“Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks,” Mr. Bush said in the prime-time address, delivered from the East Room of the White House Thursday night. “There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.”
The president recalled the day the public rallied around him after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the progress made in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions,” Mr. Bush said. “There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.”
On the continuing threats to the nation’s security from terror networks and elsewhere, he urged the nation’s leaders to “never let down our guard.”
“While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient and determined to strike again,” Mr. Bush said. “We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.”
The speech was Mr. Bush’s final planned public appearance until he greets President-elect Barack Obama on Inauguration Day at the White House’s North Portico.
Mr. Bush, who is leaving office with the highest disapproval rating since Richard Nixon, called the inauguration of President-elect Obama, the nation’s first black president, a “moment of hope and pride” for America.
“Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land,” he said of the historic swearing-in.
On the economic crisis, the president defended recent action to shore up the financial system and called for “hard work” to see it through.
“Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy,” the president said. “All Americans are in this together. And together, with determination and hard work, we will restore our economy to the path of growth. We will show the world once again the resilience of America’s free enterprise system.”
An audience of about 200 listened to the speech at the White House, the Associated Press reported. They included about 45 people chosen for their personal stories, a practice normally reserved for a State of the Union address.
Some analysts see the public’s disapproval of President Bush as a pivotal factor in opening the door for Barack Obama’s election win.
“The very qualities of Barack Obama that might have been a problem for a president — Americans want a strong, decisive, if not a John Wayne, than somebody that type — he’s cerebral, he’s reflective, he’s almost circumspect, he’s incredibly articulate,” columnist Mark Shields said on the NewsHour Thursday after the speech. “George Bush was painfully inarticulate. George Bush was impulsive. George Bush rushed to decisions. … Obama makes a case and makes a case and makes a case.”
But with his legacy soon to be left to the history books, others say it is unclear how the public will ultimately view the Bush administration’s record.
“It’s possible to imagine him seen as more successful than not,” New York Times columnist David Brooks told the NewsHour. “For that to happen, Iraq would have to continue to develop in a democratic trajectory and it would have to have a radiant effect on the countries around it. If 50 years from now there is a different Middle East, then people will say for all the mistakes the guy made, he got one thing big right.”