PRESIDENT George W. Bush's final news conference on Monday went a long way toward cementing his reputation as one of the most feckless, out-of-touch political figures of our time.
But in fairness to him, Mr. Bush had an impossible mission: Find a way to convince the Washington press corps and, by extension, the American people, that his presidency wasn't the failure his critics and many in his own party insist that it was.
Alternately smirking and gesticulating for emphasis, Mr. Bush might as well have been trying to put the pieces of Humpty Dumpty together again eight years after the fall. It was a colossal act of vanity for the soon-to-depart leader of the free world - and more than a little sad.
"I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged," Mr. Bush said in response to a reporter's question. When he denies the obvious, it is hard to tell whether he is being intellectually disingenuous or merely obtuse.
His answer to nearly every question seemed to be a variation of the same theme - that 9/11 changed everything and forced the United States respond to threats at home and abroad in ways that didn't make it popular.
Even so, Mr. Bush's bizarre habit of giving himself the benefit of the doubt when assessing his eight years as commander in chief reveals the self-absorption of a failing student who somehow sees himself worthy of the National Honor Society.
"I think historians will look back and they'll be able to have a better look at mistakes after time has passed," he said. "There is no such thing as short-term history," he added, without blushing.
He's wrong about that, of course, but what else is new? He's been wrong about nearly everything of importance during his tenure. While Mr. Bush grudgingly conceded that the "Mission Accomplished" banner announcing the end of major fighting in Iraq was a mistake, he doesn't seem to have lost any sleep over the policies that cost so many Iraqi and American lives.
"I don't know why they get angry," he said after a question about the vehemence of his critics. "I don't know why they get so hostile."
The answer is simple. Somebody had to get mad on behalf of the American people when he made a mockery of his job.