Guests: Evan Thomas, Roger Simon, Ken Mehlman
NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, in a rare interview, President Bush talks to “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams about the political damage from Hurricane Katrina and Iraq.
Plus the chairman of the Republican Party on Donald Rumsfeld‘s fighting words against war critics. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell sitting in for Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Tonight, President Bush hit the campaign trail and talked about his upcoming series of speeches to try and counter critics on the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My series of speeches, they‘re not political speeches. They‘re speeches about the future of this country, and they are speeches to make it clear that if we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become even more in jeopardy.
These are important times, and I would seriously hope people wouldn‘t politicize these issues that I‘m going to talk about. We have a duty in this country to defeat terrorists. That‘s why we will stay on the offense to bring them to justice before they hurt us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: More on this in a bit with the chairman of the Republican Party.
But President Bush spend the last two on the Gulf Coast reaffirming his promise to rebuild the region from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The president did take time during his visit to grant an exclusive, wide-ranging interview to “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams.
With his poll numbers down and violence up in Iraq, President Bush gave Brian Williams a rare glimpse into his thoughts with just 10 weeks until the fall elections. So tonight on HARDBALL, Brian‘s interview with the president and analysis from two of the best political reporters in the country, Evan Thomas of “Newsweek” and Bloomberg‘s Roger Simon. So we are going to have a lot of that interview for you here on HARDBALL.
But first, we begin with the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman. You heard the president just earlier today say that he is not engaged in political speeches. But over the past several days, we have heard the vice president, the secretary of defense, and Condoleezza Rice take on critics of this administration.
And in fact, Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday—in what some say is some of the toughest language to date—has said those that criticize the president and his policies are essentially equivalent to Nazi-era appeasers. Here‘s what the secretary said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF STATE: Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated or that it was someone else‘s problem. I recount that history, because once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: How was the decision made to start using that term, Islamic fascism?
KEN MEHLMAN, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CMTE.: Well, I can‘t explain why Secretary Rumsfeld used it. I‘ve used it too. I think it‘s very much accurate, and here‘s why, I think, it is important to explain it in those terms.
What we face today is a movement that‘s united by ideology and that‘s empowered by technology, and the American people need to understand that. You know, rMD+IN_rMDNM_when we faced previous enemies, we often faced a nation state, and so if you eliminated the barracks or eliminated command and control, you were safe.
But the fact is, Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda and some of the jihadists that are in Iraq now are united by a common ideology, an ideology that is, obviously, incredibly threatening not just to America, but to civilization and to free people everywhere.
And it is important that people understand when you are fighting a movement and you‘re fighting an ideology, that very much affects your tactics and it explains why this is a challenging war to win.
O‘DONNELL: But why has this fascism become the new word for the Republican Party, with just 10 weeks before Election Day?
MEHLMAN: Well, I think it‘s a very apt description of what we face. The fact is, like earlier fascists—there were fascists in Italy and there were fascists in Nazi Germany—here are folks who want to subordinate the freedom all over the place. They want to take on ...
O‘DONNELL: But I‘ve talked to you several times and talked to other administration officials, and you have said publicly, look, listen, it‘s good to have a good, healthy debate about the Iraq war and the way forward.
MEHLMAN: It is.
O‘DONNELL: So why then now this change where you have called this Islamic fascism, but now you are calling those who oppose or differ from the president‘s policies essentially appeasers.
MEHLMAN: Well, I don‘t think that‘s what I heard Secretary Rumsfeld say. I think what he said—and if you, again, look at history, the fact is that back in the 1930s, Winston Churchill was a lone voice and what he said is, if we don‘t stop Hitler back before he rearmed, back before he took the Rhineland, before he had the Anschluss, before he got parts of Czechoslovakia, if we don‘t stop him, it will be too late, and we learned from that history.
O‘DONNELL: And is there any indication that Saddam Hussein wanted that kind of hegemonic power in the Middle East?
MEHLMAN: There is indication that Saddam Hussein had—used WMD on his own people on a regular basis, supported suicide bombers on a regular basis, shot at American planes, invaded his neighbors. And if we didn‘t—if we waited for him to reestablish his program, which the folks who looked at it said he was working to be do, we would be less safe. It‘s a very apt analogy.
What we did what Saddam Hussein was exactly what Winston Churchill urged the world to do with respect to Adolf Hitler, which was, from a historical perspective, to make sure we dealt with the threat before it grew and before it fully materialized.
O‘DONNELL: But there are some interesting things that happened today and that clip we showed of the president earlier today, he called the press corps. You know, the president doesn‘t normally like to speak to members of the press. He did grant an interview to Brian Williams. But he specifically called the White House pool to make that comment.
I‘m not making any political speeches, even though we know the president is going to address the American Legion tomorrow and make a very political speech about the war on terror.
We‘ve also heard the vice president and secretary of defense essentially road testing a lot of themes that the Republican Party wants to use coming up to the November elections.
