Did you see him up there Monday, Jan. 12? He looked so presidential behind the podium. Talking down the press. Defending his record. Making jabs at Europe’s anti-Semitic stances. He was marvelous, Truman-esque in his stature. I just have one question for that outgoing George W. Bush behind the podium last Monday: Where the heck has that Bush been for the past eight years?! I’ve never seen Dubya look so fiery and passionate about his rollercoaster presidency before. This was the man I voted for in 2000. He looked like a cowboy ready to take down the cattle snatchers, like the president I always wanted.

But something happened along the way. Karl Rove led him down paths he never should have trespassed. Dick Cheney convinced him of strategies I know Bush wasn’t a fan of. The man who promised to bring change to the “tone” of Washington ended up being the most decisive president ever, leaving a loud thud after every policy change, speech or lunch with a foreign leader. His low verbal I.Q. was consistently plastered across the New York Times and replayed again and again on MSNBC and the Daily Show. Of course, this all came after a 2000 election filled with more questions than answers. Bush never had a chance. Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and a slew of movie producers made him public enemy No. 1, and satirical television shows were equally cruel. Has there ever been a political, religious or pop culture figure to inspire so many films, books, and op-ed articles written in a negative light? Yet even with the entire media against him, he never lost his cool.

He never got into name calling or reduced himself to the level of the elite left.

On Jan. 12, when asked about the economy, Bush finally defended himself by stating, “In terms of the economy — look, I inherited a recession, I’m ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth.” If you only watched the mainstream media news outlets, you would think the past eight years were filled with gas price problems, and everyone sat at home worrying about making the rent. Actually we already had that era — the Jimmy Carter presidency. President Bush later went on to defend his tax cuts, which paid for my car payment and a very nice dinner at Chili’s Bar and Grill, by the way, and followed up by stating that he did cross party lines and abandoned free market principles in hopes of stopping the Great Depression sequel. He was no rock-rib conservative, yet he was painted as a neocon.

While he promised not to nation build, the world changed and Iraq became his pet project. He passed up the opportunity to be beloved in order to maintain safety. He was blamed for 9/11 by left-wing fringe groups but he still went into Iraq aided by Tony Blair’s support with a mission to free a people under a suppressive dictator. He promised to be a “compassionate conservative” and then seemed to physically disappear when tragedy struck New Orleans. But the new man behind the microphone Monday looked press writers in the eye and told them that they would cry, “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?” Bush correctly pointed out the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t crossfire he faced. In the end, he chose the road less traveled and was crucified for it. Katrina was a mess, no matter the end, but imagine if Iraq had attacked us? Bush would have been attacked by the media for not doing anything sooner.

George W. Bush wasn’t a perfect president, but his last performance before the press was a personal triumph, yet also a sad glimpse of what might have been. He stood in front of his most blatant enemies and took every shot. I wish the man on that afternoon had shown up sooner to defend his record throughout the eight years, but at least the gotcha press won’t have George Walker Bush to kick around anymore.