President George W. Bush on Thursday defended his actions to avert a collapse of the financial system and protect America from another terrorist attack as he mounted a farewell bid to polish his troubled legacy.
Five days before handing over the presidency to Barack Obama, Bush delivered a televised final address to the American people in which he sought to define a White House record that some historians are already ranking among the worst ever.
Historians may judge his presidency differently but even putting the best possible face on it, George Bush leaves the presidency with the country in a mess largely of his making.
The economy is in recession, the worst since at least 1982, and the last eight years have been marked by the most anemic growth in decades in the economy, jobs and personal income.
Despite a formidable to-do list, the next president is being urged by some fellow Democrats and human rights groups to investigate the Bush administrations possible transgressions of law.
That would be a bad mistake.
When Barack Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln's Bible and takes the oath of office, he will assume administration of a nation that Republicans and Democrats alike believe to be in deep crisis. Fully nine in 10 Americans tell pollsters that America is "on the wrong track."
Incoming president Barack Obama has pledged to try to succeed where his predecessor George W. Bush failed by catching or killing Al-Qaeda terror network leader Osama bin Laden.
But Obama, who takes office on January 20, is likely to face many of the same challenges his predecessor did in attempting to neutralize the man behind the deadly September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
"Bin Laden is like the great white whale of American counter-terrorism, like Moby Dick," said James Lewis, a counter-terrorism expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
When it comes to George W. Bush's last hurrahs in the waning days of his administration, I am much in favor of the "last" and not so keen on the "hurrahs."
But it is a time for magnanimity, not malice, and for once this president has provided some leadership.
In his final news conference, he was, as The New York Times observed, by turns impassioned and defiant, reflective and light-hearted. Why, he even made little jokes with the despised media and generally gave the impression of being the dutiful decider.
Eric Holder Jr. planned to acknowledge past mistakes as he braced for a Republican grilling in his confirmation hearing, his path to becoming the nation's first African-American attorney general rockier than President-elect Barack Obama's other Cabinet choices.
Republicans see Thursday's hearing as their best early forum for showing that as a minority party, they're still relevant despite a Democratic sweep in November.
President George W. Bush's farewell speech is more than a goodbye to the nation that elected him twice. It is his last chance in office to define his tumultuous presidency in his own, unfiltered terms — a mission that will keep his fire burning even after he fades off to a quieter life.
Bush will say goodbye to the country Thursday night. He will follow the script of Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and many before them: Express thanks to the country and pride in the honor of serving, wish the next president well and outline what he considers to be the biggest challenges ahead.
And there will be looking back.
For presidents, parting thoughts are not about parting shots. This will be no different. But Bush is proud of his record and will go out defending it.
President-elect Barack Obama eventually will gain access to the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout fund — politics notwithstanding and more likely sooner than later.
The test is whether he can persuade enough members of his own party to support an extraordinarily unpopular program and avoid an embarrassing veto fight with a Democratic-led Congress at the outset of his presidency. A critical vote could come as early as Thursday.
A week shy of taking office, President-elect Barack Obama already is putting his persuasion skills to a high-stakes test with Congress as he seeks access to the second half of the $700 billion financial bailout fund.
Obama planned to be in the Capitol on Tuesday to meet with Senate Democrats. And his transition team prepared to dispatch top aides to meet with Senate Republicans this week in anticipation of a possible vote Thursday on whether to release the money from the embattled Troubled Asset Relief Program.