Is this appropriate, this kind of black and white, and then critiquing those who critique the administration by calling them self-defeating pessimists, appeasers, as obstacles to national security as Karl Rove—your mentor—has called Democrats?
MEHLMAN: I think that, again, the American people are going to face a very important choice in 69 days. The fact is that America is at war. We know we‘re at war. We saw it in the London bombing, we see it in other plots that have been revealed. We see it in the Hezbollah missiles that fell on northern Israel. We are involved in a global war.
And the fundamental question is, do you want leaders who understand we are at war and who want the tools to win the war? Less than a year after 9/11, Nancy Pelosi said this is not really a war. And, unfortunately, even without respect to Iraq, the Patriot Act, a majority of Democrats voted yes.
O‘DONNELL: Ken, but you are now calling opponents and critics of this administration Nazi-era appeasers.
MEHLMAN: I‘m not calling them anything.
O‘DONNELL: The secretary of defense did, and this is a coordinated message coming out of the White House and the Republican National Committee. Your candidates are also using that same message. If the majority of the American people now oppose the war in Iraq, are you essentially saying that they are Nazi-era appeasers?
MEHLMAN: Absolutely not, but what we are saying, which is critical to remember, is not according to me, not according to Secretary Rumsfeld, not according to the president of the vice president.
According to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two guy in al Qaeda, their goal is to use Iraq as a base like they used Afghanistan to launch attacks on America and other free nations to establish what he called a global caliphate. Unlike Afghanistan, it is the number two oil producer in the world, and it sits in between Iran and Syria.
O‘DONNELL: That still doesn‘t excuse what Democrats would say, which is a lack of a plan for Iraq and going into a war for all the wrong reasons.
MEHLMAN: Well, but here‘s the fundamental question. There‘s no question—first of all, they supported the war. But the fundamental question is, what do we now?
And on the key question of what we do now, if you believe—which Jack Murtha and a majority of Democrats believe—that there ought to be a timetable that is politically driven, not militarily driven, what you‘re saying is, unfortunately, that you are going to give the terrorists a big victory. But let me just finish by ...
O‘DONNELL: But what‘s happening is as this new rhetoric has emerged, though, it also comes at a time when there are some moderate Republican candidates who are actually—have similar messages to the Democrats or who are at least pulling away from President Bush.
You have Congressman Chris Shays, the Republican from out of Connecticut -- 14th visit to Iraq, just came back. He‘s was one of the most stalwart supporters of the president on this war. Came back and said it is now time for a timetable.
MEHLMAN: Well, I saw Chris—I saw him interviewed on this show, Chris Shays, and he, in fact, said something very different than what the Democrats say. What he has said is we need to make sure that there are benchmarks established for the Iraqi people to stand up.
O‘DONNELL: He said a timeline.
MEHLMAN: Well, but he did not say there ought to be a military timeline. There is a very big difference. And, again ...
O‘DONNELL: Then let me ask you about Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick who recently sent out a campaign mailing rejecting both extremes, President Bush‘s stay the course approach and a cut and run approach. So you have moderate candidates that are Republicans that don‘t want to run on this message that you have got the secretary of defense delivering, that the president is delivering.
MEHLMAN: Well, I don‘t think our approach is stay the course. As I indicated—I was on “Meet the Press” about a week-and-a-half ago. Our approach is to adapt to win. One of the reasons you have seen some violence go down in the past few weeks, is we adapted by adding more troops into Baghdad. We did the same thing before the third successful election. We changed how we train people.
The fact is, we must constantly adapt, because this is an enemy that is a movement. And it‘s an enemy that, because of technological forces, has an ability to recruit people on the Internet, to establish—to build IEDs based on what they learn on the Internet. It requires us to constantly adapt and be smart.
And what we don‘t need to do is what most Democrats would do, which is weaken our ability to have coordination by killing the Patriot Act, reduce the ability to interrogate the enemy, reduce the ability to have surveillance of the enemy that was critical in London.
You look at question after question, beyond Iraq, on issue after issue, most Democrats have taken positions that would surrender key tools we need to win the war on terror, and that would weaken America, and that‘s a very important issue for Americans to think about 69 days before the election.
O‘DONNELL: Finally, I must also note that Bob Novak has a column out that he says that the outlook for Republicans come November is, quote, “pitiful,” that you guys are likely going to lose 25 seats in the House of Representatives. How does that make you feel?
MEHLMAN: I disagree with Bob Novak. I think that if you look at it race by race—I spent yesterday—I had our entire field team in from all over the country, went through race by race, and the way I looked at it today, we would keep both the House and keep both the Senate. And one of the reasons I think we‘re going to keep it is because I don‘t think most Americans at a time we‘re at war are going to want to vote for folks who again and again and again beyond just Iraq, on issue after issue, would surrender the key tools we need, whether it‘s coordination, whether it‘s interrogation, whether it‘s missile defense, whether it‘s surveillance.
