George W. Bush retires in 4 1/2 months, and he's going home to a place where there are no hurricanes. Neither big ones, like Katrina, that find a nation unprepared and send a President's approval rating to the bottom of a storm-ravaged sea, nor little ones, like Gustav. Bush was ready for Gustav, for what it's worth.
Central Texas is a land of dry grass, live oaks and the slow, brown waters of the Trinity and the Brazos, sanctified by the likes of John Wayne and Glenn Ford. Folks there would give Bush a third term if they could; you could see it in the way Texas delegates at the Republican Convention whooped and waved their matching straw cowboy hats whenever his name was mentioned in St. Paul, Minn.
But that didn't happen much. For the first time in 40 years, an incumbent President wasn't featured at his own party's convention. Bush was beamed in antiseptically from a seemingly empty White House, a lonely guy in quarantine, for a nine-minute speech. Senator Joseph Lieberman, who isn't even a Republican, spoke more than twice as long--and in prime time.
A 70% disapproval rating is the most feared disease in politics, rare and highly contagious. Bush contracted it after Katrina stripped his immunity and the germs swept in: Iraq, foreclosures, $4 gas. So you can't blame the GOP for trying to seal away its afflicted leader like the boy in the bubble. From now on, candidates in swing states won't go near him without a mask, gloves and a bottle of Purell. John McCain, the party's nominee, is promising to fumigate Washington. Add one more metaphor of sickness: the lame duck.
Bush has no hope but to heal himself. As the price of oil floated downward, as Iraq's Anbar province, formerly a charnel house, returned to local control, as another September arrived with no cities flooded or towers destroyed, his vital signs improved slightly. Too little and too late for this political cycle, but beyond that lie the low hills of Texas, out of the storms, and a quiet wait for history's verdict.