It was eight turbulent years: 9/11, two wars, Hurricane Katrina and the worst recession since the 1930s. But President George Bush's verdict at his final press conference yesterday was: "We had fun."
He and his team had many joyous days in office, he said. "And people, they say, I just don't believe it to be the case. Well, it is the case.
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"In the darkest moments of Iraq and every day when I was reading the reports about soldiers losing their lives, no question there was a lot of emotion, but there were times where we could be lighthearted and support each other."
His final appearance before the White House press corps could not even muster a full house. The door into the White House briefing room - which will be bulging next week for the first briefing under Barack Obama's administration - opened to reveal a sombre-looking president who quickly switched on a smile for the cameras.
Bush, who is said to privately detest journalists, was ill-at-ease throughout, and at times emotional, introspective and melancholic.
He made a few jokes, often at his own expense, but he also revealed how much he has been hurt by the criticism that he was the worst president in recent US history. He admitted to some disappointments, but was generally unapologetic.
Most of the 48 minutes of what Bush described as the "ultimate exit interview" was spent trying to persuade his audience, both in the room and the public watching on television, that he did not deserve to be labelled the worst president in recent US history.
He thanked reporters, many of whom had followed him since he was on the campaign trail in 2000, even though sometimes he had not liked what they had written. Reviving one of his famous verbal stumbles, he said: "Sometimes you misunderestimated me."
He admitted there had been disappointments, and singled out Abu Ghraib, Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction and his "mission accomplished" claim, only a month after the Iraq invasion. "I don't know if you want to call those mistakes, but things did not go according to plan," he said.
Although he said he did not believe in self-pity, he returned again and again to those who had opposed and ridiculed him: the journalists and political elite and the needless name-calling culture in Washington. He twice mentioned the antagonism from Europe, in particular the lack of support over the Iraq war from France and Germany, though he did not name those countries. Showing an unexpected level of bitterness, he warned Obama to expect people he regarded as friends to turn against him.
He expressed hope that history would prove kinder to him than his contemporaries had. Listing what he regarded as achievements of his administration, he put at the top the "surge" policy in Iraq, sending 30,000 extra US troops, which he claimed has helped to bring relative stability to Baghdad and most of the country.
He defended himself over the prison camp on Guantánamo , the recession and the slow response of the federal government after Hurricane Katrina. In one of many prickly moments during the press conference, he said of Katrina: "Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed."
Demonstrating just how much the hostility from Europe had irritated him, he screwed up his face when asked about it. "I strongly disagree with the assessment that our moral standing has been damaged," he said, while acknowledging that it might be the case among elites in Europe. People he had met in Africa, India and China did not share that judgment, Bush claimed.
He could easily have won popularity in Europe, he said, but had instead opted to do what he thought was right. "In certain quarters of Europe, you can be popular by blaming every Middle Eastern problem on Israel. Or you can be popular by joining the International Criminal Court. I guess I could have been popular by accepting Kyoto," he said.
He claimed the press had often misunderstood - or underestimated - what was happening inside the Oval Office, and that the portrayal of him as lonely and isolated was wrong. "And we had fun," he said, even in the darkest days of Iraq.
Asked how he would spend his retirement, the president said that the day after his successor's inauguration he would get up and make a cup of coffee for his wife Laura at their ranch in Crawford, Texas. He admitted he would find it difficult to retire: "I'm a Type A personality, you know, I just can't envision myself, you know - the big straw hat and the Hawaiian shirt - sitting on some beach." That brought laughter. In almost a whisper, he joked: "Particularly since I quit drinking."
He insisted he was not going to be one of those former presidents who would comment and carp from the background. "When I get out of here, I'm getting off the stage." Referring to the bright lights used by camera crews, he added: "I've had my time in the Klieg lights."