O‘DONNELL: And that‘s why there‘s this new coordinated message from the secretary of defense, the vice president and the president tomorrow.
MEHLMAN: Well I‘m not sure why each of them are giving the speeches they are, but I think this is a critical question that the American people ought to think about and it‘s a critical issue for our nation.
O‘DONNELL: Ken Mehlman, chairmam of the Republican National Committee, thank you very much.
O‘DONNELL: And when we come back, NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams one on one interview with President Bush. It‘s a rare, candid look at the president as he heads into the fall election season. You‘re also going to hear what he‘s been reading this summer. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews. NBC “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams had an exclusive interview with President Bush during his visit to the Gulf Coast. Let‘s watch.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS ANCHOR: You could not have been more contrite as you were in today‘s remarks. “The government at all levels fell short of its responsibilities.” You have apologized for the damage, but what about the damage to your presidency? And Mr. President, here‘s what I mean. Most of the analysts call it your low point. A lot of Americans are always going to believe that that weekend, that week, you were watching something on television other than what they were seeing. And Professor Dyson from the University of Pennsylvania said on our broadcast last night it was because of your patrition, upbringing.
BUSH: Dyson doesn‘t know—I don‘t know Dyson, and Dyson doesn‘t know me. But I will tell you this, when it‘s all said and done, the people will down you know here, down here know that I stood in Jackson Square, and I said, We‘re going to help you, and we delivered. And that‘s - what matters, Brian, is that we help the good people here rebuild New Orleans. And the Gulf Coast and Mississippi, and we‘re going to do that.
You know, commitments in politics sometimes mean nothing. I made a commitment that means something and that‘s what‘s going to happen. And look, I understand people are second guessing decisions and Professor Dysons of the world say things. My heart and my soul is to help these people and they know it. And they understand that when the federal government makes a commitment, it‘s part of a renewal process and that‘s what we need to be focused on. How do we help people rebuild? It‘s an important part of our country and I‘m confidence we will rebuild as part of our country.
WILLIAMS: What about what happened here that you would like to have back in retrospect?
BUSH: You know, I think we should have had better coordination with our state and local governments. There was - the enormity of the storm has overwhelmed all aspects of government. And I believe had we been better coordinated, communicated better, moved equipment better, coordinated better on who‘s responsible for troops, we could have done a better job.
Having said all that, the response was pretty remarkable. I admit that there were failures. But one of the things I hope that people of America realize there were great successes, like the Coast Guard pilots that flew endless hours to pull people off roofs. The Louisiana Guard that moved in. I mean—or the neighbors helping neighbors or the Cajun navy, these fishermen and folks down from the Bayous who pulled people out. And so yes, things could have been better. But what I don‘t want people to do is overlook the great heroism of the local citizenry. They really did a remarkable job.
WILLIAMS: There‘s news today and I have to great this right. Your secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, has given a speech, and I‘ll give you a quote. “The struggle we are in is to avoid having the luxury of returning to that old mentality of blame America first. The question is not whether we can win, it‘s whether we have the will to persevere. Secretary of Defense went heavily after critics of the administration today. Did he have your blessing in this speech?
BUSH: Look, I didn‘t know he was giving a speech today. The secretary of defense is saying what we all have been saying, that is if we lose our nerve and leave the Middle East before the job is finished, the world will be much worst off. I have been saying all the time that we need perseverance, and patience and the willingness to defeat the terrorist organization. An ideology of hate, with not only military action but with the spread of freedom.
I have equated this at times to different types of struggles, like the Cold War. I believe this is the calling of our time and so does the secretary of defense. And what he is doing, he is reflecting the attitude of this administration. You know, there is a choice the country can make. I made the choice as far as I‘m concerned. But the country will have other choices to make and that is do we leave before the mission in Iraq is complete?
Do we become an isolationist nation and not help reformers and moderates in the Middle East achieve their dreams? I know the secretary sees it the way I see it, that this is the defining struggle of the 21st century. And we‘ll succeed and succeed in Iraq. We‘ve got to help the Lebanese democracy succeed. We need to work for a Palestinian state. And yet, those fragile democracies or the idea of democracy is being attacked by extremist elements, extremist Sunni elements, extremist Shia elements. And American people must ask why. Why is that? And that is because we face an ideology of hatred, an ideology of intolerance. An ideology that uses, and people that use death and murder to achieve objectives.
WILLIAMS: When you take a tour of the world, a lot of Americans e-mail me with their fears that some days they wake up and it just feels to them like the end of the world is near and you go from North Korea, to Iran, to Iraq, to Afghanistan and you look at how things have changed. How Americans are viewed overseas, if that is important to you. Do you have any moments of doubt that we fought the wrong war, that there is something wrong with the perception of America overseas?
