A very loose President Bush came before the White House press corps for his 47th and final press conference as president. He had lots to say about 9/11, Katrina, and the economic crisis, but before I blog about those items, here’s our exchange about how he would defend his legacy from critics who say his administration was incompetent.
By way of explanation of his first comments, I covered his first presidential run in 1999 and 2000 and was recently appointed Senior White House correspondent.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Jake, yes? How you doing?
JAKE: I’m good. How you doing, sir?
BUSH: What have been doing since 2000? (LAUGHTER)
TAPPER: Working my way to this chair.
BUSH: So you going to be here for President Obama?
TAPPER: I will.
BUSH: It’s a pretty cool job.
TAPPER: It’s not bad.
BUSH: Yes. (LAUGHTER)
TAPPER: Yours might be better.
BUSH: Yes. What, retirement? (LAUGHTER)
TAPPER: In the past, when you’ve been asked to address bad poll numbers or your unpopularity you’ve said that history will judge that you did the right thing — that you thought you did the right thing. But without getting into your motives or your goals, I think a lot of people, including Republicans, including some members of your own administration, have been disappointed at the execution of some of your ideals, whether Iraq or Katrina or the economy. What would your closing message be to the American people about the execution of these goals?
BUSH: Well, first of all, hard things don’t happen overnight, Jake. And when the history of Iraq is written, historians will analyze, for example, the decision on the surge. The situation was — looked like it was going fine, and then violence for a period of time began to throw — throw the progress of Iraq into doubt. And rather than accepting the status quo and saying, "Oh, it’s not worth it," or "The politics makes it difficult," or, you know, "The party may end up being — you know, not doing well in the elections because of the violence in Iraq," I decided to do something about it and sent 30,000 troops in as opposed to withdrawing.
And so that part of history is certain, and the situation did change. Now the question is, in the long-run, will this democracy survive? And that’s going to be the challenge for future presidents. In terms of the economy — look, I inherited a recession, I’m ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth. And I defended tax cuts when I campaigned, I helped implement tax cuts when I was president, and I will defend them after my presidency as the right course of action.
And there’s a fundamental philosophical debate about tax cuts: Who best can spend your money, the government or you? And I have always sided with the people on that issue. Now, obviously, these are very difficult economic times. It’s a — when people analyze the situation, there will be a — this problem started before my presidency. It obviously took place during my presidency.
The question facing the president is not when the problem started, but what did you do about it when you recognized the problem? And I readily concede I chunked aside some of my free market principles when I was told by chief economic advisers that the situation we were facing could be worse than the Great Depression. So I’ve told some of my friends who’ve said — you know, who have taken an ideological position on this issue, you know, "Why’d you do what you did?"
I said, "Well, if you were sitting there and heard that the depression could be greater than the Great Depression, I hope you would act too," which I did. And we’ve taken extraordinary measures to deal with the frozen credit markets, which have affected the economy. Credit spreads are beginning to shrink. Lending is just beginning to pick up. The actions we have taken, I believe, have helped thaw the credit markets, which is the first step toward recovery.
And so, you know, look, there’s plenty of critics in this business. I understand that. And I thank you for giving me a chance to defend a record that I am going to continue to defend because I think it’s a good, strong record.
More to come.