Video: George Herbert Walker Bush on 'Imus'

updated 9/1/2004 8:15:34 PM ET 2004-09-02T00:15:34

Former President George H.W. Bush spoke with Don Imus this morning on WFAN’s “Imus in the Morning,” which is simulcast on MSNBC. Bush told Imus he feels we are much better off today because of the Gulf War and the Iraq War. He also recognizes the criticism his son and the rest of the Bush family is facing, but also feels this presidential election is still President Bush’s to win.

“Imus in the Morning” airs on WFAN (AM 660) 5:30-10:00 a.m. (ET) Monday through Friday and simulcasts on MSNBC from 6:00-9:00 a.m. (ET). Following is the transcript from this morning’s interview:

Imus: “Please welcome now to the Imus in the Morning program, the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush.  Good morning Mr. President,”

Bush: “Thank you for having me out here at the studio.

Imus: “Why you are quite welcome sir. In talking to Nantz... maybe we will get you  a little later with that relationship sir.

Bush:” It’s a good, straightforward sports relationship..heck we are going to see a play together this afternoon because I jumped out of the golf game with him yesterday claiming rain, so he is now coming into the city and we are going to go to the show.”

Imus: “He led me to believe that you weren’t coming over and everyone was excited that you were. Thanks very much for doing that.”

Bush: “We wanted to surprise these guys. I’m not trying to be gratuitous here but I watch this show, Barbara even watches it sometimes, and I wanted to see these culprits eyeball to eyeball. They are all big guys too. TV distorts.”

Imus: “I’d like to apologize first of all for saying yesterday that I planned to try to trick you into saying something that you would regret. That was disrespectful and I apologize and I’m sorry, so.”

Bush: “Well I’m sorry I stole your line when I said I was humping your show. That is kind of a double entendre there and I was a little worried about it.”

Imus: “I do also think that is commendable that you agreed to all of this probably knowing that I had been supporting John Kerry.”

Bush: “We have watched that with agony for months. But we understand. Look we understand that. We are all grown up in our family… it’s the kind of criticism Dana Carvey use to needle the hell out of me and I really like the guy. He never went below the line you might say and he we remained good friends even though he became rich ridiculing the hell out of me.”

(laughter)

Imus: “ I am now undecided sir. This has nothing to do with your appearance, I have just moved over into that column.”

Bush: “Well we consider that progress… Big move going our way.”

Imus: “I was talking with your...is Jean Becker, is she your Chief of Staff now?”

Bush: “Yea, she is sitting right here. Don’t say anything bad about her.”

Imus: “No, well she was delightful. She did express some dismay that she agreed to this but...I ask her “Do you think the President knows the statistics regarding the number of parachutes that malfunction when people jump out of airplanes? Do you?”

Bush: “No I don’t know the statistics but I know it is good fun and we had so many redundant chutes… we had about eight chutes  there that if one failed we  were  good with another one. The last one was a disappointment I-Man because I had to do what they call a tandem jump and I’ve done solo jumps before but it was still a thrill.”

Imus: “What does that mean a tandem jump?”

Bush: “Tandem. You are hooked on to some guy that knows what he is doing. They told me—I went through all of the ground training again and they said, ‘You can’t go’ and I said, ‘Why?’, he said, ‘Because it’s the wind and the clouds’ and I said to Tommy Burchett with me, I said, ‘I don’t think that they want this old guy jumping out of a plane at 80.’ Then I’m convinced that they were right because the winds were bad the clouds were tough and this guy maneuvered us down through there. It was fun. I like doing it. People say, ‘Why do you do it?’ I said, ‘Well, it shows that old guys can still do stuff.’ I mean it’s that simple.”

Imus: “Well John Stewart, the guy at the Daily Show on Comedy Central, he said on the occasion of this jump on your 80th birthday and I’ll quote him, ‘Ok, we are sorry that we called you a wimp, can you stop jumping out of airplanes now?’ “

Bush: “Did Newsweek say that? Not that I have a long memory about slights or anything but that is where it came form those so and sos. But anyway, no, life is good. We enjoy doing it. I may go again on my 85th.”

Imus: “You know, well that’s what Jean said. Maureen Dowd wrote that when Newsweek ran that wimp factor cover story, that you demanded a meeting with the late Katharine Graham who is a publisher of the Washington Post. I don’t know if you ever had that meeting with her. Did you?”

