Here is what stuck with me, Bush-basher that I remain: In response to a reporter's question about what he considered his biggest mistake, he actually brought up Katrina, un-prompted. But guess what the "mistake" was: he didn't land right then and there and - and do what?
"I've thought long and hard about Katrina...could I have done anything different-ly... like... land Airforce One..."
"Land Air force One?"
All Bush could think about was how he could have made his tragic administration look better. He thought it was a mistake to fly over it all, safe and warm in Air force One, looking down at the destruction in that bemused way... but then, he pointed out, "law enforcement would have been pulled away from important work..."
Land Air force One. After the calculated evisceration of FEMA in the months leading up to this widely-recognized, imminent danger; the dozens of crony Federal Agency appointments for people well-fitted to the job of dismantling "big government" and sending competent career people into disgusted early retirement. After the famous Chertoff interview on NPR, where the Secretary learned for the first time, on the air, about the starving and dead people in the Convention Center. Mistakes? Just a bad choice of photo-ops, really.
In a short time it appeared that this was an extempore event. Bush went off on a rambling, nearly hysterical defense of his long record of failures, sounding on the verge of tears, though we didn't actually hear him stomp his foot in frustration. Voice rising to a plaintive wail, he repeated his trademark slogans. Enemies... Freedom... They're Out There... Soon it was as if the reporters and cameras had suddenly faded away, leaving him alone with his tortured thoughts. It was almost a soliloquy. He ranted on, something about "connecting the dots." He soared to heights of rhetoric, or tried to, as if hearing the fading thunder of his own former glory.
Then he seemed to catch himself, rally his forces, buck himself up. This only gave him the aspect of a cornered rat. The old framings and spinnings and talking points came more assertively, the self-answered questions, the straw man arguments, as if this could somehow inject some credibility into the old worn-out lies. Repeating his tired and formulaic rallying cries, he reminded me of the scene in Reuben Ship's wonderful old radio play, "The Investigator," where the McCarthy character mutters, "I'm the Chief. I am the Chief... building to a crescendo of crack-voiced screams, "I a-a-am the Chief!! Ahhhh a-a-a-m..." as he was hauled away, rejected by God and Satan alike, to be dumped back on Earth.
He, Bush, seemed to notice eventually, and started to talk in a kind of weird self-parody: "Pretty pathetic idn't it, self-pity..." though the context made it sound like he had some other President in mind, whining about the "burden of responsibility" the way some Presidents do - who did he have in mind, exactly?
The President's Last Press Conference was a study in obsessive denial reminiscent of a classic movie, I don't know, "Cain" or "Kane"... I almost expected him to take out a pair of ball bearings, or start mumbling "Rosebud..." as he turned to go.