Bush's Last Press Conference

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 12, 2009; 2:20 PM

In his last scheduled press conference, President Bush started off this morning with some kind words for the press corps. "I'm interested in answering some of your questions, but mostly I'm interested in saying thank you for the job," he said.

He then proceeded to demonstrate as clearly as ever that he doesn't read what they write -- or, at least, he doesn't let it change his perceptions of reality.

Bush responded most angrily to Washington Post reporter Michael Abramowitz's observation that members of the incoming Obama administration have spoken extensively about the need to restore America's moral standing in the world.

"I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged," Bush said. (Even though it has, dreadfully. See, for instance, this Pew Global Attitudes Project report.)

"It may be damaged amongst some of the elite. But people still understand America stands for freedom; that America is a country that provides such great hope," Bush continued, before launching into a defensive tirade heavy on 9/11 references.

"And in terms of the decisions that I had made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. . . . Because all these debates will matter naught if there's another attack on the homeland. . . . Do you remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here?"

Bush dismissed a question about why he engenders such animosity among his critics. First, he said: "You know, most people I see -- you know, as I'm moving around the country, for example -- they're not angry."

Then he blamed the anger on his tough choices. "You know, presidents can try to avoid hard decisions, and therefore avoid controversy. That's just not my nature. I'm the kind of person that, you know, is willing to take -- to take on hard -- hard tasks."

He continued to prove unable to admit any serious mistakes on his part. As before, he expressed regret for his cowboy rhetoric and said he should have pursued immigration before Social Security restructuring. But while he acknowledged disappointments, he avoided responsibility. "Abu Ghraib, obviously, was a huge disappointment, during the presidency. You know, not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment," he said. "I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way. . . . Look, I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better or, you know, mistakes I made."

As usual, he argued on behalf of delayed judgment. "I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed," he said.

One thing Bush hadn't shared previously was his thinking about Hurricane Katrina, which up until the financial crisis was seen as his biggest domestic failure.

"I've thought long and hard about Katrina; you know, could I have done something differently," he said. Like what? "[L]ike land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge."

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