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On His Way Out, Where Some See Mistakes, Bush Sees Disappointments
"I don't know why," Bush, the detached observer, replied. "You need to ask those who used the words they used."
Like Vice President Cheney, who on the Senate floor proposed that a prominent Democrat bleep himself?
The president seemed nostalgic and even wistful at times, and he tried to strike up the banter he enjoyed with the press corps when the economy was booming and the wars were going well. "Just seemed like yesterday that I was on the campaign trail," he began, with a tease: "Sometimes you misunderestimated me."
He called on CNN's Suzanne Malveaux in the front row. "You used to be known as Suzanne; now you're Suz-ahn," he said, though the correspondent's first name has not changed in pronunciation during the Bush years. With a French accent, he added: "I'm 'Gahge.' "
He even favored his audience with a final Bushism. In attempting to wish successor Barack Obama well, he found himself saying: "I'm telling you there's an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That's the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best."
Bush once boasted that "I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure me out," and yesterday he mocked talk about the "burdens of the office" he has held. Pretending to whine, he said, "Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It's just -- it's pathetic, isn't it, self-pity?"
Yet he was more willing than ever to be put on the couch yesterday during his final appearance in the briefing room -- as when CBS's Jim Axelrod asked him about what columnist Charles Krauthammer calls "Bush derangement syndrome" among the president's harshest critics.
"I don't see how I can get back home in Texas and look in the mirror and be proud of what I see if I allowed the loud voices, the loud critics, to prevent me from doing what I thought was necessary," the newly introspective Bush answered.
He seemed bored, nodding at familiar faces in the room, when he dispatched questions about the day's news. When Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times asked him about pardons, he shot back: "I won't be discussing pardons here at this press conference. Would you like to ask another question?"
Stolberg then invited him to confess his "single biggest mistake" -- and Bush volunteered three little ones.
"Clearly putting a 'Mission Accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," he acknowledged. And: "Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake." And finally: "I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake," a reference to his push to allow some Americans to invest a portion of their own Social Security funds in the stock market.
That trio of small errors, of course, only proved Bush's view that he has gotten the big things right. After a 45-minute tour of his triumphant presidency, he departed. But reporters in the front stood up before all the photographers could get their Bush-walks-out-the-door-for-the-last-time shots. "Down! Down!" the photographers shouted, to no avail.
It was a disappointment. Not a mistake, but a disappointment.