"What if the bit with the bullhorn was as good as it gets?
"I'm talking, of course, about the Commander in Chief -- surrounded by rubble, his arm around a hero's shoulders, his amplified voice promising a day of reckoning for those who, only days earlier, had committed the murderous deed. He was magnificent, growing into his office right before our tear-stained eyes.
"But what if that was the high point? What if George Bush is a one-trick pony?"
Six years, almost to the day, since I asked those questions. And now, six years later, we have our answers. Where once there were doubts about George W. Bush, now -- sadly -- the doubts have vanished. We have facts, and figures. Reports, and revelations. We have the Incredible Shrinking Leader, tinier by the day as the problems grew larger and more numerous.
Heedless. Reckless. Careless. Clueless. Lawless. Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.
* * *
Still, we need to show George Bush some sympathy. After all, this was never a job he dreamed of having. This was the job other people told him he should want, and could get.
He'd have been perfectly happy being the commissioner of baseball. For all we know, he'd have been perfectly successful being the commissioner of baseball. Just his luck -- and ours: The position wasn't available when the time came to make those crucial career decisions.
So he went to Plan B instead. He went into the family business. He went into politics.
"His Accidency": They called John Tyler that, way back in 1841, when he assumed the president's powers after William Henry Harrison died just a month after taking office. No president had ever died in office before, and it wasn't entirely clear whether Tyler, Harrison's vice president, was now the president in fact, or simply a caretaker carrying out presidential duties.
"His Accidency." Is the title any less appropriate for George Walker Bush? How much had to break exactly right to put him on that Inaugural stand in January of 2001?
A half-million fewer popular votes than his opponent received, but neck-and-neck in the electoral vote, and it all came down to Florida, where there was a butterfly ballot that was borderline impenetrable, and where the punch hole for Patrick Buchanan looked just enough like the punch hole for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman to confuse just enough old Jewish ladies in Palm Beach County into voting for someone they certainly didn't intend to vote for.
And in case all of that wasn't enough, the governor of the state that was up for grabs just happened to be George Bush's own brother, and his own father had appointed part of the Supreme Court that called off the recount, and --
* * *
He was in over his head.
He came in determined to avenge his father, or complete him, or outshine him. He leaves having made his father look good -- if only by comparison. He leaves having made possible, by dint of failure after failure, the previously unthinkable: the election of a black man -- a black Democrat, no less, with few of the standard trappings -- as his successor. Eight years of George W. Bush, and the country was so desperate for change that even a man named Barack Hussein Obama was suddenly plausible. Was electable. Was elected, in a landslide.
That's how bad he was.
Consequential? He was certainly consequential. But then, so was Hurricane Katrina.
He was chosen at a moment of peace and prosperity. He was a guy you'd want to have a beer with, people said -- good enough. What difference would it make who sat in the Oval Office? How much damage could one man do?
Now we know.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.