BUSH: Well those are two different questions. Did we fight the wrong war? And the answer is I have no doubt. The war came to our shores, remember that. We had a foreign policy that basically said let‘s hope calm works and we were attacked.
WILLIAMS: But those weren‘t Iraqis.
BUSH: No, I agree. They weren‘t Iraqis, nor did I ever say that Iraq ordered that attack. But they are part of—Iraq is part of the struggle against the terrorists.
These terrorists have made it clear they want us to leave Iraq prematurely. And why is it? Because they want a safe haven. They‘d love to get a hold of oil. They have territorial ambitions. And no, I think fighting this war is the absolute right thing to do.
Now in terms of image, of course I worry about America‘s image. We—we‘re great at TV but yet we‘re getting crushed in the P.R. front. And so we try to work hard and try to work smart about how we get a message out that says we respect Islam. We just reject the ideology of extremists who kill innocent people to achieve political objectives. And we‘ve got to do a harder job.
But somehow people—if what you‘re saying is if we retreat for the sake of popularity, is that the smart thing to do? And my answer is absolutely not. It would be a huge mistake to give the battlefield to these extremists. We retreat; they follow us. And I see it as clearly as day. And I understand the challenge and I understand—I also understand the frustrations of our citizens.
WILLIAMS: Let‘s, if we might, get back to 9/11 for one second. Has there ever been an effort to link the two? How far have you gone...
BUSH: No, I really haven‘t. Because I‘m very careful. I understand what happens when you lay something out that people can tear apart. It hurts credibility. And you know, I personally do not believe Saddam Hussein picked up the phone and said to al Qaeda, “Attack America.”
WILLIAMS: How close was he associated with al Qaeda, in your view?
BUSH: Well, he was—he was on our state sponsor of terrorists list.
And he was paying families of suiciders. He has—he also, by the way, had weapons of mass destruction one time and had the capacity to make them. And that‘s a dangerous mix.
We didn‘t put him on the state sponsor of terrorists list. The previous administrations put him on the state sponsor of terrorists list.
But one of the lessons of September the 11th was when you see a threat, you have to deal with it, and not necessarily militarily either, by the way. And I saw a threat. The Congress saw the threat. The United Nations saw the threat.
And I will tell you here, getting rid of Saddam Hussein has made the world safer. Now people will say, well, look at how dangerous Iraq is. What‘s happening is, is that a young democracy is battling an ideology of hatred.
And I believe the unity government in Iraq will succeed. I believe that you‘re beginning to see the Iraqi government using their own forces to fight off militia. I believe they understand when 12 million people vote, they have a duty to listen to the world, the 12 million.
And I know that a democracy in Iraq, an Iraqi style democracy, a nation that can defend itself and sustain itself is in this nation‘s interest. Long-term security interests.
O‘DONNELL: We‘ll have much more of Brian Williams‘s exclusive interview with President Bush later on HARDBALL.
And when we come back, “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and Roger Simons of “Bloomberg News” will break be here to down what we‘ve been learning in this interview. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Here to dissect what we‘ve heard from President Bush is “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and Bloomberg‘s Roger Simon. Welcome to both of you.
It was a great interview, and we‘re going to play more of it in this hour with Brian Williams. But one of the interesting things, I think, the first question that Brian asked is what has Katrina done in terms of damage to your presidency?
The president was about 40 percent in the polls. Katrina took him down to the 30s. He hasn‘t been able to recover yet.
And I sort of love that Brian asked him about Professor Datsun (ph). This is all because of his patrician upbringing. And then Bush gets real Texan and says, “I don‘t know Datsun (ph) and Datsun (ph) doesn‘t know me.”
But this is clearly—Hurricane Katrina has been a black spot on his legacy, Evan.
EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”: Because it called into question his competence, and it was devastating that way. And you could feel the mainstream press. I mean, in “Newsweek”, we reflected this. I wrote pieces at the time saying, you know, are they competent or not?
It was a bad moment. And it stuck. It didn‘t—it wasn‘t a passing moment. There were a series of events that followed that called into question the administration‘s competence. And they‘re still wrestling with it.
O‘DONNELL: Roger, I was struck in the interview that then Brian asks the president, what do you most regret, and he sort of glossed over that and then just talked about the great things that the Coast Guard did, et cetera.
ROGER SIMON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”: It‘s typical Bush. He doesn‘t like to talk about bad times. He emphasizes the good times. Why talk about all our failures when we can talk about the brave people who flew those helicopters?
The same as the Iraq argument. Why talk about the losses we‘re taking when we can talk about brave soldiers rebuilding schools and handing out candy?
I thought it was a very interesting interview, and the question about patrician that you mentioned, I don‘t know if people realize but that‘s a tough question to ask the president when you‘re standing next to him. I mean, he was quoting somebody. Brian Williams was quoting someone. But still, he was saying, “We all know you were a rich kid, born with a silver spoon in your mouth and that you don‘t understand human suffering.”
