Bush: Same as he ever was

In his homecoming speech in Texas, former president sought to defend his legacy.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Published January 21, 2009 6:15PM (EST)

Former President George W. Bush has often been criticized for his aversion to self-reflection and his penchant for stubbornness. Yet, I still find it remarkable that after sitting through an inauguration and inaugural speech that essentially served as symbolic rebukes of his presidency, Bush maintains that he made few, if any, mistakes as president.

After leaving the inauguration, Bush flew to Midland, Texas, where he gave a homecoming speech in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters. In the speech, the former president repeatedly sought to defend his presidency and even expressed pride in the job he'd done leading the U.S.

"I always felt it was important to tackle the tough issues today and not try to pass them on to future presidents, and future generations," Bush said. "I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think. And I'm coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment."

Bush went on to say that because of how his administration reacted to 9/11, the U.S. "liberated 50 million people from the clutches of terrorism." He also argued that his decisions as president were justified because he thought they were right at the time he made them. "I gave it my all. Listen. Sometimes what I did wasn't popular, but that's OK, I always did what I thought was right."

Listening to the speech, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that throughout his presidency, Bush never changed because he never thought he had to. He's the same man now, despite all that happened during his two terms, that he was eight years ago. Bush echoed this idea Tuesday when he expressed hope that history will vindicate his choices.

"History will be the judge of my decisions, but when I walked out of the Oval Office this morning, I left with the same values that I took to Washington eight years ago," he said. "And when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I'm not going to regret what I see -- except maybe some gray hair."

Few Americans heard Bush's speech defending his presidency live because the only major national television network to carry it was Fox News.

At least one former member of Bush's administration doesn't appear to be quite so convinced that Bush's legacy will improve over time. His former Secretary of State Colin Powell told CBS that Barack Obama's ascension to the presidency is a "reaffirmation of American principles values that will help us overcome some of the difficulties of recent years with respect to the attitude of the world toward us ... The America we remember is back again."

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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