"I didn't go into this naively; I knew it would be tough," he said. "But I also knew that the president has the responsibility to try to elevate the tone. And, frankly, it just didn't work, much as I'd like to have it work."
"9/11 unified the country, and that was a moment where Washington decided to work together," he said. "I think one of the big disappointments of the presidency has been the fact that the tone in Washington got worse, not better."
Nevertheless, Bush said that he felt his administration brought significant change to Washington, with reforms like the No Child Left Behind education policy, and international relief efforts such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Malaria Initiative.
President Bush said that his administration responded promptly to the economic crisis.
"When you have the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Fed say, 'If we don't act boldly, we could be in a depression greater than the Great Depression,' that's an 'uh-oh' moment," he said.
Through government action such as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, Bush insisted that the government has taken the necessary first steps towards economic recovery.
"Slowly but surely, the system is becoming unthawed, and it's going to take time for the system to become unthawed," he said. "What the American people have got to know is we've taken the steps to unthaw it, which is the first step to recovery."
"The American people got to know that we will safeguard the system," he said. "I mean, we're in. And if we need to be in more, we will."
While many have cast blame on the Bush administration for mishandling the economy, the president said he did not have feelings of guilt for the financial collapse.
"You know, I'm the president during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in president," Bush said. "And when people review the history of this administration, people will say that this administration tried hard to get a regulator. And there will be a lot of analysis of why that didn't happen. I suspect people will find a lot of it didn't happen for pure political reasons."
President Bush said that he encouraged President-Elect Obama to become involved in the planning and implementation of the economic stimulus plan, personally calling Obama for a briefing on the government's decision to infuse money into Citigroup.
"This is a very unique period in American history where a new president is coming in, where we are fighting a two-front war against terrorists and, at the same time, dealing with a very difficult economic situation," he said. "And the more we can work together, the better off our country will be."
Obama has assumed a leading role on the economy, announcing key members of his economic team in three consecutive news conferences last week in Chicago, despite assurances that there is only "one president at a time."
But Bush insisted that he did not find the president-elect's role intrusive.
"I don't feel any intrusion whatsoever. … Our administration still will be making the decisions necessary until he becomes the president."
Asked if Obama's election was in any way a repudiation of his administration, Bush saw more nuance.