SIMON: And you can see from the tape, Bush stops walking at the word “patrician”. And his whole body language changes, and all of a sudden, it‘s, “Hey, what are you talking about?”
O‘DONNELL: Because in many ways, this presidency has been about him trying to shape himself as a regular person. Yes, he goes up to Kennebunkport to visit his dad, but he‘s got a ranch in Crawford, Texas.
THOMAS: And he rarely goes to Kennebunkport.
THOMAS: I mean, he joked that Clinton had been to Kennebunkport more than he had been. I mean, the truth is that he has some of the cockiness of the patrician east and some of the cockiness of Texas. It‘s sort of a bad combination, the worst of both worlds.
THOMAS: I‘d say he‘s more Texas than he is patrician, but he‘s still partly patrician.
O‘DONNELL: Right. Go ahead.
SIMON: Bush talks about the “what we‘re going to in Katrina.” That would have worked if this interview was taking place a month after Katrina hit. It‘s taking place a year later. And Bush is still talking about what we‘re going to do.
I was reading on “Slate” the other day that the recovery effort from the 1906 great San Francisco earthquake was over, was finished in a year. And here, if you go down to New Orleans, this is still lots of swaths without electricity and water. Even if people had the means to rebuild, you can‘t rebuild without those things.
O‘DONNELL: Of course, a lot of focus on the president was on Hurricane Katrina, but at the same time, the rest of his administration is busy giving it speeches on the war on terror in Iraq. Speaking before the American Legion, where the president speaks tomorrow.
And Brian asked the president about Secretary Rumsfeld‘s comments, essentially, where they‘re really now calling critics Nazi-era appeasers. And it‘s very tough language coming from the administration.
And Bush says, “I didn‘t—I didn‘t know Rumsfeld was giving that speech.”
But clearly, this is a new strategy that‘s being directed from the White House, right, Evan?
THOMAS: It‘s kind of a last refuge, actually, to insult your opponents as being unpatriotic. It‘s not a new tactic in American political life, but it has a slight whiff—not desperation, necessarily but of urgency.
O‘DONNELL: Right. And someone said to me today when you start having to compare your opponents to Hitler, that‘s sort of like the last—you know you‘re in big trouble.
SIMON: It‘s almost always a mistake—I‘m tempted to say it‘s always a mistake to bring Hitler into any argument in modern politics, because it just ratches (ph) the argument into an emotional reaction and you‘re no longer talking about the issue.
The interesting thing to me is when Rumsfeld had chosen to deliver this. When Rumsfeld knows that if the numbers get bad enough and Bush needs to throw someone off the sled, it‘s going to be Don Rumsfeld.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s why they sent him out there, right?
SIMON: He might well say whatever he can.
O‘DONNELL: Exactly. Well, Evan Thomas and Roger Simon are staying with us. We‘re going to have much more of Brian Williams‘ exclusive interview with President Bush when we come back. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC ANCHOR: I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your “CNBC Market Wrap”.
Stocks closing mostly higher, the Dow gaining almost 13 points. The NASDAQ up about 13 and a half. But the S&P 500 was down a scant one-hundredth of a point.
Oil was up slightly today, gaining 32 cents in New York trading, closing at $70.03 a barrel.
Revised figures show the economy grew at 2.9 percent annual rate in the second quarter. That‘s better than first reported, but nowhere near the first quarter‘s 5.6 percent rate.
And Radio Shack notified about 400 employees they‘re being laid off immediately by sending them an e-mail. It read, “The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress. Unfortunately, your position is one that‘s been eliminated.”
A company spokesperson said officials had told workers that layoff notices would be delivered electronically.
Now back to HARDBALL.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. More now of Brian Williams‘ exclusive interview with President Bush.
WILLIAMS: Mr. President, I know how much you love deep psychological examinations of yourself.
While you were in Kennebunkport this last weekend, people talked about your relationship with your dad. People mentioned that former President Clinton has been a guest up in Maine more often in the last few years than you have been.
WILLIAMS: And there was a lot of speculation. Your spokesman, Tony Snow, recently all but said it‘s because of the way your father chose to end the first Gulf War that bin Laden saw weakness enough to strike the United States.
BUSH: I know where you‘re going (ph).
WILLIAMS: Is there a palpable tension when you get together with the former president, who happens to be your father? A lot of the guys that worked for him are not happy.
BUSH: No, listen, my relationship is adoring son.
WILLIAMS: Do you talk shop?
BUSH: Sometimes, yes. Of course we do. But—but it‘s a really interesting question. I mean, it‘s kind of a conspiracy theory at its most rampant.
My dad means the world to me, as a loving dad. He gave me the greatest gift a father can give a child, which is unconditional love. And yes, we go and float around and try to catch some fish, and chat and talk.
