Washington, Aug.12 : With his presidency of eight years close to winding down, George Bush is now more relaxed and a willing storyteller.
After watching sports for four straight days in Beijing, the leader of the free world is headed towards his Texas ranch on Thursday for two weeks of vacation. He will then return to a shrinking agenda and a Republican Party keen to distance itself from a president whose approval rating has been below 30 percent for much of the past year.
As for his desire to tell tales, Bush recently told about 600 electric company employees in Euclid, Ohio, that if they had any questions to ask of him about matters relating to energy, he would be glad to answer, but if on the other hand they did not, he said: "I can tell you a lot of interesting stories," which sent his audience into splits of laughter.
There was a brief pause, and then Bush said: "OK, I'll tell you a story," he said, and launched into the often-told tale of how a rainbow appeared in the sky as he began a 2002 speech in Romania. The anecdote was completely unrelated to his energy speech, and Bush used the story to talk about freedom.
As the president was speaking, a set of global trade talks halfway around the world was collapsing after seven years in the making. The Doha round's disintegration in Geneva was the latest sign that protectionist winds are blowing, and it was a sharp blow to Bush administration hopes for momentum that could be carried into domestic trade talks.
If the president were able to push any of the trade pacts through in his final months, it would be a significant notch in his belt.
However, on the day that there were no questions for Bush in Ohio and global trade talks died, hope for a last signature achievement grew dim.
The president still has his defenders.
"Lame duck status is when you don't exert influence anymore. That is hardly the case with the president, especially since we're at war and he's still quite an active commander in chief," said Peter Wehner, former White House director of strategic initiatives.
In fact, the news from Iraq continues to be good, although Afghanistan looks increasingly worrisome.
Bush has always decamped in August to his ranch in Crawford, but even there this year, he'll be reminded that his time in power is near an end.
Bush will receive briefings on world events, meet with members of his Cabinet and make a trip or two to raise money for Republican candidates while on vacation, he most likely will be overshadowed by the run-up to the two political conventions.
In an apparent recognition of sorts that he is no longer the center of attention, Bush did not hurry back from the Summer Olympics in Beijing, even when war erupted between Russia and Georgia, a former Soviet bloc territory.
He and First Lady Laura Bush attended the opening ceremonies, but that was just the beginning. The president hobnobbed with women's beach volleyball players in bikinis, watched the men's basketball team defeat Yao Ming's Chinese squad, saw U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps win a gold medal and saw the U.S. baseball and softball teams practice.
"Bush would not stay four days if he was not on his way out," said John C. Fortier, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.