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Roundtable on Bush's Final Press Conference

Roundtable on Bush's Final Press Conference

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume - January 12, 2009

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: In terms of the decisions that I have made to protect the homeland, I wouldn't worry about popularity. What I would worry about is the constitution of the United States, and putting plans in place that makes it easier to find out what the enemy is thinking.

Because all these debates will matter not if there is another attack on the homeland. The question won't be, you know, were you critical of this plan or not? The question will be why didn't you do something?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Well, President Bush at the White House today, calling it the "ultimate exit interview," likely his final news conference with White House reporters.

Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of "The Weekly Standard," Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Your thoughts, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I thought he displayed his usual equanimity, and also generosity of spirit.

He is a man who is not at all tortured by his years in office. He wasn't speaking with any of the paintings in the White House, obviously, the way Nixon was reputed to have done at end of his term.

I think history will look at him, and I think he sees himself as a Truman president, one who left office--Truman was scorned, excoriated, very low popularity, also in the middle of an unpopular war. But history has a different judgment. He is the man who put in place all of the structures and the sinews of the cold war, which 40 years later we won.

That's what the Bush knows he did. He didn't only keep us safe, a seven year accomplishment, he put in place the institutions that he thinks will keep us, in the war on terror, on the winning side, and ultimately history will judge him as the man who allowed us to achieve a victory.

And I think that's why he leaves with equanimity, despite the fact that now he leaves with record low popularity.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I thought he was pretty candid and reflective. And he mentioned three things that, as he said, didn't go according to plan--Abu Ghraib, Katrina, and weapons of mass destruction, so I think he was pretty candid on that.

The problem for Bush is that he is giving a series of these exit interviews and this press conference. He will speak to the nation on Thursday. It is just going to take a long time before history renders its final judgment on him.

We will have to see if the success in Iraq holds, assuming that Obama will build on it, which I think he will, and to see if the record of keeping America safe from attacks continues.

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I thought that the lunch that Bill Kristol and I had with President Bush about a week ago was the ultimate exit interview.

LIASSON: Little do you know.

BARNES: I guess not.

And the truth is he was relaxed there. We talked about all kinds of subjects--books that he has read, and so on. And I discovered later that both he and Cheney have read "Tried by War," the James McPhearson book about the way Abraham Lincoln dealt with his generals during the Civil War, a great book.

The president, I think, I agree with Charles. I think he will have a Truman-like recovery among historians. And who knows? It could be 10, 20, 30 years.

I wrote a piece for "The Weekly Standard" this week about Bush's ten achievements that Bush has made. I have gotten so many e-mails from people, all of whom saying "You left this out and you left that out and you left this other one out."

I think Bush has a much stronger record than he is given credit for because the political community and the press, all they regard as important, really, is popularity.

LIASSON: Well, and the economy, come on. He is leaving with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it happened on his watch. There are other reasons.

BARNES: Yes, I know. But historians will be able to look back and see that while there were things President Bush could have done, it is in part his fault, but not in the largest part.

KRAUTHAMMER: And, also, on the economy, history will judge whether the year of the crisis, '08, in which he and Paulson and Bernanke trying everything, threw a lot of money at the problem, ultimately saved our system.

The banks were teetering. Credit was disappearing. It looked as if we were really going to have a collapse and catastrophe, and he averted that.

So he will get the blame for the occurrence of the crisis, but he may get a lot of the credit for having saved us at a time of real imminent disaster.

BAIER: He talked about a number of mistakes. He mentioned that it was clearly a mistake to put "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft scarier when he was delivering that speech. There you see the picture. He said it sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something different, but it conveyed a different message. He said that was a mistake.

He also said that he thought long and hard about Katrina and whether to land Air Force I in either Baton Rouge or New Orleans, and he said he didn't think that would have been a good idea looking back, and defended federal response to that storm.

BARNES: It would have been a good idea to land. That's what presidents do. They have to go. If it inconveniences a few state cops, that's fine. Presidents need to be there.

We know that now. It's demanded, one, by the media, and, I think, two, by most people. A president has to do that. Bill Clinton certainly knew that. His father went out to -- after the Rodney King riots in L.A., his father, when he was president, went out there a couple of days later, and flew right over. He should have done that.

He was wrong about another thing, too, and that is saying "I should have done immigration reform first in my second term and not Social Security." Look, the Social Security reform is something he campaigned on. He didn't get anywhere with it, but he laid down some markers.

Immigration reform wouldn't have helped. It wasn't going anywhere either.

BAIER: Mara, what about that.

LIASSON: I agree with that. He is on the money on one thing about immigration reform. And he did talk about the future of the Republican Party. The Republican Party was on the wrong side of immigration reform.

I'm not saying he would have succeed if he had done it in a different order, but he understood the importance of Hispanics as part of a broad governing coalition and a majority coalition, and he knows that the Republican Party has to get right on that if they are going to succeed in the future.

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