Bush: “To correct the record of Maureen, with whom I have a very unusual relationship with  you might say, and don’t read anything into that, but they asked to see me. Because they sent a guy around to see us, Jim Baker and me, and they said, ‘We’d like you to give  us access to everything so we have an inside report on the convention.’  They do that every year. This was –and I forget spring or something like that. I said— ‘Heck no, we are not going to do that. We’ll treat the Newsweek reporters with respect.’ They hold their hands up at a press conference and I’ll be darned if we are going to give them inside information. So they requested the meeting and out they come, Evan Thomas and a guy named Rick Smith who I think is still there. Kay Graham was there. They were very nice about it but it was a little late, you know?”

Imus: “It’s thirty three minutes after the hour and we are talking with the 41st President of the United States, George Bush. This probably sounds like a trick question and it’s not, but are you better off now sir than you were four years ago?”

Bush: “A lot better. I am unemployed but that doesn’t mean that I am not better off. No, I am better off in a lot of ways. For me it’s not about issues anymore, maybe that is not an issue question but yes I am better off except that I am a little older, joints hurt and all that but it’s all offset by the pride in our family and it’s not just the president, it’s not just the governor of Florida, who takes it on the chin from that dreadful Terry McAuliffe but it’s family, it’s togetherness’ and people say what do you talk bout when the President comes up there to Maine or when you see him in Houston or something. We don’t discuss issues, what we talk about outside, but it’s family. So I’m better off. Each year I am better off.”

Imus: “Do you think the country is?”

Bush: “I think the country is better off, yea. I think they ought to ask a few guys in Iraq instead of people who are waving these signs around here. The question ought to be, do you want Saddam Hussein back, back to the status quo or are you happier the way it is now? Sure there are some growing pains and it’s tough anytime you lose a life but you are talking to a guy in World War II that covered the landing in Guam and Saipan and saw these marines gunned down by the thousands in one day. Every loss of life is terrible. But to suggest that it is all wrong as some people are doing, I think they ought to be asked would it be better to bring back Saddam. Yea I think we are better off. I think the economy is doing a lot better then it was four years ago. I think that there is a perception problem. American people not sure of that that it’s true but it is true. I think you are beginning to see it. My problem I-Man was that when I was running I wasn’t good enough to cut through the haze that the economy had recovered.  I said, it had indeed recovered and Clinton very cleverly and very affectively said ‘it’s the economy stupid’. Now this crowd with the President and others are doing better.sitting here with me is Mary Matalin. She and I were the only two people who thought that I was going to win when it got right down to the wire. We both shed a few tears and I got on with my life and yea life is good.”

Imus: “You mention Iraq in the book that you and Brent Scowcroft wrote, ‘A World Transformed ‘ which by the way Mr. President should have won a Pulitzer prize. I’m sure that you would agree. (laughter) Published back in 1996.. “

Bush: “Actually it was a good book as a matter of fact..”

Imus: “ Yes it was. I checked this morning and it’s 9, 632 on Amazon and I feel confident that we can… I mean it has been out for 10 years, I’m confident that we can pump that up this morning but...”

Bush: “It’s better than that Ambien for sleeping, I’ll tell you that.”

(laughter)

Imus: “Anyway you wrote in rather dramatic detail how you put together the alliance against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and enormously one would imagine, and someone, oh I don’t know say who found themselves in a similar situation were to read that. You also defended your decision not to depose Saddam Hussein..”

Bush: “That was never a question back then.”

Imus: “Well no, but you wrote that one of the considerations was that you had no exit strategy and you wrote,’ had we gone the invasion route, the United States would end up an occupying force into bitterly hostile land.’”

Bush: “Exactly.”

Imus: “Do you still think that was the right decision?”

Bush: “I’m absolutely certain of it. The reason is, our mission was very different then the President’s mission. Our mission was to end the aggression. We tried. We want to the U.N., we went everywhere. We got an almost partisan vote. I don’ want to take a cheap shot at John Kerry but he was among most of the Democrats that didn’t give us a vote to use whatever means necessary. Everyone knew that meant use of force but we went ahead, got the vote, put the coalition together and did what we said we’d do. What we said we’d do is kick the man out of Kuwait and not liberate Iraq and not kill Saddam Hussein. Our game plan, our military plan was not the way it was ten years later. So it’s different times, different strokes. I’ll tell you where I was wrong. I thought he’d be gone. I thought he’d follow his own weight. How can a brutal guy like that stay in there after getting clobbered and he just used brutality in a way that...(mumbled).... But then you have to fast forward to problem our son faced after many, many more resolutions to the U.N., after the over and over again the reiteration that he had indeed had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people that the President felt that he had to act. I think he did the right thing. But different times people throw to me, well why didn’t you do that? Well I get a little annoyed and say well here is the mission and then we said we finished it . We got it done.”

