Reading over President Bush's farewell address, I was reminded of an old rule of salesmanship. When you're trying to make a tough sell with a skeptical customer, try to at least get them nodding with some kind of obvious, uncontroversial statement. With that in mind, this passage from the speech jumped out at me:

There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.

I'm trying to picture the speechwriter come up with this formulation:

"There are things I would do differently if given the chance, yet I think we can agree things turned out pretty well." No. How about,"There are things I would do differently if given the chance, yet when I was making my decisions, I always kept the little guy in mind." No. Okay, what about, "There are things I would do differently if given the chance, yet my decisions were always made in a thoughtful, open way with lots of input from both parties." No. How about...

So what they settled for was the claim that Bush didn't enact policies that he knew would harm the country. That's a pretty modest claim. Kim Jong Il could say that. Bush's defense essentially comes down to the fact that he wasn't paid by hostile foreign powers to discredit America abroad while weakening it from within. And I agree --the proposition that Bush was deliberately undermining the United States has no evidence to support it. I mean, except for the policies themselves. And occassional head-scratchers like this:

But, okay, I agree: Bush is almost certainly not a foreign agent working to sabotage the United States. On that even his critics can agree. Provisionally.

Enjoy your retirement, Mr. President.

--Jonathan Chait