I doubt that George W. Bush's farewell speech was designed to bump his count of Chutzpah of the Week awards up to fifteen. For one thing the number will never be an even one, since the count is influenced by one award that he shared with his entire Administration (regarding the decision not to sign a United Nations declaration on the decriminalization of homosexuality); but, since the true "legacy of Bush" will be the association of his name with nouns like "chutzpah," "denial," and other nouns left as an exercise for the reader to provide (not to mention a metaphor I recently invoked), it seemed appropriate to recognize the "chutzpah content" of what most of us hope will be his last words. What made the speech interesting was his last-ditch effort to prioritize his eight-year record in terms of what he thought were the positive high points. The result was one of those instances of "double-barreled chutzpah," with ammunition for each barrel salted (as always) with a generous sprinkling of denial. Let me consider these two barrels in the reverse order from how they were covered by Al Jazeera English (which was probably the order in the speech, which I could not bring myself to experience "first-hand"):
- Given that the economic crisis was one of the major factors behind the American people voting for change, so to speak, it was rather a surprise that Bush would have the chutzpah to say anything about the economy at all:
Bush also defended his economic record and in particular the $700bn bailout of Wall Street firms earlier this year in attempt to stave-off a financial crisis.
"Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy," Bush said from the White House.
"The toll would be far worse if we had not acted."
In retrospect those "decisive measures" seemed to involve little more than fear-mongering and running around like decapitated chickens (as if to demonstrate that the fear was justified). I hope I am not alone in my desire that the new Administration will be one in which any such "decisive measures" are preceded by cooperative deliberation on the parts of both the Executive and Legislative branches, an approach to decision making that seems to still be beyond the comprehension of our "Decider." The chutzpah of these remarks is further underscored now that more analytic minds are beginning to suggest that the bailout money spent thus far has had absolutely no effect, thus holding that last quoted sentence up to question if not falsifying it flat-out. Still, in the grand scheme of things, this is the weaker of the two barrels in Bush's chutzpah gun.
- The stronger barrel, as it were, is, of course, the even more fear-riddled terrorism barrel:
In his final televised address Bush insisted that his response to the attacks, including the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, would define his legacy.
"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results - America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil," he said in the speech broadcast live from the White House.
That last sentence finally clarifies just what it was that Bush meant by a "Global War on Terror." He is right that there can be little debate about the premise in that sentence, but that means that terrorist attacks in any other country just do not signify. The "Global War on Terror" was not about making the world safe from terrorism (as a worthy variation on the old Wilsonian ideal); it was about taking our war on terror to any part of the world where we felt it was necessary. When we combine this insight with recognizing the extent to which the attacks on September 11, 2001 might have been prevented had the President paid more attention to warning signs from his intelligence sources (sources that were later harnessed to make up stories about "weapons of mass destruction" that did not exist), any claim that "homeland security" is part of the Bush legacy is, as I like to say, chutzpah of the highest order.
Fifteen is a good number for Chutzpah of the Week awards. The awards can be arranged in a triangular array, rather like bowling pins with an additional row of five behind the row of four. Come to think of it, that would make for an interesting new variation of bowling. Imagine having fifteen pins at the end of the lane, each with Bush's face staring back at you. That would be an appropriate legacy for the last eight years! This sounds like an excellent opportunity for Brunswick or AMF to contribute to economic recovery with a new product that could have considerable mass appeal, particularly on Main Street!