The 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, joins CNN’s State of the Union for an in-depth interview ranging from childhood experiences to United States policy.
Candy Crowley sat down with President Bush earlier this week at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia to discuss the legacy of President George H.W. Bush which is the subject of his new book, 41: A Portrait of My Father. In addition, he weighed in on Jeb Bush’s prospects for 2016, his relationship with the Clinton family, and race relations in the United States. President Bush stated that despite his close relationship with the Clintons, his brother Jeb would “absolutely” beat Hillary in the 2016 elections. According to the former president, race relations have improved but it is still sad to see race as “an emotional, divisive part of life.” The former president also shared his views on Vladimir Putin, a man he once fished with, and the situation in Iraq.
On Putin, his former fishing partner: “Well, I think he’s become more zero-sum type thinker. In other words, I don’t — haven’t talked to him in years, but it’s almost as if he says that if the — if the West wins, I lose. And if I win, the West loses. As opposed to what can we do together to enhance our respective positions?”
On race relations in the United States and protests in New York: “I thought: how sad. The verdict was hard to understand, but I hadn’t seen all the details. But it’s sad that race continues to play such a, you know, kind of emotional, divisive part of life. I remember back in when I was a kid, in the ’70s, and there was race riots with cities being burned. And I just think we’ve improved. I had dinner with Condi the other night and we talked about this subject, and, yes, she just said you got understand that there are a lot of, you know, black folks around that are just incredibly more and more distrusting of law enforcement. Which is a shame, because law enforcement’s job is to protect everybody.
On ISIS and Iraq: “first thing is there has to be a goal, and the president has laid out what I think is a good goal, and that is to degrade and defeat ISIS. Once you state the goal, then you have to put plans in place to achieve the goal. And seems like to me the initial plans are being adjusted, and all I hope is that we succeed, because ISIS is lethal. They’re lethal not only for the people in the neighborhoods in which they live; they’re lethal to our security.”
On Bush 41’s advice before and during Bush 43’s presidency: “he didn’t want to steer us. Not only in our career choices but once we had made choices on how to — on how to make decisions, in my case. Now, if I ever wanted advice, of course he was always there. And I tried — it’s hard for people to understand. I fully understand that. But I hope when people read this, and I hope they do, is that they understand that when he reached across and grabbed my arm after the speech on September the 14 in the National Cathedral, I mean, incredibly emotional moment for me, it was in many ways symbolic of what he’d meant for me as president. In other words, he was a comforter. A lot. Because he had been through what I was going through and he knew that he — you know, each president has to make up their own mind. They have to develop their own team of people they trust. He knew that he got a lot of advice as president, a lot of it not grounded in knowledge, and that — and so he was confident I had a good team and that I would make decisions based upon good judgments of a lot of good advisers.”
Full transcript after the jump.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: First of all, congratulations. It debuted number one on the “The New York Times” list
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Did you ever think you’d be number one in “The New York Times” had?
BUSH: No, and neither did “The New York Times”.
CROWLEY: So why did you feel the need? I mean, your dad is accomplished guy. I mean, just looking at his resume — I remember writing stories about him saying, like, one of the best resumes in politics, and this and that and the other thing.
Why did you think I’ve got to reexplain this guy?
BUSH: Well, I think I’m introducing him to our country in a way no one’s ever known him. In other words, he’s an extraordinary person, not only because of his accomplishments but because of his character. And secondly I understand how history works; it takes a long time for people to get to know him, get to know somebody and then analyze their decisions. But I wanted to be one of the first people out in the evaluation of George H.W. Bush.
And it’s a love story. I mean, there’s — I love him.
CROWLEY: It is.
BUSH: I’m not the least bit ashamed to say it’s not very objective. And I think people — I also happen to think it’s a handbook on fatherhood. It’ll — if somebody’s interested in how a person was a great father, even though he’s very busy, this book is such an example (ph).
CROWLEY: It’s a handbook for that.
