Bush says goodbye

In a farewell address to the country, the outgoing president looks ahead, but also falls back on familiar themes.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 16, 2009 1:45AM (EST)

Thursday night, George W. Bush delivered the last address he'll give to the nation as president. It had been billed by the White House as a forward-looking speech, and, in part, it was. He wished President-elect Barack Obama well, and discussed the direction he thinks the country should go in. But most of it looked back at the past eight years.

In fact, it was a familiar subject -- 9/11 -- that dominated the speech. After he briefly discussed Obama and his family, and thanked Vice President Dick Cheney, members of his administration and his family, Bush moved immediately to the attacks, and the resulting War on Terror formed the bulk of the address. The themes he struck on this topic were familiar, ones he's used repeatedly over the past few years.

There were some odd moments in the speech. Bush's delivery was awkward; he spoke as if he didn't really feel the words he was speaking, as if he wasn't making a serious connection with them. And some of those words were, at best, poorly chosen. One paragraph, in particular, stood out as a half-hearted, almost desperate defense:

Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. 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.

But at the end of the speech, Bush did look to the future again, talking about the end of his time in the White House, saying it was "the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your president" and closing with the words, "And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God bless this house and our next president. And may God bless you and our wonderful country."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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