Jan. 12, 2009 -- In his final news conference today, President Bush candidly reflected on the mistakes and milestones of his eight years in office, conceding he made some mistakes but forcefully defending some of his most controversial actions.
Bush was at times contentious, reflective, even apologetic during his swan song with the Washington press corps.
At times, he used humor to character his tenure in the Oval Office. Dogged by persistently low approval ratings, he jokingly dismissed any suggestion that he felt had gotten some bad breaks.
"You know, it's kind of like, 'Why me? Oh, the burdens,' you know. 'Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch?'" he said in a mock whiny voice, winning some chuckles from reporters. "It's just pathetic, isn't it, self-pity?"
At other times, he was vintage aggressive Bush, as when he said he was at peace with the decisions he had made.
"I don't see how I can get back home in Texas and look in the mirror and be proud of what I see if I allowed the loud voices, the loud critics to prevent me from doing what I thought was necessary to protect this country," he said.
The president is likely to deliver another farewell later this week.
Today's appearance was his first full news conference in nearly six months.
To that end, the president discussed what awaits Obama after next week's inauguration -- starting with a struggling economy.
"I inherited a recession. I'm ending on a recession," Bush said.
The president said he has spoken with Obama about accessing the second half of the money allocated for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, intended to revive a weak economy, but said, "I don't intend to make a request unless he specifically asks me to make it."
Bush said the biggest challenge for the incoming president will remain an attack on the United States.
"The most urgent threat that he'll have to deal with and other presidents after him will have to deal with is an attack on our homeland," Bush said. "You know, I wish I could report that's not the case, but there's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict damage on America."
On His Milestones and Mistakes
In a frank conversation, the president also sized up his most serious successes and failures in the White House.
"We've taken extraordinary measures to deal with the frozen credit markets, which have affected the economy," he said. "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."
Bush also said the Republican Party will bounce back.
"This party will come back. But the party's message has got to be that different points of view are included in the party," he said.
Despite his critics' assertions, the president also said the rest of the world still views Americans "as strong, compassionate people who care deeply about the universality of freedom."
He acknowledged his mistakes on the international stage along the way.
"Clearly putting a 'mission accomplished' sign on an aircraft carrier was a mistake," he said.
"Abu Ghraib, obviously, was a huge disappointment, during the presidency," he said referring to the Iraqi prison scandal.
"You know, not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment," he said, referring to the discovery that Bush's rationale for the Iraq War didn't exist. "I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were things [that] didn't go according to plan."
President Bush on Hurricane Katrina
On the domestic front, the president also assessed criticism about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, becoming defensive when again challenged about whether the administration had acted appropriately.
"Could things have been done better? Absolutely," Bush said. "But when I hear people say the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?"
The president who was noted for long vacations at his Crawford, Texas ranch said the job of being president followed him every where. Bush said he got national security briefings every day but Sunday, and it was impossible to escape the job.
"There's not a moment where you don't think about being president. Unless you're riding mountain bikes as hard as you possibly can, trying to forget for the moment," he said.
But now he is "getting off the stage," he said and didn't know what he will be doing after moving out of the White House next Tuesday.
"I'm a Type A personality…I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach, particularly since I quit drinking," Bush said.
ABC News' Gary Langer contributed to this report.