From a Monday morning press conference, just completed:
QUESTION: Four years ago, you were asked if you had made any mistakes. And I’m not trying to play “gotcha,” but I wonder, when you look back over the long arc of your presidency, do you think in retrospect that you have made any mistakes? And, if so, why is the single biggest mistake that you may have made?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Gotcha. (LAUGHTER)
Look, I have often said that history will look back and determine that which could have been done better or, you know, mistakes I made. Clearly, putting a “mission accomplished” on a (sic) aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but, nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.
I’ve thought long and hard about Katrina; you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that and — is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, “How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?” I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the ’04 elections was a mistake. I should have — should have argued for immigration reform.
And the reason why is is that — you know, one of the lessons I learned as governor of Texas, by the way, is legislative branches tend to be risk-adverse (sic). In other words, sometimes legislatures have the tendency to ask, “Why should I take on a hard task when the crisis is not eminent (sic)?” And the crisis was not eminent (sic) for Social Security as far as many members of Congress was (sic) concerned. As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don’t believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics. As a matter of fact, think that in the future not talking about how you intend to fix Social Security is going to be the third rail of American politics. And the — one thing about the presidency is that you can make — only make decisions, you know, on the information at hand.
You don’t — you don’t get to have information after you’ve made the decision. That’s not the way it works. And you’re — you stand by your decisions and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made. There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib, obviously, was a huge disappointment, during the presidency. You know, not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan, let’s put it that way.
And, anyway, I think historians will look back and they’ll be able to have a better look at mistakes, after some time has passed. I — one of Jake’s questions — there is no such thing as short-term history. I don’t think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed. You know, where does a president’s — did a president’s decisions have the impact that he thought they would — or he thought they would, over time? Or how did this president compare to future presidents, given a set of circumstances that may be similar or not similar? I mean, it’s just impossible to do and I’m comfortable with that.