President George Bush delivered a farewell address Thursday night from the East Room of the White House, before an invited audience of 200 people. "Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance," he said. But he did not even vaguely hint at what those setbacks were, or what he would have done differently.
"I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right," he said, in trying to portray himself as a decisive leader. But perhaps this last week of his eight years in office is an important time to dissect the anatomy of that conscience. His many conservative Catholic supporters have largely been silent the past two years with regard to the disastrous legacy they helped enable, even as they urged voters to use a "well-formed conscience" to vote for the candidate who had pledged to continue Mr Bush's policies at home and abroad.
Mr Bush made reference to the 3000 people killed on Sept 11, 2001, but referred only obliquely to the hundreds of thousands of people who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of his heavy-handed response. He talked about most Americans being able to "return to normal life" after 9/11, but not of the 4 millions Iraqis who were turned into refugees as a result of his mistaken invasion. He said that "vulnerable human life is better protected," but he made no mention of abortion or the fact that the 1990s progress against abortion substantially stagnated under his administration. The Catholic Democrats have calculated that an additional 274,800 children would be alive today if America had continued to make progress on the abortion problem during the first five years under Mr Bush at the same rate that the procedure plummeted under President Clinton.
He said that "America's air, water, and lands are measurably cleaner," but he made no reference to his duplicity on entering office in 2001 with regard to his campaign pledges to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. He withdrew US participation in the Kyoto Protocol intended to initiate a response to the crisis of global warming. He has been widely condemned in the scientific world for rewriting reports to dumb down the threats posed to the environment. He ignored a 2006 Supreme Court ruling urging the administration to regulate green house gases as a pollutant. He delayed attainment of improved fuel economy standards that would have made the US less dependent on foreign oil.
He made no reference to the greatest disparity of wealth in the US since before the Great Depression, the expanding ranks of the medically uninsured, or the skyrocketing of domestic poverty. He spoke briefly about the economy "facing the prospect of a financial collapse," but then congratulated himself on acting decisively to limit the damage that had occurred on his watch.
Perhaps the only moment of real truth in his address was when he applauded progress in the treatment of HIV in the developing world, but he made no mention of the disastrous accelerating spread of AIDS in America. New CDC data shows that about 56,000 Americans are becoming infected every year, disproportionately in the Southern states (2/3 of all rural AIDS cases) that voted for Mr Bush in each of his two elections. Testing strategies in the US have been such a failure that 30% of HIV-infected people don't know it, and continue to spread the virus to others. Mr Bush made virtually no public references during his time in office to the AIDS epidemic in America.
Frequent references to the Almighty in a decade of speeches have, if anything, given a really bad name to Christianity. Rather than finding ways to project American power through compassion, he devalued the lives of people across the Middle East in the name of protecting the lives of Americans. The future of America's economy, its environment, and its national security have all been jeopardized by the poorly-formed conscience at the top that was guiding the Federal Government's decision making. But most Americans are optimistic about the people who are taking over. May they set a new standard for moral action, on behalf of all the world's citizens, so help them God.