But he understands what it means to be president. He understands I have—oftentimes I have information that he doesn‘t have. And he also understands how difficult the world is today.
And I explain my strategy to him. I explain exactly what I just explained to you down there about how I view the current tensions. And he takes it on board and he leaves me with this thought, I love you, son.
WILLIAMS: And where do you think—do you think your father is satisfied with where this beloved nation, that he fought for in World War II, is in the world right now, our status in the world?
BUSH: I think—listen, America is—America is respected. People still want to come to America. You ask anybody in the world who wants to better their life, where would you like to go? Most of them would say America.
But people don‘t like my policies, necessarily. They didn‘t like the fact that I didn‘t join the international criminal court. They didn‘t like the fact that I wouldn‘t sign the Kyoto Protocol, both of which I thought were not good for the country.
Many people didn‘t like the fact that we went after Saddam Hussein, after resolution after resolution. I understand that. But what my dad also understands is you‘ve got to make decisions based upon what you think is right, that you can‘t try to be popular.
And so, I would tell you, America is respected. And I would also say, I‘d readily concede our policies may not be beloved. But I‘ll tell you what is the policies that are: we feed the hungry. When the tsunamis hit, it was the United States of America who took the lead. On HIV/AIDS, we‘re spending $15 billion of taxpayers‘ money to help people suffering.
And so, you know, this country is a country that is doing a lot of good. And my job is to remind the people of the world of the good we‘re doing. And I think when it‘s all said and good, they‘ll look back and say, “Thank goodness America took the lead in fighting this war on terror, too. Thank God they‘re helping lay the foundation for peace.”
WILLIAMS: Mr. President, what will be your domestic Apollo program? Will you—will you have one? What‘s the chance you will take to the airwaves and say to the country, “We‘re going to get off our consumption of oil. We‘re going to stop sending revenue halfway around the world where it can be converted into weapons that are aimed back at us and our allies”?
What—will you say, “Let‘s—let‘s whip the problem of airline security using science instead of making people throw out their contact lenses solution at the airports”?
A lot of problem, but think of the enormous power of the office.
WILLIAMS: It‘s often said.
BUSH: I think the two biggest challenges I would like to see solved in the next two years are, one, the unfunded liabilities inherit in Social Security and Medicare. Baby Boomers are retiring. Fewer people are paying into the system, and the system is going broke.
And it‘s going to require both Republicans and Democrats coming together to reform these systems so that they keep their promise.
And the other is energy. I agree with you. I mean—and I spoke very clearly about it at the State of the Union. I mean, I stood up and said, we‘ve got a problem; we‘re addicted to oil. That‘s a pretty strong statement for a guy from Texas to make.
WILLIAMS: How far are you willing to go?
BUSH: Well, I‘m willing to go as far as practical. I mean, what I don‘t want to do is lay out something that‘s not going to work. We‘re spending billions of dollars on new technologies. And technology is going to lead us away from dependency on oil. Batteries in hybrid vehicles that will be coming soon.
In other words, people will be able to drive for the first 40 miles on electricity. I believe that the research we are going to do in fast breeder reactors and reprocessing will enable us to say to people justifiably concerned about the environment that we will have a nuclear energy program that enables us to protect the environment and at the same time become less dependent on fossil fuels.
In other words, technology is going to take the lead. Technology doesn‘t happen overnight. But this administration is laying the foundation for technological change. And you know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I‘d wave it. But listen, being dependent on foreign sources of oil, not only sending money overseas, but it‘s a national security issue. It‘s not only an economic security issue, it‘s a national security issue.
WILLIAMS: The folks who say you should have asked for some sort of sacrifice from all of us after 9/11, do they have a case looking back on it?
BUSH: Americans are sacrificing. I mean, we pay a lot of taxes. Americans sacrifice when the economy went in the tank. Americans sacrificed when air travel was disrupted. American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover. I think Americans have sacrificed.
O‘DONNELL: And we‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and “Bloomberg‘s” Roger Simon. Evan, let me begin with you. That was a great opening line by Brian in that segment of the interview. I know you don‘t enjoy psychological examinations.
THOMAS: Don‘t put me on the couch is the way he puts it.
O‘DONNELL: Exactly. But there were some very revealing comments I think comments about his relationship with his father, which is, of course, always been interesting to people because of course his father was the president. He said I‘m adoring son. That‘s how he describes his relationship.
THOMAS: Well, you know, I think a lot of people wish that the father would give something more than unconditional love when they‘re floating around out there fishing. You know, the father was very skillful in putting together international coalitions. He did it in the 1991 Gulf War and he was smart and good at foreign leaders and his son has been less successful.
And there is a school of thought that this would be a good time to use some of his father‘s talent or at least bent for putting together an international groups to solve very difficult problems. So a lot of people sort of hope the father is saying to the son, hey, son, this is the time to be doing this. I don‘t think that he is. I think that Bush is being honest about this, that he‘s saying, son, well I‘m for you and not giving him a whole lot.
