RUSH: We are happy, as we always have been, to welcome back to the program President George W. Bush. Mr. Bush, welcome back, and thank you for giving us some time today, sir.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Rush, thank you. I’m honored to be talking to you about this new book I just released.
RUSH: How many times a day in the last two years have you heard people tell you they miss you?
PRESIDENT BUSH: (laughing) Well, every time they do I’m flattered, and I appreciate it very much. There’s a big billboard between Dallas and Waco that says that, and it makes a guy feel good. I signed books today in Dallas and quite a few people went by and said that. It’s a very kind thing for people to say.
RUSH: Well, I’m sure they mean it. Now, what’s your take on the election? This is historic. The Republicans have not won this many seats in the House I think since the 1930s. This election goes deep, state legislatures, governorships. This was big. What’s your take?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, you might remember I was president during two off-year elections. In ’02 we picked up seats, and ’06 we lost seats. So I’m familiar with both ends of off-year elections. And in ’06 people were disgruntled. In the book I point out that people were kind of tired of me. The Iraq war wasn’t looking good in the fall of ’06, but people were also tired of sex scandals and bridges to nowhere and the failure to reform Social Security, for example. They showed up, and said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re unsatisfied.’ And that’s what happened again here, and, you know, it was a big election, and people ask me about it, and, look, I’m not gonna try to dissect all the election, but I do appreciate the fact that democracy functions. And when people are frustrated, they show up, and in this case they had a huge influence.
RUSH: What’s it like? I mean you just said people were tired of you in 2006. What’s it like to sit in the Oval Office, or wherever you happen to be as president and believe the people are tired of you, and do you want to do anything about that?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, in my case, you know, I wasn’t gonna compromise principle, nor was I going to abandon the mission in Iraq. And so in the fall of 2006, as these elections were approaching, I was in the process of deciding to put more troops into Iraq. And, you know, sometimes if you’re president and people are tired of you, you just have to soldier on. I was convinced we could succeed in Iraq, and I knew failure in Iraq would be catastrophic and success could be transformative. So on this particular issue, you know, I said I’m gonna do what I think is right, and I spent quite a bit of time in the book writing about that.
RUSH: We noted at the time that there were some vicious attacks against your Iraq policy, against you personally, and you never responded in kind, in a political sense, to what were political attacks. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a political party ever opposing their own country at war, seeking a defeat as the Democrats were. I mean Harry Reid was out there, Mr. President, ‘This war is lost.’
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. I chronicle that moment, and I didn’t like it then. I don’t like hearing it now because, as a leader in the Senate, I felt it was an irresponsible act, irresponsible statement to say to a mother or, you know, a loved one your child or loved one is heading into a losing situation. You can disagree with the policy, disagree with whether we should work to establish democracy in Iraq after we liberated it, but to condemn soldiers heading into mission to a lost cause is just, you know, is inexcusable, as far as I was concerned.
RUSH: Why didn’t you do more about it? Why didn’t you comment more about it at the time? I mean, I asked you once, and you said that you didn’t want to sully the office of the presidency by descending to base political level. But I mean this was not simply base politics. This was keeping the country safe.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I understand that, but on the other hand I do believe in the institution of the presidency, and I didn’t think it was right then, I still don’t think it’s right to engage in name-calling if you’re the president of the United States. I was focused on the mission, as were the troops. And, because of their bravery and sacrifice, the situation turned around shortly after that statement. I’ve discussed this with other people in my administration, when they call me a liar should I have called them names, and my attitude was no then, obviously, and I still feel very strongly that’s the way a president ought to conduct himself.
RUSH: Well, some of the people in your administration, Karl Rove, have said in hindsight that they think — maybe Karl is speaking for himself, certainly other people in the administration — should have done more to defend you and the administration against these attacks because these attacks against you are attacks against your voters, attacks against the American people who support the United States at war.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That’s right. Now, Karl feels that way. I read his book and recommend it, he’ll be happy from me to hear. And, yeah, I mean Karl felt like we shoulda punched back harder. I can’t remember if he was referring to I shoulda punched back harder or we shoulda punched back harder. I wasn’t gonna punch back because, again, I think the office of the presidency is precious. It’s an institution that needs to be strengthened and getting into a verbal mud fight with people, in my judgment, demeans the office. And so I chose not to do that.
RUSH: Okay, demeans the office. It hasn’t stopped. By this definition, the office is being demeaned today. I mean you are being blamed for the economy today. The current occupant constantly runs around saying I inherited this mess from you. Did you ever say you inherited a terrorism crisis from President Clinton or an economic crisis?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Each president has his own tactics, and I’ve been around politics long enough to know how it works. I’ve chosen not to engage this way during my presidency, or in my post-presidency. Look, I like not being in the news. It’s a little ironic since I’m talking to one of the most widely listened to people in America, or the most widely listened to person in America, but I’m very comfortable being submerged, as I say, and I’m emerging because I want people to read this book, frankly, and I think it will give people an interesting perspective about what it was like to be president and how you make decisions in a complex environment. And, you know, once this book is finished I’m going back to as normal a life as possible, promoting freedom and marketplace and accountability in the schools and playing golf with people like you.
