Watching Junior Bush take a last, ridiculous victory lap around the East Room Thursday night, I could think of nothing but that last disgraced president who chose that venue to say goodbye to the last of the loyalists. An hour or so before he left the White House for the last time, in deserved disgrace, Richard Nixon had a near-psychological breakdown in the East Room in front of several hundred stunned family members and staff, putting on reading glasses and blubbering about "T.R." (Nixon imagined himself a Teddy Roosevelt soulmate) and his mother and father. You could see Henry Kissinger, David Eisenhower and other final enablers giving subtle signals to each other – Have we seen enough? Should we go get him? – as they watched in horror. Eventually, he sucked it up, got out of the room and on the helicopter, never to darken the People’s House again.
It was a pitiful performance and the most revealing video in presidential history. The stagecraft failed and his dream destroyed, Nixon stood naked before the country and cracked up. At last we could see how disturbed he was; how truly psychotic. It let us understand why he sat in the Oval Office, tape recorders whirring, spinning his selfish webs of revenge and deceit, plotting to protect himself from himself.
It was a gift, really, for him to let himself go like that. Like Jimmy Cagney at the end of Angels With Dirty Faces – when he gets fried in the electric chair, crying like a sniveling coward, after telling the boys on the street that he would go proudly and "spit in their face" – maybe Nixon was sending us a message that he couldn’t bring himself to speak in words: That he was weak, he was wrong, he was sorry and he was gone.
George W. Bush isn’t worthy to serve Nixon and Pat cocktails in San Clemente. He remained, to the end, an unrepentant, spoiled punk, who is leaving office the same way he came in – smug, stupid and shameless. The charm offensive conducted by him and Dick Cheney in the past month or so has been stomach-churning in its audacity and unspeakable in its lies. As he smirked and winked through one last teeth-grinding performance before his own assembled collection of dead-enders, you had to wonder just who he thought he was talking to. Was he trying to put a slick gloss on his disastrous presidency to try to rescue the Republican party, which will never recover from his failures and hubris? Why would he care what the history books write about him when he never cared about anything but the wealth of his benefactors? Do these people really think anyone is listening to the gibberish they have been churning out in this pathetic Legacy Tour?
So Junior Bush, unlike Nixon, denies us the satisfaction of seeing any of the sorrow or remorse for his failures and crimes that he might have been able to muster in his small heart. To do so would have been a shocking instance of the kind of introspection and intelligence of which this small man is so obviously incapable. After undeservedly basking in the glow of Barack Obama’s historic moment, Bush will slink off to his new mansion in Dallas this week, the rewards of his service to the unbearable elite and the cushy pension of even our worst presidents waiting for him. The wreckage of his eight years in power is immense, but the burden is lifted ever so slightly by the fact of his leaving.