O‘DONNELL: Well in fact Bush said I explained to him my view of the world and then my father says, I love you.
SIMON: I agree, this is the most revealing part of the interview. I mean, I think the answer that the current President Bush would want to give is that I explained my policies to my father and my father says I‘m behind you, I understand. You‘re doing the right thing.
O‘DONNELL: If only the American people were like his father, right?
SIMON: You want to say, if you‘re father says you‘re doing the right thing. In fact—he doesn‘t say that, he says, I love you.
THOMAS: I think there‘s a five percent chance that the father is being honest with him. I mean, I don‘t think we can rule that out. And the last place you learn of it is from President Bush.
O‘DONNELL: The other interesting thing that came up with the previous segment with the president is that he pointed out—we‘re getting ready for the 9/11 anniversary. He said this is a war that came to our shores. We were attacked. And Brian said, we weren‘t attacked by Iraq. And the president said, right, I didn‘t mean that. But he is giving a speech tomorrow at the American Legion, where essentially he will say that this isn‘t a war we didn‘t start. He‘s referring to the war on terror, but Iraq is the central front on the war on terror and Iraq was a preemptive—was a war of choice, if you will, as Richard Haas has said. So what‘s the blurring of the lines again now between 9/11 and the Iraq war?
THOMAS: Well it worked pretty good in 2004. So if it works once, they‘re going to try it again. It‘s not quite as crazy as it sounds. I mean, their reaction to 9/11 was let‘s go whack somebody. And they whacked Afghanistan, but that wasn‘t quite big enough, so they wanted to whack somebody better. So there is a linkage as they view it, but there‘s not a linkage in terms of did Saddam cause the attacks on 9/11. No, he did not.
SIMON: But they‘re going to have to explain away Colin Powell‘s famous “you broke it, you own it” line. I mean, Colin Powell said it‘s our war. And I think most people responded to that and now Evan is exactly right, the linkage that took place at the 2004 Republican convention was the linkage of terrorism and 9/11. And the Democrats have been trying to decouple that ever since.
O‘DONNELL: I was so interested to hear the president say we have been crushed in the P.R. front. And Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday the enemy is so much better communicating. They believe that they‘re losing the war for the American mind, as I think President Wilson once referred to it, in part because of their P.R. strategy, not because of what‘s going on on the ground.
THOMAS: Whether or not they‘re losing the war for the American mind, they‘re definitely losing the battle for the world mind. Over there, we are sort of pathetic attempts at public diplomacy have been a complete failure.
O‘DONNELL: I‘m sure Karen Hughes appreciates you calling it that. Hold on, Roger Simon and Evan Thomas are staying with us. And up next, more of Brian Williams‘ exclusive conservation with President Bush. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, in for Chris Matthews. And now more of NBC “Nightly News” Brian Williams‘ exclusive interview with President Bush.
WILLIAMS: If your administration ended today, would you be satisfied with the record thus far? Again, the view out there, I think, if you asked nine out of 10 presidential historians, high point, bullhorn in the rubble of the buildings that came down. Low point, we‘re standing on it. Is that fair?
BUSH: You know, first of all, there‘s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I‘m concerned. I think that you can‘t judge a presidency based upon a moment‘s notice. I believe you have to take—eventually my standing in history will be judged by people 30 or 40 years from now, who will be able to take an objective look at whether the decisions I made led to peace and prosperity.
You know, this is a job where you just—you make decisions and you do what you think is right. And you let people - recognizing that people are going to say what‘s on their mind at the moment.
But I read three histories of George Washington last year. The first president of the United States is still being analyzed by historians, which ought to say to this president and future presidents, do what you think is right and the eventually historians will figure out whether it made sense or not.
WILLIAMS: Do you see that the argument that some on the left make that the war in Iraq has amounted to a colossal recruitment poster in the fundamentalist world?
BUSH: No, I don‘t see that at all. The fundamentalist world attacked the United States and killed 3,000 people before I even thought about removing Saddam Hussein from power. I just don‘t buy that argument. It is an argument that‘s not based upon fact.
WILLIAMS: But it‘s that tie, it‘s the story in the paper recently of the kid who joined the National Guard, angry about what they did to us on 9/11, thought he was going to Afghanistan, killed in Iraq.
BUSH: Brian, all I can tell you is, is that we have a volunteer army full of motivated, decent, honorable citizens wearing our uniform and morale is high. Morale is really high. You talk to the families and you talk to these kids who are fighting for this country, they understand the stakes and they‘re proud to be doing it. And this country owes them a debt of gratitude.
WILLIAMS: We always talk about what you‘re reading. As you know, there was a report that you have just read the works of a French philosopher.
BUSH: “The Stranger.”
WILLIAMS: Can you tell us the back story of Camus?