Imus: “You told Paula Zhan, you told others that you dont intend to be put in  a position of appearing to disagree with your son, the current President, and I think you are right about that. But it strikes me that here in 2004 and I understand the reasons that the current President went to war with Iraq, but we are essentially an occupying force now in a bitterly hostile land. “

Bush: “Well it’s not that bitterly hostile. There is some hostility and there are some pockets of resistance and there are some radical fundamentalist like this guy AL Sadr. This is not the majority. I have not been there and I’m dying to go but the people that I talk to..the schools are open, the women are coming out from behind the barriers and things are moving in the right direction. Is it done? no it’s not done but are they better off? Absolutely. And that I think that is what the message is thats not   getting through properly in the United States of America. That’s’ my opinion.”

Imus: “We are talking with the 41st President of the United States George Bush... you also dispel the notion that the President went to war in Iraq to finish the Gulf War and you said essentially that it was nonsense. You told Paula Zahn that the President feels the Gulf War was finished and yet the President told the Washington Times that he did not intend on sending mixed signals to the Iraqi people and cut and run like they did in 1991.”

Bush: “Yea, I didn’t like that much.”

Imus: “It doesn’t sound to me like he thought that it was finished, does he?”

Bush: “Well he hasn’t said it again, has he?

(laughter)

Imus: “No sir, he has not.”

(laughter)

Bush: “No I’m sure there was some background around that statement because I saw that and frankly it hurt a little bit but that’s you know...”

Imus: “You don’t need that do you?”

Bush: “I’m getting it from quite a few people. You’re asking about it but in a very gentlemanly way. I appreciate that and I understand the question. But I’m saying it’s a different time and different strokes and I’m sure that there are some people, in the current administration that think it could have been done differently. Well... I’m proud of what we did, proud of the way the war ended and very proud of the way this President is conducting this war which in my view is quite different.”

Imus: “The other day the President admitted to making miscalculations regarding this war in Iraq and I’ve got to thinking about that and it’s just my opinion but the miscalculations were made by the ‘my way or the highway foreign policy team of Donald Rumsfeld and vice President Cheney and all these neo-cons, all of   that advice that he apparently took. You would agree with that, wouldn’t you?”

Bush: “Look, I told you I don’t like to differ with my son, his team or anything else. I have to surrender. I have to have my own opinions in a blind trust as Doonesbury said about me one time in which case it’s true. If I said something to you, I took differ for me the President, everybody would rush over to the New York times or to Maureen or to somebody else and say look, the President differs. What do you say down in the white house pressroom about the nutty father unleashed out there. We don’t need that. I had my chance.”

Imus: “Yes we do sir.”

(laughter)

Imus: “With all do respect that is what we want.”

Bush: “OF course it is but I am not a controversial kind of guy.”

Imus: “To be serious for a minute, I wasn’t talking about your son, I was talking about Donald Rumsfled and Vice President Cheney. What the hell happened to Cheney? It’s like he just..when he was in your administration he said why go into Iraq and install what is going to be essentially be a puppet regime wind up in a quagmire. Well he was right then but he is wrong now. Or am I wrong?

Bush: “You are wrong because, I think, because as I told you it’s a very different strokes, different times. Cheney helped define the stratagy and the war plan and the mission that we had back in 1991. Now ten years later, resolution after resolution being violated in the United Nations, he joined the President in feeling that we had   to take action. We did it in Afghanistan, he was right in the middle of that planning and did it very well and similarly did it in Iraq. So I could understand the argument of both ways but you asked the right question. are they better off or are we better off? I think we are both better off.  I thought there was some wonderful words last night by Arnold Schwarzenegger about freedom and all of that and it was great. We get hit for bringing people in to look moderate. I don’t remember one person at the Democratic Convention. who could express their opinion on an issue or was representing a position on an issue different then the mainstream liberal band of the party there. I thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in a good perspective and so did John McCain incidentally.”