I want to read you “The New York Times” review, part of “The New York Times” review about your book, which was favorable and said it’s readable and that it was a love story to your dad, et cetera. And then he, meaning you, “he does not reflect on his lifetime of effort to prove himself by following in his father’s footsteps, nor does he dwell on any frustrations in trying to measure up. With the former president fading into winter, the younger Bush’s book feels like a release of sorts, finally getting rid of whatever baggage has been there for so long. A sunset at the hospital bed at last coming to terms.”
It went on to say that this was — now your argument is not with your dad but with history. What do you think about this–
BUSH: Yes, I think it’s a typical psychobabble of somebody who has no clue what he’s talking about. And one reason I wrote the book is that, you know, as I understand it, there are a lot of people saying, well, stiff competition with his father, or this kind of —
CROWLEY: But aren’t all sons in stiff competition with their father —
BUSH: Not really.
CROWLEY: — or with each other or — ?
BUSH: Yeah, stiff competition is overstated. In other words if you love somebody as much as I love my dad, and my brothers loved my dad, my sister, there’s no need to compete. And so people are going to write what they want to write.
I, on the other hand, I’m happy to get it out because, first, I’m glad Dad’s alive when it comes out. I mean, secondly, I’m glad that a lot of his friends are alive and can take it in and say, wow, this is the guy I know.
CROWLEY: You are a close family. That comes through in the book, how close you are to your dad, how close you are to your brothers, particularly Jeb, who you mentioned. But it strikes me that you had close family that does not talk about the family business when you get together.
CROWLEY: Which I think is weird.
BUSH: It is weird, yes. We do a little bit but not much.
I mean, here’s the thing: Jeb knows what he’s doing. I presume you’re leading me into talking about Jeb.
CROWLEY: Well, eventually, but I just meant why — the thought that you — I was actually thinking of you and your dad in — who have had, regardless of how people interpret it, followed similar paths.
BUSH: Correct. No question.
CROWLEY: And you never really talked about it.
BUSH: Well, you know, we talk about circumstances or we talk about incidents. But I don’t remember ever sitting down kind of hashing through an analysis of why we developed our philosophies the way that we did or —
CROWLEY: I don’t mean that so much as —
BUSH: Comparing our philosophy to —
CROWLEY: Don’t do this because that’ll get you in trouble and I think that’s a bad policy. That kind of thing.
BUSH: Yeah, no, we really didn’t. And I think part of it has to do with how he raised us, and that is I love you no matter what you do. Go get it. And he didn’t want to steer us. Not only in our career choices but once we had made choices on how to — on how to make decisions, in my case.
Now, if I ever wanted advice, of course he was always there. And I tried — it’s hard for people to understand. I fully understand that. But I hope when people read this, and I hope they do, is that they understand that when he reached across and grabbed my arm after the speech on September the 14 in the National Cathedral, I mean, incredibly emotional moment for me, it was in many ways symbolic of what he’d meant for me as president. In other words, he was a comforter. A lot.
Because he had been through what I was going through and he knew that he — you know, each president has to make up their own mind. They have to develop their own team of people they trust. He knew that he got a lot of advice as president, a lot of it not grounded in knowledge, and that — and so he was confident I had a good team and that I would make decisions based upon good judgments of a lot of good advisers.
CROWLEY: I want to ask you about a couple things you wrote about in the book that were really interesting to me. One was about your grandfather, I think on your dad’s side, who dressed down Nelson Rockefeller in public?
BUSH: Yes, yes.
CROWLEY: For getting a divorce, marrying a younger woman who was also married at the time. And then you sort of wondered in the book, “I wonder what he would think of today’s culture.”
BUSH: I did.
CROWLEY: And I’m looking at that, thinking I wonder what your dad thinks of today’s culture. Because just as you left office, we’ve seen a country moving more toward gay marriage. We’ve seen a country moving more towards the legalization of marijuana.
CROWLEY: Certainly in some states. What does your dad make of that?
