George W. Bush

In mid 2009, I was hired to write and produce an update of the George W. Bush ‘Biography’ for A&E. On a lark, I requested an interview with the former president. Weeks later, an official acceptance came in the mail, and on November 18, 2009, I found myself in the White House library, face to face with the 43rd President of the United States.

Interviewing Bush

W: It was very surreal in many ways.  Uh, I can still, uh, see in my mind’s eye, uh, the smoke and the post attack, uh, uh, soot and it was kina dreary feeling and, uh, then I went in to see the workers, the rescue workers and I can remember looking into their eyes and they were just blood shot and exhausted and angry.  It was, uh, it was an emotional moment for them to see the President come in, it was an emotional moment for anybody that, me included, that, that sense this great sense of, you know, determination to not let the injustice stand.

And, uh, and I ended up on top of the, the uh, um, burnt out fire truck with Bob and I was gonna speak just to rally the troops.  I couldn’t, I wasn’t able to say hello to everybody but I’d shooken, shaken a lot of hands, huggin’ comin’ down the line there.

And they gave me the bullhorn and that’s when the moment came and they said we can’t here you and I said well, they’ll hear us and um, it was the beginning of a very emotional experience in New York City.  Um, I can still vividly remember, uh, and still feel the sense of, you know, outrage.  And I left, uh, the group of the men and women there with this, you know, notion that they’re really counting on their government to do what it’s suppose to do which is to secure the United States of America.

The call to arms occurred when we were attacked.  Obviously on September 11, uh, we spent a lot of time sorting through, uh, you know the, what it meant, what was taking place, um, a lot of questions were being asked.  Was this the only day in which we are going to be attacked?

The four attacks, the only attacks that were going to take place on that day, uh, you know, we expect things happening a week or two weeks from now.  This is a new experience for the United States.  And so there was a, a lot of questions but it was apparent to me that we were at war.  And I vowed on September 11 that I would take the war to the enemy to protect the American people.

And so the 14th was just a continuation and frankly a, you know, it was a uh, so emotional that it, it, um, it, it continued this awareness of the reality of which, which, which we live in.  And it made it very apparent to me that people not only wanted us to do our job but some want to, you know, you know, use all elements of U.S. power to do the job.

It didn’t alter the plans because we had gotten– We got the tax cut that was promised and we got no child left behind that I had promised too.  Major pieces of legislation and subsequent to September 11, we modernized Medicare like I said we would do and started a, you know, really interesting foreign policy initiatives like the (inaudible) and malaria.

Yeah, but no question that the, the post, the September 11 really focused this administration on, um, national security matters.

(Inaudible) about elections, uh, you know, you know, you just don’t know what to expect when you’re the president.  You just prepare for the unexpected.  I don’t remember ever debating or talking about a, what we would do if their was a terrorist attack on the United States during, during the 2000 campaign.  It just wasn’t’ an issue.  So, you’re right, it was, it was a surprise.

Uh, no.  Not really.  It’s, it’s hard to run a presidential campaign with doubts in your mind because the process is so long and so grueling that people eventually see the doubts in your mind so you gotta be, you know, you gotta be a confident candidate in order to convince the American people that you can do the job.

But, you’re right, I’m, I’m, I guess when you review my political career, uh that in ’94 I was expected to lose to Governor Richards.  2000 I was expected to lose to Vice President Al Gore and 2004 I was expected to lose to Senator Kennedy and in all three races, I felt very good about winning and um, I never take anything for granted of course because then you’re viewed as the underdog, you know, you shouldn’t take things for granted.  As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t take things for granted anytime in the political process.  And we never did.

Like, I’d rather, like I’d rather have an easy election.  But, but I didn’t have them.  It’s just, um, the way it was in my case.  I’ve always been a person that uh, where people, you know, I, I guess didn’t take me seriously at times.  Or that I, expectations were low and I’d rather go into a race with low expectations then high expectations.  Just like I’d like to go into a debate with somebody with low expectations rather then high expectations.  I want people to underestimate, uh, underestimate or I used to want people to do that since I will never be running for office again.

I’m sorry.  Yeah, yeah.  Uh, well the 1994 race against Governor Richards, uh, I wasn’t expected to win and the 2000 race against Vice President Gore I wasn’t expected to win and the 2004 race against Senator Kerry that, uh, I wasn’t expected to win in early on in the year 2004.

Well, one is making sure America didn’t get attacked again.  Uh, secondly the liberation of 50 million people and I believe the advance of democracy in parts of the world that didn’t know democracy will end up laying a foundation for peace.  Uh, domestically, that the tax cuts and 52 uninterrupted months of job creation which is, uh, you know, a record in the United States.  It is an important signal that you can cut taxes and grow the economy.

