As Americans get ready to turn the page on US President George W. Bush, he offered his own first draft of history, saying that while his policies have been unpopular there can be little debate about the results: “America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil.”
In a farewell address to the nation on Thursday night, Bush harkened back to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a time when the public rallied around him and his approval ratings soared.
“As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11,” Bush said in a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House. “But I never did.”
Leaving office with the highest disapproval rating since former US president Richard Nixon, Bush said: “You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.”
A bookend to eight years indelibly marked by terrorism, two wars and recessions, the 13-minute speech was Bush's last opportunity to defend his record before leaving office on Tuesday. His next scheduled public appearance will be greeting US president-elect Barack Obama on Inauguration Day.
Bush called the inauguration of Obama, the first black president, a “moment of hope and pride” for the US.
Bush remained defiant about his own record. He claimed foreign policy successes in Iraq and Afghanistan while crediting his administration for improving public schools, creating a new Medicare prescription drug benefit and finding more money for veterans.
With the US facing the worst financial crisis in generations under his watch, Bush said his White House took “decisive measures” to safeguard the economy.
“Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks,” Bush said. “And 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.”
Bravado gave way to nostalgia as soon as Bush left the podium. He walked alone down the red-carpeted hallway toward his residence. Then he returned to the room — full of about 200 Cabinet secretaries and allies, advisers and friends — still on their feet, cheering.