No Comment — January 4, 2009, 10:56 am

The Smaller-than-life President?

In the last four years of the Bush administration, Karl Rove and his minions labored hard to sell Bush to Americans as a modern Lincoln, leading the country to greatness in difficult times. The comparison was ludicrously off-mark, and today as historians rank Abraham Lincoln first among presidents, they consistently rate George W. Bush dead last—a more compelling failure even than James Buchanan, the man who brought us the Civil War and whose inept bungling helped make Lincoln look so good. Last week Rove moved to a more modest effort. In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Rove presents us George Bush the egghead. He writes that since New Year’s 2005, Bush has read nearly one hundred books, including an impressive array of classics, works of history, and fiction. How credible is this claim? Bush is married to the former Laura Welch, a librarian who has worked tirelessly to promote reading. So he’s lived in an environment where reading matters and is encouraged. But judging Bush’s public speaking skills, one has cause to question his reading comprehension; Bush the egghead is just about as credible as Bush the new Lincoln.

Frank Rich takes a look at the impressive Rovian apparatus that sold Americans George W. Bush, presenting him as a larger-than-life Texan with swagger.

The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.

But it’s too early to sing Bush’s swan song. The press would have us believe he’s faded from the scene, but like a three-year-old intent on destroying his toy rather than share it with his younger brother, Bush is leaving Washington in a spree of self-indulgent excess, rage and destruction. The Justice Department is busy doling out special treats to corporate supporters of Bush in the form of “settlements” of enforcement actions (though the joke is on the public, since for the most part there were no enforcement actions to begin with). Having conned Congress, Bush’s Treasury Department is being emptied, and the nation’s future is being mortgaged in order to dole out hundreds of billions to friends with no accountability or oversight. As the time comes for the National Archives to take possession of Bush’s paper record, they find that millions of documents have mysteriously vanished, much of this the work of a cyber-conspiracy with the Republican Party organized by an IT consultant who just died in a private plane crash after expressing fear that his plane would be sabotaged. And finally, we have Bush’s Christmas gift to the people of Gaza: bunker-busting bombs being given a test drive as a prelude to their ultimate use—in Iran, perhaps?

Remember: there are still three weeks. If Bush really wants to go out with a bang, he’ll look for something beyond the petty little proxy war in Gaza. This is a president who thinks big. Texas big. Our press is focused on the inaugural, three weeks away. It should be worried about whether we will yet make it that far. Bush is struggling to put the seal on his legacy. And what could top being the last president?

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