RUSH: (laughing) Any time.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you. I hear your game’s getting better now that you’ve gotten married.
RUSH: (laughing) Yeah, because I’ve got less time to play and the less time I play the better I seem to get.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (laughing)
RUSH: Now, look, one thing about the predecessor and so forth. You were president of the United States. You were the leader of the country. You were elected twice by the people of this country on substantive issues. Now we find ourselves in a really challenging economic time, and it is being said that you ‘drove the economy in the ditch.’ You were behind the wheel in the car. Now, Mr. President, the people… We can’t relate to being president. We can only try to understand it, and when we do — when we hear ourselves being blamed for things that we have nothing to do with — our tendency would be to respond to it, to try to correct the record. But in your book, you steer clear.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, on this issue, I don’t steer clear because I remind the reader that on the issue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I saw a problem, and went to Congress and said, ‘Look, this is a group of… These are enterprises that have got an implicit government guarantee and they’re taking risky stances, and, therefore, we ought to regulate them. If they’ve got an implicit government guarantee there ought to be some sense of regulation and make sure they don’t misuse that guarantee, and I make it clear in the book what happened, and that is that powerful forces in Congress resisted that reform. Whether those reforms had taken place in 2003 it’s hard to predict whether or not this crisis would have occurred, but I’m comfortable in telling the reader and comfortable that history will judge that we tried to do something about it. You know, and eventually the truth wins out, and this book is an attempt to set the record straight from my perspective.
RUSH: Is that your faith speaking, ‘the truth will out’?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Do I think that? Yeah, I do. I think… Look, I remember when Ronald Reagan left office. Frankly, you’re old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan left office.
RUSH: Yeah, I am.
PRESIDENT BUSH: And, you know, ‘dunce,’ ‘warmonger,’ all the names he was being called, and at the time of his burial, he was being viewed as a superb president, and rightly so.
RUSH: If you had it to do over…? You were talking about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. If you had it to do over, would you do the TARP bailout?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, I would have, because — and I think the reader will —
RUSH: What were you told about that? What did they tell you that made it…?
PRESIDENT BUSH: We were headed for a second depression. You know, they didn’t say quite that way. You know, it was a little more nuanced than that but, ‘If you don’t do something big, we could see a second depression, or a depression bigger than the second depression,’ and, you know, if you’re the president, you don’t have time to gamble. And I didn’t like using taxpayers’ money to bail out the people that got us in trouble. I didn’t like it at all, but when you’re president you get faced with stark choices, and I couldn’t have lived with myself had the country gone into a deep depression, and people’s lives would have been affected. People thrown out of work. There are a lot of people out of work today and all of us are concerned about that but the situation could have been a lot worse.
RUSH: Well, you talk about people that got us into trouble. Some people think it wasn’t Wall Street by themselves. Some people think it was the Democrat Party. You talk about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the whole subprime mortgage mess. That was a brainchild of the Democrats.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, that’s right.
RUSH: We bailed the Democrats out of a problem, too, and they continue to this day to blame you and the Republicans for it. Although I don’t think they’re getting away with it any longer. The election returns, I think, signal that. We’re talking with former President Bush. We have to take a brief time-out. His new book, Decision Points, is published today.
Back with more right after this.
RUSH: We’re back with President George W. Bush. The new book, Decision Points, is out today. Mr. President, the softball questions are over. Now we move in —
PRESIDENT BUSH: (laughing)
RUSH: (laughing) Are you using a teleprompter on your book tour?
PRESIDENT BUSH: (laughing) No. (laughing) I just finished. Actually, you don’t need a teleprompter when you sit and sign books. I just finished signing I think like 2400 books here in Dallas.
RUSH: Twenty-four hundred books?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah.
RUSH: Well, this is —
PRESIDENT BUSH: People seem interested. I hope not only supporters but critics read the book. I just want people to understand what it was like.
RUSH: Well, you said you enjoy being out of the news. I can help you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah? Get back in it or stay out of it?
RUSH: No, just keep telling the truth and they’ll ignore you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you.
RUSH: You can say… (laughing) Look, your tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. What should happen?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, if you’re interested — if one is interested — in job creation, it is important to understand that 70% of new jobs are created by small businesses, and many small businesses pay personal income tax because they’re subchapter-S or limited partnerships. And if rates go up on small businesses, it will be harder to create jobs. So I think you ought to keep ’em low.
RUSH: All right. What about the Arizona immigration law? What are your thoughts on that?
PRESIDENT BUSH: My thought on that is… Now, you see, you’re trying to get me to make news. I don’t want to make news. I want to sell books, of course, and I think —
RUSH: (laughs) Well, you can do both at the same time.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (laughs)
RUSH: I’m an expert at it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think the federal government ought to have a comprehensive immigration law and the fact there isn’t one caused Arizona to react. And, as you know, I laid out a comprehensive plan that I believed would work when I was president. I still believe it will work, and in the book I talk about that decision to try to get legislation passed.