BUSH: The back story of the book?
WILLIAMS: Well, what led you to this?
BUSH: I was in Crawford and I said I was looking for a book to read.
And Laura said you ought to try Camus. I also read three Shakespeares.
WILLIAMS: This is a change.
BUSH: Not really. Wait a minute.
WILLIAMS: You just months ago were reading the story of Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer ...
BUSH: Which is a good book.
WILLIAMS: ...if memory serves. You‘ve been on a Teddy Roosevelt reading kick you and I discussed the last time we were here.
BUSH: Yes, well, I‘m reading about the Battle of New Orleans right now. I‘ve got an eclectic reading list.
WILLIAMS: And now Camus.
BUSH: Well, that was a couple of books ago. Let me—look, the key for me is to keep expectations low.
WILLIAMS: Is that what everyone doesn‘t get?
BUSH: I don‘t know, Brian, what they get or don‘t get. You know ...
BUSH: Here‘s the thing. I don‘t, but here‘s the thing. The great thing about the presidency is you are totally exposed. And people spend a lot of—particularly if you‘re making decisions, and hard decisions, people spend a lot of time not only analyzing decisions, they analyze the decisionmaker, and I understand that. But a president must never let that get him off track.
WILLIAMS: Even if you are frustrated that we‘re getting something wrong?
BUSH: You have to do what you think is—if we are getting something wrong, we change it.
WILLIAMS: How have you been read wrong?
BUSH: Oh, I know about read wrong. I frankly don‘t pay that much attention to it. I don‘t want to hurt people‘s feelings, but ...
WILLIAMS: Still not watching television, huh?
BUSH: I watched a good baseball game.
WILLIAMS: Mr. President, thank you very much.
BUSH: Yes, sir.
O‘DONNELL: Well, we‘re going to talk about Camus and Shakespeare and President Bush when we come back with Roger Simon and Evan Thomas for more analysis of this Bush interview.
You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.
O‘DONNELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We are back with “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and Roger Simon of Bloomberg. He said that he has read Camus, which is a French philosopher, and three Shakespeares, as he told Brian Williams. Do we really believe that he read that this summer, Evan?
THOMAS: It‘s almost too easy to make fun of Bush for reading Camus and
Shakespeare. Look, let‘s hope he read some of it. And I‘m sure Laura does
try to get him to read these books, and I bet you he reads some of them
O‘DONNELL: Roger, three Shakespeares? Which three?
SIMON: We all know the president has his own way of speaking, but I‘ve heard people say I‘ve read three Danielle Steels, I‘ve read two Tom Clancy, I‘ve read a couple of Evan Thomas‘, but who‘s said I‘ve read three Shakespeare? I‘ve never heard that.
O‘DONNELL: Well, clearly—and I enjoyed where Brian asked him to give a little bit of a back story on Camus and Bush, well, it was a couple of books ago. I‘m not prepared to give a book report there. I‘m paraphrasing.
That‘s my words there, but it is interesting that the White House has decided to make it public—they resisted this in the beginning—that the president is reading all these books. They released this big summer reading list that the president was going to get through. I think a lot of people are wondering how does he have time for all of these books? He‘s the president, busy man, two wars.
THOMAS: I don‘t believe that he does read them. But before I‘m too snooty about this, I think he does read some and, you know, that‘s not a bad thing if there is. Some intellectual curiosity by the president is to be encouraged.
SIMON: Especially since he brags that he doesn‘t read newspapers or watch television.
O‘DONNELL: Right, exactly. And people—to be fair, the president has a lot to do every day. He says that he reads the Bible in the morning. He‘s in early. He‘s got to read intelligence reports, et cetera. There is lots of pieces of paper that cross his path everyday. And to read—
Roger, what is it? They say how many books has he read?
SIMON: Fifty-three, but I don‘t know over what period of time that would be.
O‘DONNELL: Right, a large number of books. That‘s a lot.
SIMON: He ought to read that schedule which tells him what cabinet secretaries are speaking on what subjects during the day. I think he should know what Donald Rumsfeld is saying.
O‘DONNELL: In part because he said earlier in this interview that he didn‘t know Rumsfeld was giving this speech on the war on terror. Tomorrow, the president is speaking before the American Legion and he is going to say this was not a war that we chose, meaning the Iraq war.
What does the White House do—we‘re 10 weeks out from the election -
in terms of raising the issue of national security and that Democrats are weak on it? Will it work, Roger?
SIMON: It‘s back to the message we‘ve heard before, vote for us or die. If you vote for Republicans we will protect you. We will protect you from the global—from terrorism, with the global war on terrorism and Democrats will leave you vulnerable. Democrats don‘t understand, they don‘t get it, they‘re weak, vote for us.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Well, thank you Roger Simon and Evan Thomas.
Play HARDBALL with us Thursday. Our guests include Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris. Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”
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