Imus:”Do you like him? You must."

Bush: “Well I have known him for years. His mother sat there, his wife sat next to me in the box watching his wonderful speech and they reminded me that I had gone up for the christening of the U.S.S. McCain in BAth, MAine where I was surrounded by that wonderful family. Without trying to act like a hero, I got my distinguished, fine cross from his dad, John McCain, Admiral John McCain II, so we have a long time history, a favorable relationship and when he and the current president got cross swayed in campaigning and all , I didn’t like that too much because I have great respect for him. I know the president does. I think it is wonderful that they are together and yet some of these darn editorial people, I’m trying to clean it up for you, they won’t let it be. They don’t say, well, how can he be that? How can he be for the President?”

Imus: “I saw those swift boat ads calling John Kerry essentially a liar. I actually thought of what the democrats tried to do to you in 1992 regarding your war record charging that your heroism was not valid, that there wasn’t a fire in the plane, those two guys didn’t have to die, obviously they were disgusting, Clearly not true. The people who were actually on John Kerry’s boat support his version the events the ones who were not on his boat are calling him a liar and my question to you Mr.President is why should we believe them and not the United States Navy and John Kerry and the men who were with him?”

Bush: “Well I don’t know. I think the President was right and said that John Kerry had a heroic record. My problem, and yes I came into the fire, look, the veterans of foreign wars endorsed Bill Clinton over me. Now if the matrix or the base for that ought to be that you served your country with honor, I would have thought maybe I would be endorsed by the veterans of foreign wars. But no they endorse a guy that is demonstrating over in London somewhere. He did it very skillfully, he came back and wrote a letter to a colonel and got out. But then I am not in a position now to take sides in it but I’ll go with that the president said. I still have great difficulty with his coming back and making those statements before the congress and throwing medals away and in essence demeaning to serve those people that were still serving honorably in Vietnam. One of the good things about the way the Gulf War ended in 1991 is, you’d see the Vietnam veterans marching with the Gulf War veterans. I tell you, I couldn’t keep the tears away saying these guys are finally getting their due whether you like the war or not they serve with honor. They came back to be spit upon and then they were, their heads held high and so I go back and look at some of those testimonies and I have great difficulty with it just as I did with Jane Fonda. I met her one time and I’ve got to say that she was very gracious to me. It was when the Queen of England was here in 1992. I don’t mean to be a name dropper here but when the Queen and I were having dinner (laughter) Jane Fonda came through the line and she said, ‘Mr.President, I realize this is difficult for you.’ She was a real lady about it and yet I was saying in my heart of hearts, god I just cannot forgive you for what you did when those kids were being held prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton. So I am getting old at just the right time.”

Imus: “What I think he did when he came back is fair game. I was just surprised I know John McCain condemned those initial ads that attacked the validity of whether he was awarded the medals or not. I was just surprised that the President or you would not condemn those ads. I understand that the ads are about what he did coming back, I believe that you are right about that.”

Bush: “Well, what I found hard to condemn was the witness, the testimony of the people who were in the ads. I only saw one. One of them was Zumalt’s son. Admiral Zumalt who served with great honor. My position is that it is hard for me to sit here with my feet up out of the game, on the bench, saying that all of these... I though that I read somewhere that there were 150 swift boat people, that they are all liars. Now I don’t want to get into this debate because..”

Imus: “Oh go ahead.”

Bush: “No, I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to be out there complicating things for the President or being unfair to John Kerry who did serve and I’m sure did some wonderful things there.”

Imus: “Who likes you by the way and admires you.”

Bush: “Oh really? He had a funny way of showing it when he was voting in the U.S. Senate. What are you talking about, he voted against the Gulf War.”

Imus: “No but let me explain..”

Bush: “..and I needed that.”

Imus: “He first voted for it, then voted against it. You just probably didn’t know that.”

(laughter)

Bush: “I came all prepared with funny jokes and I haven’t had a chance to work any of them in..want to hear a couple of them?

Imus: “Yes sir.”

Bush: “The latest New York Times poll has Kerry leading one hundred to nothing among likely New York Times reporters. How do you like that one?”

(laughter)

Bush: “That’s not bad.”

Imus: “Probably an accurate poll too.”

