WHITE HOUSE - Unpopular but unbowed, President George W. Bush defended his tumultuous two terms in a farewell address to the nation Thursday night, claiming a series of successes at home and aboard. Reaching back to the Sept. 11 attacks, when the public rallied behind him, Bush declared the United States will "never tire, never falter and never fail."
Leaving office with the highest disapproval rating since Richard Nixon, Bush said, "You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."
A bookend to eight years indelibly marked by terrorism, two wars and recessions, the brief speech offered Bush one last chance before he leaves office Tuesday to defend his presidency and craft a first draft of his legacy for historians. He spoke from the East Room of the White House with just 112 hours left in office.
It was his final public appearance until he greets President-elect Barack Obama on Inauguration Day at the White House's North Portico.
Bush called the inauguration of Obama, the first black president, a "moment of hope and pride" for America.
"Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose story reflects the enduring promise of our land," he said.
Bush's presidency began with the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil and ends with the worst economic collapse in three generations.
"Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy," he said. "These are very tough times for hardworking families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted. All Americans are in this together. And together, with determination and hard work, we will restore our economy to the path of growth. We will show the world once again the resilience of America's free enterprise system."
"Reading a speech off a Teleprompter is not President Bush’s strongpoint, but the fact that he was addressing a friendly audience in the East Room gave it more warmth," said CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. "He defended his policies, but admitted there are some things he might have done differently."
"He sounded profoundly grateful to the American people for giving him its greatest honor for two terms," Knoller said.
Bush emphasized that there had not been another terrorist attack since 9/11. He said that that even early in his term transformed him.
"Most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11," Bush said. "But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe."
Bush also prodded the U.S. to lead the cause of freedom and maintain its "moral clarity" in what he described as a choice between good and evil.