State of the Union: Tonight Just Say You're Sorry.

In recent months the dramatic presidential race, with its bipartisan promises of a change-filled future, has made it easy to forget someone is currently occupying the oval office. Tonight, though, George W. Bush takes center stage...

January 28, 2008

President of the United StatesIn recent months the dramatic presidential race, with its bipartisan promises of a change-filled future, has made it easy to forget someone is currently occupying the oval office. Tonight, though, George Walker Bush takes center stage to give his final State of the Union address. Traditionally the speech marries an upbeat progress report with an inspiring preview of the future. Neither tool gives Bush 43 much to work with. The economy. The war. Neither lends itself easily to uplifting positive conversation.

And the future -- what future? By now Bush must be ready to borrow a line from horror film master Wes Craven -- "Don't bury me -- I'm not dead." At this point, his primary role in shaping the future is to provide the starting point from which to shift 180 degrees

Here's an idea -- simple, yet profound. Bush should seize the moment tonight by standing in the well of the House and doing something no one expects - he should say "I'm sorry." Over the past eight years he's made decisions that have damaged America's reputation abroad, and even hurt our nation's self-perception. Assuming he neither anticipated nor wanted these consequences, Bush should still regret them. So why not show the country he's not a cardboard cut out, a one-dimensional decider who cannot ‘fess up and learn from his mistakes. Tonight the President can finally demonstrate an essential element of leadership that has been sorely lacking from his eight-year term and is summed up in "The One Minute Apology: A Powerful Way to Make Things Better" by management guru Ken Blanchard and Margaret McBride.

For starters, here are five Bush mistakes crying out for an apology:

  • 1. Mis-managing Katrina. The Gulf Coast and the country continue recuperating from the physical, emotional and psychological damage inflicted by Bush's mis-management before and after the storm. Bush should apologize for abandoning the neediest among us.
  • 2. Trashing DOJ. The Department of Justice is on the ropes. Suspicious firings of U.S. Attorneys; lack of transparency at the agency's highest levels; and support of questionable anti-terrorism tactics have chipped away at DOJ's stature and undermined its mission. Bush should apologize for his contributions to the Department's demise.
  • 3. Abusing Executive Power. Bush's exercise of unilateral authority has warped the balance of power among the branches of government. While a mea culpa now would limit the next president, not Bush, his acknowledgement would help us begin regaining that balance.
  • 4. Ruining America's Global Reputation. Here and abroad our nation's reputation is badly tarnished. We're the bully, spoiled rich kid, and know-it-all - rolled into one. Bush should regret his role in diminishing our great nation's standing in the world, and should tell us so.
  • 5. Dancing in Public. Bush should be commended for marking Malaria Day in 2007, but owes us all an apology for joining the West African dance troupe on stage and subjecting us to his, er, dancing.

Apologizing for these mistakes won't heal the country or automatically restore the public's trust and the world's respect. But if he truly wants to repair his legacy, admitting these failures would be a good place to begin.