter ride from the White House lawn, Mr. Bush isn't asked questions he cannot dodge. At the same time, it's not unreasonable for Americans to expect a president, who is leaving office after eight sometimes difficult years, to discuss his experience with a degree of reflection and responsibility.

So far, he's managed to effectively sidestep reality.

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