The outgoing president wishes his successor well, and discusses some of his mistakes, but maintains that history will be the final judge of his performance.
As he prepares to leave office, this week will most likely be one of lasts for President George W. Bush. Monday morning was one of those, as the president held the final press conference of his administration.
In a wide-ranging session, Bush thanked the reporters who’ve covered him since the 2000 campaign, talked about his mistakes and disappointments and wished President-elect Barack Obama well.
The outgoing president was more open than he has been in the past about discussing his regrets, but when talking about his critics, he held firm to his belief that history will think more kindly of him than Americans do right now. Unsurprisingly, the comparison he drew was to Abraham Lincoln. “I’ve been reading, you know, a lot about Abraham Lincoln during my presidency and there’s some pretty harsh discord when it came to the 16th president, just like there’s been harsh discord for the 43rd president,” Bush said. “And in times of war, people get emotional. I understand that. I’ve never really, you know, spent that much time, frankly, worrying about the loud voices.”
Bush was more likely to talk about “disappointments” than about mistakes or regrets, but he did admit that the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner was a bad idea, that some of his rhetoric had been a mistake and that both Abu Ghraib and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had been “disappointments.” He defended the decision not to land Air Force One in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina, however, saying, “I’ve thought long and hard about Katrina; you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, ‘How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?’
The president declined to talk about any plans to issue further pardons, but he did talk about what he’d do after Obama takes over, saying he’d likely start working again immediately. “I’m a type-A personality. I just can’t envision myself [with] the big straw hat and Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach,” Bush said. “Particularly since I quit drinking.”
Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon. More Alex Koppelman.
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