BUSH: It’s interesting; I can’t tell you. I really can’t. He is not — he’s through commenting. He’s 80 — he’s 90. And he just — as I think Baker said, he’s said all he wants to say. And he’s — the interesting thing about watching him — I tried to get some insights from him about did he fear death, for example? That’s one of the opening stories about — I was wearing dirty pants and instead of talking about whether he feared death, he said, “Do those pants come in clean?” He just kind of brushed me off.
But he doesn’t comment on it. And nor does he comment about our current president. Nor does he respond when somebody walks in and says something ugly about somebody in the political arena. He just kind of takes it in. And he’s joyful, however. It’s interesting to watch.
He’s teaching us — one of the lessons of the book is how much I learned from him, and I’m confident my brothers and sister did. And he’s teaching us how to grow old gracefully.
And I guess at some point, Candy, all these issues, temporal issues and stuff, matter not. When you’re at the very end, lived a good, strong life, jumped out of an airplane at age — or a helicopter at age 90. It just doesn’t matter anymore. You’re thinking about, I would guess in his case, eternity. And I have a glimpse in that — a glimpse of that in the book when he says to his preacher, “Do you think I’ll see my mother and Robin?”
And I know that was a genuine question. And as I put in there, I think he does think he’s going to see them.
CROWLEY: What — that was a defining moment as a parent, when you lose a child at the age of 3. But it’s also a defining moment for a child.
CROWLEY: Do you think it changed the family dynamic in any way, when your sister died?
BUSH: Well, it did, yes, in a strange way, because it meant there was, for a while, two families. I was the only child. And then Jeb, Neil, and Marvin, Doro. Because when you’re 17 and your other brother’s 10, there’s a big difference. When I’m 21 and he’s 14, it’s hard to go have a beer with him.
Obviously age matters — age difference matters little as you get older, but for a while — it was, secondly, the dynamic: Mother smothered me. I’m told. And the story is that a friend came over and said, “You wanna go play?” And I said, “I can’t; I got to comfort my mother.” And she realized she needed to help me get out, because I was hanging around her to entertain her because she was hurting so badly.
And I don’t know. Mother and I are very close, I guess maybe because we’re so much alike, sadly for her. Anyway, that — maybe that’s part of the reason why, it’s because of that moment, that period of time, when they’re grieving.
The thing in the book that I find hard for me to deal with at times when I think about it is when, you know, Dad wasn’t very expressive about his love to us years ago. He grew more so as time went on. Occasionally, he takes — he starts to say, “I love you more than tongue can tell,” which it was the last words he heard from his sweet little 3-year-old child, and he’s a sweet man. And it’s — it’s interesting to think back about how more expressive he’s become with time.
CROWLEY: –Over time, yea. I remember him saying on the plane, famously, “The Bushes don’t do grief well.”
CROWLEY: Because he once said well, how’d you feel? I think it was maybe the shuttle —
CROWLEY: — explosion. Something, and when it came back, he said, “We don’t handle grieving all that well.”
CROWLEY: I want to ask you about Putin because you also tell the story in the book about going fishing with him and taking him to Kennebunkport. You famously talked about looking into his eyes and seeing his soul. And you’ve since explained that.
But I wonder what you think of Putin now. Is —
BUSH: Well, I think he’s become more zero-sum type thinker. In other words, I don’t — haven’t talked to him in years, but it’s almost as if he says that if the — if the West wins, I lose. And if I win, the West loses. As opposed to what can we do together to enhance our respective positions?
CROWLEY: You also talk in your book about feeling that your father’s decision to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, and your decision to go into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein, were both the correct decisions in their time.
CROWLEY: In one of the paragraphs, you say, “For the sake of our security and the Iraqi people, I hope we will do what it takes to defeat ISIS and allow Iraq’s democratic government a chance to succeed.”
What is the right thing to do?
BUSH: Well, first thing is there has to be a goal, and the president has laid out what I think is a good goal, and that is to degrade and defeat ISIS. Once you state the goal, then you have to put plans in place to achieve the goal. And seems like to me the initial plans are being adjusted, and all I hope is that we succeed, because ISIS is lethal. They’re lethal not only for the people in the neighborhoods in which they live; they’re lethal to our security.