Um, Medicare reform.  I, I campaigned that we were gonna make it Medicare as modern as possible and not only does seniors get prescription drug coverage for the first time as part of their Medicare but there is now market forces within Medicare that help, help contain costs and gives seniors more choices.

No child left behind, no question about it, is a, is a, is a major accomplishment because it insists, the bill insists upon results and return for money and the only way to solve a young kid’s illiteracy problems is to measure it in the first place so you know, you know what needs to be solved. You know the problem that needs to be addressed.

Uh, I, I, I think people when they look at our foreign policy they’ll find for the first time the United States said in return for aid you must prove that you’ll govern justly and invest in your people and except market policies, open market policies in your economy.  No question that the President’s malarian initiative which is aimed at reducing malaria in at fifty percent in key affected countries on the continent of Africa.

Will stand the test of time as well as our HIV and AIDS initiative on the continent of Africa.  People have often asked me what, why did you do that?  What, what cause you to make that decision to spend U.S. tax payer’s money to help people save people’s lives on the continent of Africa?  Well, there’s international security interests we do this.

Made this decision because we face an enemy that can only recruit when they find hopeless people.  There’s nothing more hopeless then villages ravaged by HIV AIDS.  Uh, I believe it’s in our economic interest that we promote trade and health on the content of Africa cause the more buyers there are for U.S. products, the better our economy will do and it’s in our moral interest.  Cause I believe to whom much is given, much is required and the U.S. has been giving a lot and therefore we are required to help our brothers and sisters in need.

Yeah, that’s a very fair question.  I, the truth of the matter is, I was, I guess you’re always growing up although I was older when he was the President of the United States.  I was forty-two years old when he got elected.  Being the son of the President is much harder in being the President.

Because if you love somebody as much as I love my Dad, and you see him attacked and I thought many times unfairly.  It, it, it, it is agonizing and sometimes I didn’t react to pleasantly.  I’m a fierce defender of what I believe in and I believe in him.  So, now that I become the President, you know, all the criticisms and all the (inaudible) and stuff, pale in comparison in terms of their hurt.

Uh, when, when they did this, when they were thrown at my dad.  Interestingly enough, he, I think my Dad is learning that it is harder to be the Father of the President then to be the President.

You know, I, I guess it’s easy to say I follow in his footsteps cause in many ways it’s true.  I mean, after all he was President and I was President.  And, and these were big footsteps to follow in.  The first lesson I learned from my Dad was that you can go in to politics with a set of values.

And you don’t have to compromise your values.  Uh, in order to be successful.  Secondly, I learned from him that it, family is a priority.  Which it, which it was in his case and in my case.  You don’t have to sacrifice your family and I, I really have learned that first hand here in Washington where, in our family, was close coming in to this process and we are leaving even closer in, in many, in many aspects.

I learned that, you know, you can be a decent man in the political process and, and not have to make, you know, sacrifice your soul cause he’s, there’s no more decent guy then George H. W. Bush.

No question he was an influence on me and my life but so was my Mother.  As well I might add.

Well, uh, uh, I, it’s hard for me to remember all the way back when I was seven years old.  That must have been 1953, uh, and, um, but I do know that the story has it that Mother smothered me with uh, intense affection.  Um, and I was finally liberated from her clutches when a friend of mine said, you know, I think she heard him say, can George come out and play today?  And I said no, I need to be with my Mother and Mother realized that, that, that the natural reaction was of her could be just overwhelming to me and anyway, we did find, we are very close.

I learned that humor can help in a situation.  I, I think I’m pretty good at putting people at ease when I walk into a room and I have seen her put people at ease, uh, just like a snap of a finger.  She is just very engaging, um, remarkable woman in many ways.  And, and um, you know, I’ve learned a lot from both of them.  I used to quip when I was in, uh, Texas politics, they used to say I had my daddy’s eyes and my Mother’s mouth.

Well, we are gonna build a, me and Laura and I are gonna build a um, an institute, a policy institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University which is a great university, uh, in Dallas, Texas.  And the whole purpose of the institute is to promote thought, um, papers, debate, uh, policy paper, policy on um, on uh, let me start over on this.

Laura and I are gonna build a policy institute along with a library and archives in Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  And the whole purpose of the center is to promote good policy, it would be through lectures and papers and books uh, it will be a place to uh, provoke debate, it will be place where fellows (inaudible) will be granted to people that have worked hard to, to promote freedom.

Whether it would be from within the United States or from abroad.  I mean, I can envision, I remember running into Vaclav Havel here in Washington and I said, what are you doing here?  He said, I’m writing my book and I said to myself, wouldn’t it be great to have a center in, uh, Dallas, Texas where Vaclav Havel come and live, work, write, lecture and teach.

