In his final press conference a week before the historic inauguration of the industrialized world's first non-white leader, the sitting president wished the new president well. He also warned that the first priority must be vigilance against terrorists because there were "enemies" who wanted to inflict harm on America and Americans.
The "misunderestimated" sitting president leaving office with a popularity rating in the low-twenty percentage range, according to AOL news on January 13, said in that press conference that he was confident and that he would be proud to look in the mirror after leaving office. He was pleased with the results of the $350 billion dollar bailout for which there had been no accounting since the financial markets were beginning to thaw.
Two days later, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. economy started the new year on a weaker footing than expected. It quoted the Federal Reserve president as saying that the economy was in the midst of a serious recession likely to last at least another two quarters.
Those stories appeared on the same day Osama Bin Laden behind the 9/11 attack on the United States delivered a new message calling for jihad in response to a two-week campaign by Israel in Gaza that according to the United Nations had killed 1,000 people and according to the Associated Press, had, to date, caused $1.4 billion worth of damage in the already impoverished region. Lebanese militants had begun lobbing rockets into Israel by then. India was citing military movement by Pakistan in wake of the December Mumbai attack.
In preparation for the inauguration the following week, the sitting president had declared a state of emergency in Washington for the event, according to the New York Times on January 14. Ostensibly, the unusual step usually taken after a catastrophic event, was now taken as an economic measure to defray the costs of security for the large crowd expected at the momentous occasion of the popular new president's inauguration.
However, while most attendees would naturally enough be members of the new president's party, members of the sitting president's party had gone a step further than simply deciding to stay away from Washington during the period. The Kansas City Star reported on January 4 that an "inaugural party in exile" was planned to be held in Las Vegas to "celebrate the last hours of a Bush White House."
The sitting president's brother, meanwhile, had been reported in December to be considering a run for the United States Senate. As of early January, it was reported he had decided against the step.
By then, however, their father had said he'd like to see another son in the White House. That former president, whose own unpopularity was eclipsed by that of his son, did concede that it was probably a bad time because there had been enough of his family in the White House by then.
The current president, nevertheless, said in his last press conference that he did not care about popularity. He also said he would probably be back at work the day after the transition.
The web site Politico reported on January 14, the same day as the Osama message and the report of the declaration of a state of emergency for the inauguration, that the post-presidential office of the sitting president had been launched. It would be staffed by veterans of the current administration, including the architect himself, a former aid implicated in numerous constitutional abuses currently protected by executive privilege.
Among the charges against the deposed aid was an involvement in the outing of a federal agent for political purposes related to the justification for the country's invasion of Iraq. Other charges involved alleged voting irregularities in the election of the sitting president to a second term.
One component of the post-presidential office led by veterans of the current administration would be a "freedom institute" that would prolong the sitting president's legacy. The special emphasis would be on a "freedom agenda" to promote democracy in the Middle East.
The "misunderestimated" sitting president said in his last press conference that he was "getting off the stage" once the 2008 transition was complete. He believed there should be only one person in the kliegs at a time.
The exiting president's record under the kliegs spoke a volume. He had led the country into a war on false pretenses. He had violated constitutional rights. He had dispensed taxpayer money to financial institutions without requiring accountability. He had left the world economy in a catastrophic crisis and strict controls would be imposed on the allocation of the next $350 billion bailout money the new president would mete out by agreement with Congress.
The sitting president as the prototype of the white patriarchal hierarchy about to end with the upcoming inauguration had accomplished all that havoc on the country and the world in plain sight. Then he left the stage with a jaunty "good luck" to his successor, the first non-white leader of an industrialized country.
The establishment of the outgoing president's post-presidential office a week before the inauguration was a reassuring indication that no further catastrophe would occur before the exit. But the office was also a call for attention to accountability and to a reaffirmation of the fact that the country would not go forward without an end to a defunct leadership beyond impunity.
Helen Fogarassy is a Hungarian-born American internationalist writer working with the United Nations for nearly 20 years. She is the author of a suspense novel, The Midas Maze, about murderous hijinks in UN/US relations. She is also the author of The Light of a Destiny Dark, a novel about the Euro-American cultural gap through Hungarian eyes, and a nonfiction eyewitness tribute to the UN's work, Mission Improbable: The World Community on a UN Compound in Somalia. All are available on the major web bookstore sites. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org