CROWLEY: And you’re with President Obama at this point on his goal —
BUSH: On degrading and defeating, absolutely. I think —
CROWLEY: And on the carrying out of that goal?
BUSH: Well, we’ll see. Time will tell. I mean, it hadn’t been all that long since he stated the goal. So hopefully what he’s trying to do works. If it doesn’t work, hopefully he’ll change.
CROWLEY: And now to the question that you thought I was getting to.
CROWLEY: I was surprised to read —
BUSH: Let me guess: Jeb.
CROWLEY: There you go. I was surprised to read that your dad actually thought about not running for re-election in ’92 because it — the spotlight on Neil had been so harsh.
BUSH: It was harsh.
CROWLEY: And he worried about it. And he ultimately decided my family can stand up to this, and up to another term. You say you took into consideration, when you were pondering whether to run for president, and you decided your family was up to this.
Is Jeb Bush’s family up to the kind of scrutiny that you know happens — and is now, by the way, even worse because of —
BUSH: Blogs and all that…
BUSH: I think that’s what he’s trying to figure out. So when you’re weighing the presidency, you think, “Do I fear success?” In other words, can I handle it if I win? You know on paper, it seems like a, you know maybe easy task. On the other hand, when you really start thinking about the implications of being president, some people go, well, I’m not sure I can handle that and therefore back off.
The other to think about is “Do you fear failure?” And Jeb doesn’t. Nor does he fear success, by the way. One reason why is because he was an able governor of Florida.
The final consideration, of course, is what you just brought up: the family. And he has — he’s seen what it’s like to be the son of a president. He’s seen what it’s like to be a brother of the president. And he — and therefore he’s being very — he’s, he’s not rushing into running for the presidency. I have no clue where his head is now.
I do know that he’s trying to answer that very question you just asked. Do I want to put my family through the scrutiny? And he’ll decide.
CROWLEY: Has he called you at all about it?
BUSH: No, no.
CROWLEY: So, again, the kind of zone of silence around the family business.
BUSH: He knows I want him to run. If I need to reiterate it, I will: Run, Jeb. I think he’d be a great president.
CROWLEY: I want you to translate something he said recently, since you’re his brother, and everybody’s translating it. His latest comment said, “To be a candidate, you have to be willing to lose the primaries to win the general.”
BUSH: Yes, I read that–
CROWLEY: Maybe he’s referring to the fact that you cannot kowtow to conservatives in the party who push you to the right in the primaries, only to make you to run back to the middle in the general.
BUSH: It could be, but it’s just — it’s a problem everybody’s had. I don’t remember me having that big a problem doing that.
CROWLEY: Well, but you are seen, rightly or wrongly, at the time, as a compassionate conservative but nonetheless a conservative.
BUSH: Oh, so is Jeb. And I think his positions on education, because of his record —
BUSH: Yes, I think it’s a conservative position.
CROWLEY: Ooh, you should ask some conservatives about that.
BUSH: Well, I mean, I do.
CROWLEY: A lot of them think he’s the, you know, as you were, a little — a little less conservative than they would rather. But I want —
BUSH: I — look, I fully understand it’s an emotional issue, and — but I think Jeb’s position is very reasonable and important.
CROWLEY: You used to say, “Family values don’t stop —
BUSH: Don’t stop at the Rio Grande River; thank you!
CROWLEY: He talks about folks coming here, undocumented, often as an act of love.
CROWLEY: That’s the sort of language that worries conservatives. And so people took this as, hey, I am what I am and can’t — you know, you have to be willing to lose the primaries, but you can’t of course lose the primaries.
BUSH: I guess. I don’t know. I’ve — I have not — maybe all of a sudden this statement makes more sense now that you’ve explained it, but I didn’t call him and say, “What do you mean?!”
CROWLEY: Could you call him and then let us know?
BUSH: Yeh, fair. Well, I hope it didn’t mean that he’s not going to run. That was my first reaction, that maybe this is a signal. But he’s not a guy who sends signal. He’ll say yes or no here when he feels like it.