The whole purpose of the center will be to promote certain values like the universatility of freedom.  The transformity of the power of freedom.  The importants of free markets and free trade as well as at home, well, you know, Herald, like, accountability in the public square.  The center piece of no child left behind for example.

Um, the purpose will be to, uh, enhance, uh, the faith base initiative which basically says there are certain problems that can’t be solved, uh, by government organization requires a power higher then government.  And that government ought to be empowering faith programs to help meet social needs.  Um, I, I’m really looking forward to it.  It’s, it’s gonna be, I’m sixty-two years old when I retire as President.

And I’ll have a lot of time and a lot of energy to make this work.  Uh, it’s a, it’s gonna be exciting. The post Presidency will be an exciting chapter in, in my life and in Laura’s life as well.  We’ve, we’ve given it our all in Washington D. C. and uh, and uh, we then we go home with our heads held high and start another chapter in our life and, and I know we are looking forward to it.  We’ll miss a lot of Washington but we are really looking forward to it.

Yeah, O’Neil calls me, let me start over.

Well, I’m living in Midland, Texas and, um, O’Neil calls me.  He’s says I’d like you to come by and have a, you know, a dinner with Jan, that’s his wife and a friend of ours.  I said, oh come on O’Neil.  He said, no really, you really ought to come by, she’s a remarkable person.

And I go over to O’Neil’s house where he is, I can’t remember if he was cooking steak or hamburger but I remember he was cooking something on his grill outside and the four of us were there so I saw this beautiful woman, Laura Welch.

And, uh, it was, you know, it, is there such thing as love at first sight?  I think so in my case and, um, and uh, we began a courtship right there in O’Neil’s backyard.  I think the second time, so she was in town for a couple of days, uh, with her mom and dad.  She was teaching in Austin at the time and the next day I think I took her to putt-putt golf.

Things were a little slow in Midland in those days so putt-putt was the most glamorous thing I can think of, of course and at any rate it was, uh, a great, uh, and fast courtship.  I mean, very intense and I think (inaudible) introduced us in July and we were married in November.

November the 5, 1977.

I’ve got mixed emotions.  First of all, I’m not sure what it’s gonna be like to go from a hundred miles an hour to five.  Uh, I will miss, you know, uh, a great team that I have had the honor of working with, um, I will miss being the Commander and Chief of the military.

I will miss Camp David.  In other words, I will miss the luxuries of being the President.  We’ve got a fabulous cook upstairs and believe me, they treat the President kindly here in the White House.  I won’t miss the ugliness of the political process.  The name calling, the, you know, what I think is the needless finger pointing and um, the sharp elbows.

Uh, I will, you know, I will miss being in a position to make important decisions for the country but on the other hand, I fully understand that it is time to move on.  That the great thing about America is we have a peaceful transfer of power.   Either every four years or eight years.  And I, I will do everything I can to help the new President.  Barack Obama.

Uh, and so, as we are getting ready to leave, not only are we beginning to pack our bags, I have ongoing responsibilities in the economy and the national security but I also have a duty to help uh, President, uh, President to be Obama be as well prepared as possible to assume the fabulous office.

Uh, you know, it will be, I’m sure there’s gonna be, you know, uh, a very emotional moments as we say goodbye, on the other hand, I’m young enough and energetic enough and driven enough, uh, to look forward to writing a to, you know, writing a new chapter.

Uh, in my life.  I really don’t know where it’s gonna go, I know some things I’ll do, uh, but no tellin’ where life will take me.

As a history buff, I can assure you that there’s no such thing as short term objective history and so therefore, the history of this administration will take a time, a time to unfold.  Now, I think people will say he did his job of protecting the homeland and left behind a, you know, a series of tools that professionals will use to better protect America.

I hope they understand that I grasp the transformity of the power of freedom and was willing to use the American influence to help others realize the blessings of a free society.  I, I think they will look at no child left behind kindly as a really a piece of civil rights legislation in many ways.  Cause often times, you know, it’s the intercity black kid or the child who’s parents don’t speak English as a first language that just gets shuffled through the system.

And without asking the tough questions.  Can you learn?  Can you read?  Um, there’s um, our foreign policy should be viewed favorably because it was a policy of toughness on the one hand and sincere and deep compassion.  I would hope that people would look and say this guy came and had a set of results, uh, in mind and achieve many of them.

We didn’t achieve everything, uh, that we set out to do but we achieved a lot.  And, um, you know, I’m comfortable.  I’m comfortable that I did what I said I was gonna do.  And I’m comfortable that I didn’t sell my soul and I’m comfortable that I gave it my all.

Yes, sir.

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