02/13/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush's Ultimate Exit Interview

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Igor Volsky

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Yesterday, President Bush appeared before the White House press corps for his 47th -- and last -- full-scale press conference, taking questions in what he called "the ultimate exit interview." Though the White House had high expectations for Bush's farewell meeting with the media, telling reporters that it would be "standing room only," the last two rows in the seven-row briefing room were empty. Subsequently, a press aide had to tell White House interns to fill the seats. Despite job approval ratings around or below 30 percent since February 2007, Bush "seemed largely in good spirits" as he pontificated on his years in office. Bush "was by turns impassioned and defiant, reflective and light-hearted, even as he conceded that some things 'didn't go according to plan,'" notes the New York Times. "Clearly putting a 'Mission Accomplished' on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," said Bush. "Running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake." Bush continued his administration's efforts to paint his legacy in a positive light, declaring that he had "a good, strong record." Unfortunately for Bush, the American public believes his administration "will be remembered more for its failures than its accomplishments."

: Asked if he "made any mistakes" while in office, Bush said he had "thought long and hard about Katrina" and admitted that "things [could] have been done better." However, he denied any problem with the federal response to the disaster, insisting, "Don't tell me the federal response was slow." The fact is that the federal response was disastrously slow. As the White House itself acknowledged in a February 2006 report, "the response to Hurricane Katrina revealed a lack of familiarity with incident management, planning discipline, and field-level crisis leadership." A 2006 report compiled by House Republicans slammed what it called "a failure of leadership," saying that the federal government's "blinding lack of situational awareness and disjointed decision making needlessly compounded and prolonged Katrina's horror." The report specifically blamed Bush, noting that "earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response" because the President alone could have cut through bureaucratic resistance. In fact, despite a FEMA official's eyewitness accounts of New Orleans's levees being breached starting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 29, the Bush administration "did not consider them confirmed" until 11 hours later. FEMA did not order the evacuation of New Orleans until 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, two full days after Katrina made landfall. Bush even praised the rescue efforts as a "pretty good response."

Asked about President-elect Obama's desire to restore "America's moral standing in the world," Bush bristled at the idea, saying, "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." But it isn't just "the elite" who question the negative effect that Bush's presidency has had on America's standing in the world. As a Gallup fact-check of Bush's comments points out, 69 percent of Americans believe that the "U.S. position in the world" lost ground under Bush. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, "positive views of the United States declined in 26 of the 33 countries where the question was posed in both 2002 and 2007." "Mounting discontent with U.S. foreign policy over the last eight years has translated into a concern about American power. In the view of much of the world, the United States has played the role of bully in the school yard, throwing its weight around with little regard for others' interests," according to Pew.

: Asked to give his "closing message" to the American people about his economic policies, Bush acknowledged that "obviously these are very difficult economic times" while deflecting much responsibility for the economy's troubles. "This problem started before my presidency, it obviously took place during my presidency," said Bush. He also vigorously defended his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, adding that he "will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action." "There's a fundamental philosophical debate about tax cuts," said Bush. "Who best can spend your money, the government or you? I've always sided with the people on that issue." But as the Washington Post noted yesterday, Bush "has presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades." The federal government "had a modest budget surplus when Bush took office," but his administration ran up deficits "even as the economy was growing at a healthy pace." When Bush took office, it was projected that the federal government would run a $710 billion budget surplus in 2009. Now, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has calculated that Bush's tax cuts accounted for 42 percent of the fiscal deterioration between 2001 and 2008. Though Bush claims he "sided with the people" through his economic policies, he really just squandered their money.