CROWLEY: You’ve often referred to Bill Clinton and you talk about his relationship with your father and how it developed, and your mother as well, and he’s your brother from another mother.
CROWLEY: What does that make Hillary Clinton to the Bush family?
BUSH: My sister-in-law!
CROWLEY: Interesting. And do you think that your brother could run against your sister-in-law?
BUSH: Yeh, and I think he’d beat her.
CROWLEY: Do you?
BUSH: I do. I do.
CROWLEY: She’s formidable.
BUSH: Very much so. No question. So is he though.
CROWLEY: So you’ll take that bet.
CROWLEY: Do you think she’ll run?
BUSH: Of course, you’re not going to make it because you’re an objective newscaster.
CROWLEY: That’s why I’m asking you.
BUSH: Do I think she’ll run? I have no clue. I have no clue. But I know this — that like Jeb, she knows what it’s like, and she’s taking her time. She’s got a new complicating factor, and that is she’s a grandmother and, like you, and like me from the grandfather side, she’s going to understand the joys of what it’s like.
CROWLEY: Just being available.
BUSH: Absolutely. And it’ll enrich their lives like no other event has. And, but both folks will make — yes, she’d be a formidable candidate, no question. And both folks, Jeb and Hillary, are going to make very considered judgments.
CROWLEY: Let me ask about a couple things in the news. One of them is we’ve seen the Ferguson grand jury decision and some of the riots that have followed, but also peaceful protests there. We’ve now seen a New York decision that has again brought race to the forefront. There are those who say it — race seems to be more a problem with what a lot of people termed a post-racial presidency.
CROWLEY: When you view Republicans and race, and when you saw what happened in the streets of New York, in the video, what did you think?
BUSH: I thought: how sad. The verdict was hard to understand, but I hadn’t seen all the details. But it’s sad that race continues to play such a, you know, kind of emotional, divisive part of life. I remember back in when I was a kid, in the ’70s, and there was race riots with cities being burned. And I just think we’ve improved. I had dinner with Condi the other night and we talked about this subject, and, yes, she just said you got understand that there are a lot of, you know, black folks around that are just incredibly more and more distrusting of law enforcement. Which is a shame, because law enforcement’s job is to protect everybody.
CROWLEY: And video like that —
CROWLEY: — is disturbing even to you (ph).
BUSH: Very disturbing to me. And, yes. I mean it just — it calls into question what needs to be done to heal, to get the country united again. But no question — and as Condi mentioned, and I agree — there’s been tremendous progress based on race, but I think these incidents show there needs to be more.
CROWLEY: And do you know where to start with that?
BUSH: Well, you know, the president’s got an opportunity to start.
CROWLEY: Do you think he’s in a tough position as the first sort of African-American president? But you’re president of everyone, as you know, Democrats, Republicans, whites, blacks, Hispanics.
BUSH: Yes. It’d be tough. It’d be tough for an Anglo president, a white president, Latino president or black president, when this kind of thing goes on in our country. Yes, it’s a hard — it’s hard to get the emotion settled down to the point where people say let’s see — let’s solve problems such as these.
CROWLEY: I want to wrap up this part of it with a question about one of — one or the other of your daughters. And that is if they were to write a book about you —
CROWLEY: — what would you want it to say?
BUSH: I hope it would be — the tone would be just like this, that’s what I’d hope. I’d hope — in the book, I put in there that — I wish I’d use when it comes to people who say, “What do I do? I got a teenage daughter?” I say I love you; there’s nothing you can do to make me not love you, so stop trying.
Did I lose my patience with them? Absolutely. Because they kept trying to make me not love them at times. Am I proud of them? Oh abso — unbelievably proud of them.
You know, it’d be an interesting question. I don’t know. Maybe they — maybe they’re planning an introduction to a tabletop of George W. Bush’s paintings, who knows?
CROWLEY: Thank you so much for this; I appreciate it. Very nice to be with you.