Bush: “This one I think I took personally. Some have been doing a sit-in so long instead of protest signs they wave tubes of Preparation-H.”

(laughter)

Bush: “These are pretty good but I couldn’t work them in.”

Imus: “What do you make by the way of this extraordinary amount of analysis that you have talked about of the father son dynamics between you and the President?”

Bush: “they put you on the couch like...”

Imus: “Maureen Dowd tells me that you don’t like to be out on the couch.”

Bush: “Well, I don’t. I’ve got to make a confession. I kind of like Maureen Dowd and this kills me with my own family. She has destroyed the President. She wrote a book all about, at least the title, I haven’t read the darn thing...”

Imus: “BushWorld, yea.”

Bush: “You humped it for her as you say. It’s probably a pretty good book. it soared up to the top. I told Barbara, the next time you write a book, you ought to go on the I-Man. He modestly says if you come on his program you’ll sell a lot more books. She would say to me, he would do to me what he did to Ann Richards and call her a withered old prune.”

(laughter)

Imus: “I don’t think I would do that and I don’t think that it’s true. I deny that sir.”

Bush: “I told her, he doesn’t do that when you are on talking to somebody like you Barbara. You missed a great opportunity.”

(laughter)

Imus: “It seems like the current President for whatever reason, has done, someone has said it’s like a reverse playbook of what you did. You were tough on Israel, he was not. You raised taxes unfortunate, he didn’t. He acts more like a Baptist then a Episcopalian...then this business of emulating Reagan.”

Bush: “He’s Methodist, I think, is what he is.”

Imus: “Is he?”

Bush: “I tell you one thing, you raise a point. I’ll tell you what annoys me. I just finished this book April 19 65 or whatever when Robert Lee surrendered and Lincoln was shot within oh what a few weeks. In hat book they talk very convincingly about Lincoln’s faith and what it meant to him and how important faith was. He’d talk about it to the American people. Now in the liberal elite say the President shouldn’t be talking about faith. He shouldn’t have faith. He is not saying that other people ought to do it like he does, Methodist, Episcopalian, whatever the heck it is. He is just saying, this is what sustains me. Don, that is true. I know this guy. I can see it sustains him. Lincoln said you cannot be President without spending some item on your knees. I have repeated that and a bunch of Atheists got all over me. Wait a minute. Does that mean that you cannot be President if you are an Atheist? I say yea that does mean that.”

(laughter)

Bush: “One Nation Under God.”

Imus: “Do you think though that, I don’t want to dwell on this but do you think that President Bush is either consciously or subconsciously tried to get out of your shadow?”

Bush: “I think some people in the beginning...the shadow wasn’t too long. I lost an election pretty convincingly. So I think, and you have mentioned some differences, I was compelled I felt to raise taxes, to not have the government shut down, they’ll never do that. So there are some obvious kinds of differences. But I don’t think he personally felt that I have to compete with my dad. You read all this psycho babble stuff and I know that it’s not true.  It’s hard to describe the relationship between Barbara and me and the President and also Jeb, talking about public service now, in Florida when he was just brutalized. These damn issues now for me they don’t matter. What does matter to me though is if they have assigned things to him in some salon in upper east side of New York that he is trying to get out form under some shadow to escape his father and to have his own legacy and not his dad. Maybe there were people around him four years ago who felt that way. You can Mary who is sitting here but they didn’t plug her in but...”

IMus: “One final question sir. Is Larry Gatlin ok? What is the deal with him?”

BUsh: “He is good. I told him the other day that you told me several years ago that you might not sing again because of something in your throat and he is singing like a nightingale. He is wonderful and a great, great friend of the Bush family.”

Bush : “ Let me tell you one other thing and then I’ll get out of here. . They always said about me, George Bush, Ivy League Elitist. But I went tout to the West, I’ve lived my life, my adult life in the West and I like country music. All the Elitists in tee Hudson River group here , say well he is just trying to be something he is not. You here it over and over and I love Larry Gatlin, I love Reba. There are many of these people who are close friends. That is what I like. They can’t let it be. He ought to be listening to Bach or Beethoven or some damn thing.”

Imus: “Thank you Mr. President. It is with great honor for everybody in the studio and for me.”

Bush: “Thank you very much for having me.”

Imus: “You are quite welcome and God bless you and thank you very much.”   

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