Bush makes his exit, disenchantment in his wake
WASHINGTON - The choreography was smooth, the smiles were gracious, but all the same, George W. Bush's exit from Washington yesterday still carried a measure of pain.
To be sure, the now former president fulfilled his role flawlessly. He extended his hand again and again to his successor - on the steps of the White House for morning coffee, as they entered the limousine to ride together to the inauguration, on the grandstand at the Capitol.
And before he left the White House for the last time, Bush tucked a private note to Obama into the drawer of the desk in the Oval Office that aides said would convey his warmest wishes.
But surrounding Bush throughout the day were sights and sounds that his presidency, which began amid great controversy eight years ago, had ended in controversy as well.
Just as demonstrators clogged the barricades to protest his Supreme Court-mediated victory in 2000, so the disenchanted lined Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday.
On the drive to Capitol Hill, the once and future presidents passed protesters carrying signs reading, "Arrest Bush." When Bush made his entrance onto the grandstand with the orchestra playing "Hail to the Chief" for the last time, the crowd below began singing a different refrain: "hey, hey, hey - goodbye." One man waved his shoe.
Bush is famously thick-skinned. But as the morning wore on, his smile appeared to grow more strained.
Perhaps one reason was the unmistakable enthusiasm for his successor, who drew far larger crowds than Bush did to either of his two inaugurations. Or perhaps it was that despite Obama's repeated thanks to Bush, many of the words of the inauguration speech must have stung.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics," Obama said. "Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed." Several dozen White House staff members organized a private send-off for the Bushes in a closed hangar at Andrews Air Force Base, according to sources. Bush then took off for his childhood home of Midland on the way to their ranch in Crawford.
A crowd of nearly 20,000 welcomed the Bushes. "The presidency was a joyous experience, but as great as it was, nothing compares with Texas at sunset," Bush said. "Tonight I have the privilege of saying six words that I have been waiting to say for a while: 'It is good to be home.' "
"I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think," he said, "and I'm coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment."