President George Bush gave his final press conference today. Lest I be accused of "Bush Derangement Syndrome," I'm reproducing some of the most interesting answers Bush gave today, with a minimum of snarky commentary. Actually, what I (and many others) have would properly be called "Bush Fatigue," as even his final week in office seems somehow endless. But I think it's worth taking one last peek inside Bush's thinking because it is so interesting to hear how his views of his term in office differ so significantly from the way others see him. If you'd like to read the entire transcript of the press release, the White House website has it up.
Bush started out by joshing around with the reporters, proving he still retains his sense of humor:
PRESIDENT BUSH: Through it all, it's been -- I have respected you. Sometimes didn't like the stories that you wrote or reported on. Sometimes you misunderestimated me. But always the relationship I have felt has been professional. And I appreciate it.
I appreciate -- I do appreciate working with you. My friends say, what is it like to deal with the press corps? I said, these are just people trying to do the best they possibly can.
And so here at the last press conference, I'm interested in answering some of your questions. But mostly I'm interested in saying thank you for the job.
Note that "misunderestimated" in there.
The first interesting question he got was on the future of the Republican Party:
BUSH: You see, I am concerned that, in the wake of the defeat, that the temptation will be to look inward and to say, well, here's a litmus test you must adhere to.
This party will come back. But the party's message has got to be that different points of view are included in the party. And -- take, for example, the immigration debate. That's obviously a highly contentious issue. And the problem with the outcome of the initial round of the debate was that some people said, well, Republicans don't like immigrants. Now, that may be fair or unfair, but that's what -- that's the image that came out.
And, you know, if the image is we don't like immigrants, then there's probably somebody else out there saying, well, if they don't like the immigrants, they probably don't like me, as well. And so my point was, is that our party has got to be compassionate and broad-minded.
I remember the 1964 elections. My dad happened to be running for the United State Senate then and, you know, got landslided with the Johnson landslide in the state of Texas. But it wasn't just George Bush who got defeated; the Republican Party was pretty well decimated at the time. At least that's what they -- I think that's how the pundits viewed it. And then '66 there was a resurgence. And the same thing can happen this time, but we just got to make sure our message is broad-gauged and compassionate; that we care about people's lives, and we've got a plan to help them improve their lives.
This, to me, is significant, because Bush is admitting they framed the issue wrong. Republicans in general, and Bush in particular, don't admit to that very often. In his defense, Bush's immigration plan was a lot better than what congressional Republicans came up with.
I also admire his furtherance of the English language by verb-izing the word "landslide," as I've never heard anyone do that before. Ahem.
On the economy:
BUSH: In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned, I helped implement tax cuts when I was President, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action. And there's a fundamental philosophical debate about tax cuts. Who best can spend your money, the government or you? And I have always sided with the people on that issue.
Now, obviously these are very difficult economic times. When people analyze the situation, there will be -- this problem started before my presidency, it obviously took place during my presidency. The question facing a President is not when the problem started, but what did you do about it when you recognized the problem. And I readily concede I chunked aside some of my free market principles when I was told by chief economic advisors that the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression.
So I've told some of my friends who said -- you know, who have taken an ideological position on this issue -- why did you do what you did? I said, well, if you were sitting there and heard that the depression could be greater than the Great Depression, I hope you would act too, which I did. And we've taken extraordinary measures to deal with the frozen credit markets, which have affected the economy. Credit spreads are beginning to shrink; lending is just beginning to pick up. The actions we have taken, I believe, have helped thaw the credit markets, which is the first step toward recovery.
And so, yes, look, there's plenty of critics in this business; I understand that. And I thank you for giving me a chance to defend a record that I am going to continue to defend, because I think it's a good, strong record.
Bush might want to ask John McCain how that "the state of the economy is strong" thought did out on the campaign trail. He's also basically admitting that the Republican ideology has been proven to be a disaster. Bush "chunked aside" his principles when he realized they had led the country into disaster. I guess that's something.
On his critics:
Q: Well, a couple years ago, Charles Krauthammer, columnist and Harvard-trained psychiatrist, coined a term, "Bush derangement syndrome," to talk about your critics who disagreed with you most passionately -- not just your policies, but seemed to take an animosity towards you. I'm just wondering, as you look back, why you think you engendered such passionate criticism, animosity, and do you have any message specifically to those -- to that particular part of the spectrum of your critics?
BUSH: You know, most people I see, you know, when I'm moving around the country, for example, they're not angry. And they're not hostile people. And they -- we never meet people who disagree, that's just not true. I've met a lot of people who don't agree with the decisions I make. But they have been civil in their discourse.
And so, I view those who get angry and yell and say bad things and, you know, all that kind of stuff, it's just a very few people in the country. I don't know why they get angry. I don't know why they get hostile. It's not the first time, however, in history that people have expressed themselves in sometimes undignified ways. I've been reading, you know, a lot about Abraham Lincoln during my presidency, and there was some pretty harsh discord when it came to the 16th President, just like there's been harsh discord for the 43rd President.
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 on hard tasks, and in times of war people get emotional; I understand that. Never really, you know, spent that much time, frankly, worrying about the loud voices. I of course hear them, but they didn't affect my policy, nor did they affect -- affect how I made decisions.
You know, the -- President-Elect Obama will find this, too. He'll get in the Oval Office and there will be a lot of people that are real critical and harsh, and he'll be disappointed at times by the tone of the rhetoric. And he's going to have to do what he thinks is right, Jim. And if you don't, then I don't see how you can live with yourself. 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 to protect this country.
Thus proving the "Bush bubble" is still intact. He still doesn't realize the way that three-fourths of Americans see him. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, Mr. President. Oh, but I'm getting Bushtastically deranged here, so let's move on.
Bush refuses to answer a pardons question, and then reflects on his mistakes:
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, in recent days, there's been a fair amount of discussion in legal circles about whether or not you might give preemptive pardons, pardons in advance, to officials of your administration who engaged in anything from harsh interrogation tactics to perhaps dismissing U.S. attorneys. I'd like to know, have you given any consideration to this? And are you planning on it?
BUSH: I won't be discussing pardons here at this press conference.
Q: Can I have a follow-up?
BUSH: Would you like to ask another question?
Q: Yes, I would, sir. Thank you. Four years ago --
BUSH: That's the spirit, isn't it? (Laughter.)
Q: I appreciate that.
BUSH: Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q: Four years ago, you were asked if you had made any mistakes.
Q: And I'm not trying to play "gotcha," but I wonder, when you look back over the long arc of your presidency, do you think, in retrospect, that you have made any mistakes? And if so, what is the single biggest mistake that you may have made?
BUSH: Gotcha. I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better, or, you know, mistakes I made. Clearly putting a "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.
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 and -- 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?
I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform. And the reason why is, is that -- you know, one of the lessons I learned as governor of Texas, by the way, is legislative branches tend to be risk-adverse. In other words, sometimes legislatures have the tendency to ask, why should I take on a hard task when a crisis is not imminent? And the crisis was not imminent for Social Security as far as many members of Congress was concerned.
As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don't believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics. I, matter of fact, think that in the future, not talking about how you intend to fix Social Security is going to be the third rail of American politics.
One thing about the presidency is that you can make -- only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand. You don't get to have information after you've made the decision. That's not the way it works. And you stand by your decisions, and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made.
There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. 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.
Anyway, I think historians will look back and they'll be able to have a better look at mistakes after some time has passed. Along Jake's question, there is no such thing as short-term history. I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed: Where does a President's -- did a President's decisions have the impact that he thought they would, or he thought they would, over time? Or how did this President compare to future Presidents, given a set of circumstances that may be similar or not similar? I mean, there's -- it's just impossible to do. And I'm comfortable with that.
Actually, the only discussion among historians is likely to be whether Bush was the worst president ever, or merely in the bottom five. Maybe this is the true "Bush derangement syndrome" -- Bush's deranged view that somehow people in the future will love and respect him.
Bush on torture and how the rest of the world views us:
Q: One of the major objectives that the incoming administration has talked frequently about is restoring America's moral standing in the world. And many of the allies of the new President -- I believe that the President-elect himself has talked about the damage that Gitmo, that harsh interrogation tactics that they consider torture, how going to war in Iraq without a U.N. mandate have damaged America's moral standing in the world. I'm wondering basically what is your reaction to that? Do you think that is that something that the next President needs to worry about?
BUSH: I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged. 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.
You go to Africa, you ask Africans about America's generosity and compassion; go to India, and ask about, you know, America's -- their view of America. Go to China and ask. Now, no question parts of Europe have said that we shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq without a mandate, but those are a few countries. Most countries in Europe listened to what 1441 said, which is disclose, disarm or face serious consequences.
Most people take those words seriously. Now, some countries didn't -- even though they might have voted for the resolution. I disagree with this assessment that, you know, people view America in a dim light. I just don't agree with that. And I understand that Gitmo has created controversies. But when it came time for those countries that were criticizing America to take some of those -- some of those detainees, they weren't willing to help out. And so, you know, I just disagree with the assessment, Mike.
I'll remind -- listen, I tell people, yes, you can try to be popular. In certain quarters in Europe, you can be popular by blaming every Middle Eastern problem on Israel. Or you can be popular by joining the International Criminal Court. I guess I could have been popular by accepting Kyoto, which I felt was a flawed treaty, and proposed something different and more constructive.
And in terms of the decisions that I had made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the Constitution of the United States, and putting plans in place that makes it easier to find out what the enemy is thinking, because all these debates will matter not if there's another attack on the homeland. The question won't be, you know, were you critical of this plan or not; the question is going to be, why didn't you do something?
Do you remember what it was like right after September the 11th around here? In press conferences and opinion pieces and in stories -- that sometimes were news stories and sometimes opinion pieces -- people were saying, how come they didn't see it, how come they didn't connect the dots? Do you remember what the environment was like in Washington? I do. When people were hauled up in front of Congress and members of Congress were asking questions about, how come you didn't know this, that, or the other? And then we start putting policy in place -- legal policy in place to connect the dots, and all of a sudden people were saying, how come you're connecting the dots?
And so, Mike, I've heard all that. I've heard all that. My view is, is that most people around the world, they respect America. And some of them doesn't like me, I understand that -- some of the writers and the, you know, opiners and all that. That's fine, that's part of the deal. But I'm more concerned about the country and our -- how people view the United States. They view us as strong, compassionate people who care deeply about the universality of freedom.
"Some of them doesn't like me" -- a final Bushism on his way out the door. Call me an "opiner" for even bringing it up, I guess. The nicest thing about the incoming president is that Barack Obama can actually put together an English sentence without tripping over himself on a regular basis.
Bush on the bubble:
Q: Mr. President, you spoke of the moment that the responsibility of the office would hit Barack Obama. The world is a far different place than it was when it hit you. When do you think he's going to feel the full impact? And what, if anything, have you and the other Presidents shared with him about the effects of the sometimes isolation, the so-called bubble of the office?
BUSH: Yes, that's a great question. He'll -- he will feel the effects the minute he walks in the Oval Office. At least, that's when I felt. I don't know when he's going -- he may feel it the minute he's -- gets sworn in. And the minute I got sworn in, I started thinking about the speech. (Laughter.) And so -- but he's a better speech-maker than me, so he'll be able to -- he'll be able to -- I don't know how he's going to feel. All I know is he's going to feel it. There will be a moment when he feels it.
I have never felt isolated and I don't think he will. One reason he won't feel isolated is because he's got a fabulous family and he cares a lot about his family. That's evident from my discussions with him. He'll be -- he's a 45-second commute away from a great wife and two little girls that love him dearly.
I believe this -- the phrase "burdens of the office" is overstated. You know, it's kind of like, why me? Oh, the burdens, you know. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? It's just -- it's pathetic, isn't it, self-pity. And I don't believe that President-Elect Obama will be full of self-pity. He will find -- you know, your -- the people that don't like you, the critics, they're pretty predictable. Sometimes the biggest disappointments will come from your so-called friends. And there will be disappointments, I promise you. He'll be disappointed. On the other hand, the job is so exciting and so profound that the disappointments will be clearly, you know, a minor irritant compared to the --
Q: It was never the "loneliest office in the world" for you?
BUSH: No, not for me. We had a -- people -- we -- I had a fabulous team around me of highly dedicated, smart, capable people, and we had fun. I tell people that, you know, some days happy, some days not so happy, every day has been joyous. And people, they say, I just don't believe it to be the case. Well, it is the case. Even in the darkest moments of Iraq, you know, there was -- and every day when I was reading the reports about soldiers losing their lives, no question there was a lot of emotion, but also there was times where we could be light-hearted and support each other.
And I built a team of really capable people who were there not to serve me, or there to serve the Republicans, they were there to serve the country. And President-Elect Obama will find, as he makes these tough calls and tough decisions, that he'll be supported by a lot of really good people that care -- care about the country, as well.
So there you have it. Bush's term in office was "joyous," and he "had fun." Although I must say, throughout the entire press conference, Bush did have nothing but praise for Barack Obama.
And finally, on New Orleans:
Q: Mr. President, on New Orleans, you basically talked about a moment ago about the photo opportunity. But let's talk about what you could have done to change the situation for the city of New Orleans to be further along in reconstruction than where it is now. And also, when you came -- or began to run for the Oval Office about nine years ago or so, the James Byrd dragging death was residue on your campaign. And now at this time, 2009, we have the first black President. Could you tell us what you have seen on the issues of race, as you see it from the Oval Office?
BUSH: Sure, thanks. First of all, we did get the $121 billion, more or less, passed, and it's now being spent. Secondly, the school system is improving dramatically. Thirdly, people are beginning to move back into homes. This storm was a devastating storm, April, that required a lot of energy, a lot of focus and a lot of resources to get New Orleans up and running.
And has the reconstruction been perfect? No. Have things happened fairly quickly? Absolutely. And is there more to be done? You bet there is.
Q: What more needs to be done?
BUSH: Well, more people need to get in their houses. More people need to have their own home there. But the systems are in place to continue the reconstruction of New Orleans.
People said, well, the federal response was slow. Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them for their courageous efforts to rescue people off roofs. Thirty thousand people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. It's a pretty quick response.
Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely. But when I hear people say, the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers, or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?
The other part of the -- look, I was affected by the TV after the elections -- when I saw people saying, I never thought I would see the day that a black person would be elected President, and a lot of the people had tears streaming down their cheeks when they said it. And so I am -- I am -- consider myself fortunate to have a front-row seat on what is going to be an historic moment for the country. President-Elect Obama's election does speak volumes about how far this country has come when it comes to racial relations. But there's still work to do. There's always going to be work to do to deal with people's hearts.
And so I'm looking forward to it, really am. I think it's going to be -- it's going to be an amazing -- amazing moment.
So, since the Coast Guard did a good job, Katrina wasn't as bad as, you know, all those pictures we saw on television. Who are you going to trust, Bush or your own lying eyes? Sheesh.
I will agree with President Bush about one thing. It's going to be an amazing moment to see the end of his presidency. We've all been ready for this moment for a long time now, and it is truly amazing that it's just over a week away.
I mean, how much worse can things get in one week? Perhaps I shouldn't even tempt fate by asking....
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com