Here is George W. Bush pushing an aluminum cart down the aisle of his TWA charter, pretending to take drink orders from reporters. He is wearing a blue, basket weave shirt, a red Ferragamo tie, dress slacks and a big Western belt with a huge state of Texas belt buckle that has "George W. Bush" embossed on it. He is wearing ostrich-skin boots.
About 100 journalists are on the plane, which has "Great Expectations" printed on its nose. It is June 12, 1999. Bush is beginning his first campaign for president.
He shakes the hand of every reporter, talking easily, laughing and joking with them. A few seconds earlier, he had gotten out his half-glasses, perched them on his nose and read from a piece of paper into the intercom.
"This is your candidate speaking," he said. "Please stow your expectations securely in the overhead bin as they may shift during the trip and they could fall and hurt someone especially me."
The reporters laughed.
"Please understand that while you are traveling with a well-trained crew, for many of us, this is our first solo flight," he continued. "Thanks for coming along today we know you have a choice of candidates when you fly, and we appreciate you choosing Great Expectations."
The reporters applauded. We knew this was part of Bush's calculated "charm offensive," but we were charmed anyway. The Bush campaign also knew that reporters like stuff, so when we came aboard each seat had resting on it a T-shirt that read "I Have Great Expectations for Governor Bush" and a laminated luggage tag labeled "Score Card" that asked: "How Did He Do?"
I still have my tag. It asks for grades for Bush. The grades are: "Grand Slam," "Triple," "Double," "Single" and "Back to Minors."
Now, at the end of his presidency, Bush is handing out no such scorecards. But he is getting graded nonetheless.
I don't think George W. Bush ever wanted to be president. Not really. In 1992, as "owner" (he had a 1.8 percent stake) of the Texas Rangers, he lobbied hard to become commissioner of baseball, even though Texas Republican leaders had already asked him to run for governor. Only when his attempt for the baseball job failed did Bush decide to run for governor. But he had to be pushed into it. Just as he had to be pushed into running for president.
And there were always people around him willing to do the pushing, seeing him as a vehicle for their agendas.
I don't think George Bush ever had a passion for the job of president. Nor do I think he ever enjoyed it. I don't view Bush as a tragic figure, but his two terms had tragic consequences: a war in Iraq, a shattered economy, the shredding of America's image around the world.
In his farewell address on Thursday, he understandably tried to make the best of things, pointing out some of his achievements: keeping the country safe from further attack after Sept. 11, 2001, fighting AIDS and malaria in Africa, increasing benefits for veterans.
Then there came this line: "You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."
That was the problem, however. He made tough, wrong decisions. Or those around him did.
How better things might have been if Bush had said in 2003, "Launching an invasion of Iraq is a really tough decision. But let's wait to see if those weapons of mass destruction really exist."
And then there were those decisions not quickly made. Like rushing aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. His "willingness" to make tough decisions lagged a little there. And people no longer felt as if their president really had his head in the game.
"I'm not really the type to wander off and sit down and go through a deep wrestling with my soul," he once told reporters.
So maybe he will not wrestle with his soul over these last eight years. But I think he is very, very glad they are over.