Historian in Chief: Bush Frames Legacy in Farewell Speech

Bush could not help but make two historical declarations of his own about his administration during an appearance at the State Department earlier in the day.

"History will say that Condi Rice was one of the great secretaries of state our country has ever had," he said.

A few minutes later, as he awarded the Medal of Freedom to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Bush said, "When the story of this transformation is written, historians will note the extraordinary partnership between two exceptional men -- Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. As the general carried out a surge of military forces to improve security, the ambassador led a civilian surge to improve everyday life."

As the nation struggles to bail out the financial and auto industries, and millions of Americans lose their jobs, the president reminded them that his administration brought 52 months of uninterrupted job creation, the longest in the nation's history.

The president also cited accomplishments at home, including improved student test scores, and more affordable prescription drug prices.

Gracious Toward Obama; Wistful With Staff

Bush has displayed a graciousness toward the incoming Obama administration that White House officials say they have taken care to foster, pointing to a peaceful transition of power between opposing parties that is sometimes described as the envy of more volatile nations.

In his farewell speech, Bush included a tip of the hat to the next commander in chief.

"In a tradition dating back to our founding, the presidency will pass to a successor chosen by you, the American people," he said. "Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land. This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to President-elect Obama, his wife Michelle and their two beautiful girls.

Bush ended citing the "privilege of a lifetime" -- serving as president.

"And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time," he said, "good night."

White House officials described the president as wistful as a staff assembled over eight years parts ways. Each day over the past week, White House officials have sent farewell e-mails to friends and colleagues, in a phased withdrawal that is expected to leave only a skeleton staff to witness the transition of power Jan. 20.

"He is sad, in some ways," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

The Bushes will have little to move out on Tuesday. First lady Laura Bush has already sent her books and many other belongings to Texas.

"Mrs. Bush did express that she knew when she moved here that she would have lovely historic pieces to choose from, so she did not bring a lot of furniture," said Sally McDonough, communications director for Mrs. Bush. "She did bring a piece that was important to her -- and it is a chest of drawers that belonged to President Bush's grandmother. Mrs. Bush has done a lot of her packing and all the boxes are packed and moved."

Over the next couple days, White House staffers will go through the time-consuming process of turning in their passes, coded lapel pins, BlackBerries, cell phones and security clearances. At 9 p.m. Friday, the highest level staffers will turn in their gear and the West Wing will become something of a ghost town.

Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, Gillespie and Perino will remain on standby.

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