RUSH: What was the objective of that legislation? What were you trying to accomplish with your comprehensive immigration reform because many people thought it was amnesty and they opposed it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I know, and that’s what happens a lot of times these issues get labeled and people react poorly. I couldn’t have said it more plainly: I was against amnesty. I don’t know many people who were for amnesty when it comes time for comprehensive reform. I’m sure there’s some, but, you know, all that would do if you granted amnesty is encourage the next wave to come. I was trying to basically recognize that our economy required immigrants to work. I mean, there’s a lot of jobs Americans won’t do and therefore there needed to be an orderly, legal way for people to come and work on a temporary basis and that if you’d paid your taxes and had been here for a while and were a good citizen you had a chance to become a citizen, but you had to get at the back of the line. It was a plan that I felt addressed the issue in a good way. There is no plan — obviously there’s no plan, a comprehensive plan — yet, and therefore states like Arizona are reacting.
RUSH: The politics of it, though. Many people feared the Democrats simply wanted to register all these people as new Democrat voters. They weren’t concerned about any compassion; they weren’t concerned about labor markets or any of that. They just saw an avenue for more Democrat votes and registration, and when Republicans are going along with it, people are pulling their hair out saying, ‘Why do we want to help the Democrats in their political efforts?’
PRESIDENT BUSH: No. I know, I know. Look, a lot of people view things through a political lens. I thought it was good policy, though — and not all Democrats were for it on Capitol Hill, either, I might add. Anyway, it’s still an issue and needs to be solved at some point in time.
RUSH: Tea Party. What’s your reaction?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think that democracy works, and people became frustrated, showed up and participated in the process. To me that’s healthy when people participate in democracy. The worst thing that can happen in our system is people are frustrated and don’t participate. A lot of people participated. I also watched a Tea Party-type movement in 1992, so this is nothing new for me. Remember when there was a lot of frustration in the political system and there was a third-party candidate who ran for president in ’92, Ross Perot, and I believe it affected the election when it came time for my dad’s reelection, but there was a lot of anxiety in the system then as well. It is healthy for our society if people feel anxiety and frustration that they participate, that they show up. And what’s really unhealthy is if there’s frustration and people do nothing. And, you know, so it was a very interesting political year.
RUSH: I want to give you a chance to comment on something. There are stories going around that do not quote you — that quote ‘associates’ or ‘friends’ — saying that you are telling them that Sarah Palin was a bad choice by Senator McCain to be vice president —
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah.
RUSH: — and that she —
PRESIDENT BUSH: I have never said that, of course, nor have I read about it. You know, I’m not gonna comment on anybody who might be running for president. But that’s what happens in today’s world, the blogosphere. You know, people get to hide behind some codename or something. They toss out a gossip or rumor and it floats around the Internet. I never said that, never would have said that.
RUSH: What do you want people to know about you and your presidency that they don’t know? What’s in this book that you think will surprise people?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, gosh. I think it will surprise people that I deliberated long and hard about a lot of issues, that I weighed different people’s opinions, that I was very deliberate when it came time to commit our troops. I tried to give diplomacy a chance. I think people will learn that I’ve got a decent sense of humor, and I hope they already know that I’ve got a set of values I wouldn’t trade out for politics; and I hope they know that I was honored to serve our country, that I really love America, and to be the president of a country you love is a huge honor.
RUSH: Privatizing Social Security. I meant to ask this when you mentioned it earlier. This is one of your hallmarks of your second term. You tried to get this done. It’s always been said to be ‘the third rail.’ Even today with your book coming out the Democrats are attacking you on this. You didn’t want to reform the whole thing. You just wanted to get people a stake in it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, I… That’s a codeword, ‘privatization.’ That’s obviously a poll-tested word. And so all I said was younger workers ought to have a chance to set aside some of their money in an account that earns a better rate of return than their money in the Social Security trust fund. Why I thought that’s important is, one, it’s voluntary. Secondly, it will give a waitress in a restaurant a chance to own an asset, an asset that he or she could pass on — or she, in this case, can pass on — to her family. There are a lot of people in our society who have no assets, and I felt like this would be a substantive reform that would be positive. And, of course, you know, by having a defined contribution plan as opposed to a defined benefit plan, you’re taking power away from people in Washington, and that created a lot of angst. One of these days people will reform Social Security, and I was pleased to lay out a solution.
RUSH: Former President Bush, it’s great to have you on the program. It always is. Good luck with the book. You have a busy couple of months ahead of you with this, taking you through the Christmas season with it, and I thank you for your time here. It’s always a pleasure to have you with us.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Rush, thank you very much, sir. I appreciate your time.
RUSH: You bet. Former President Bush is on the phone with us from Texas, and he does say that countless people miss him. Which we knew would be the case. Thanks again for your time, sir.