BRIAN LAMB, C-SPAN: Mr. President, how important was this inaugural speech to you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I was happy to be giving it. (Laughter.) Secondly, I was able to plant a flag -- plant the flag of freedom as more than policy, a firm belief in the -- of our country. Freedom is not a political movement, necessarily, I think freedom is an overarching concept, and is universal. And it was an important speech. This is one that, because it was the second speech, I was able to be an observer, as well as speaker. So I was able to not only give what I think is an important speech, but one -- and I was able to take in all the sights and sounds at the same time. It was a great moment.
It's a speech that says freedom is universal and powerful and necessary, if we want our children to live in peace, and it also recognizes that we can't do this alone; we've got to work with others; that not everybody is going to look like America, and shouldn't; that this is the work of generations, and that in order for us to lead the world and call others to make the world more free, we, ourselves, have to be as free as we can be at home.
LAMB: Can you remember when freedom and liberty, those two expressions, first became kind of the -- your backbone, your philosophical --
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think if I had to have a mentor, a public figure that reminded me on a regular basis about the power of freedom and liberty, it would have been Ronald Reagan. He was a stalwart when it came to proclaiming as clearly as possible the need for people to be free.
I can't think of any great musings or writings that inspired me as a teenager, or somebody as young as that to believe in freedom. I think it's probably just ingrained in me by my mother and father, who, they, themselves, are great believers in freedom.
LAMB: You were a history major.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
LAMB: At Yale.
THE PRESIDENT: I was.
LAMB: What kind of history?
THE PRESIDENT: American history.
LAMB: Did you have a particular period in American history that you --
THE PRESIDENT: I did. I was fascinated by the Roosevelt era, Franklin Roosevelt, probably because my teachers were -- I had a teacher that was so good in the Roosevelt era.
LAMB: You know, after -- around your speech, there were little nuggets dropped here and there that you had read the Natan Sharansky book --
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
LAMB: And that he came to visit.
THE PRESIDENT: He did.
LAMB: I've got a copy here. You know everybody -- we do a lot of books. People scramble for these when Presidents say things about them. How did you get this book in the first place?
THE PRESIDENT: A friend of mine named Tom Bernstein, from New York, who is very much involved in different human rights movements, came to know Sharansky over time. And when Sharansky wrote the book, Tom sent me some galleys from the book and suggested I read it. Of course I said, well, I don't know if Bernstein's got good advice or not. I'd heard of Natan Sharansky, but I'd never really read much of what he had written. I had met him -- I think I'd met him, pretty confident I'd met him when I went to Israel in 1998. But beyond that, I didn't realize he was a writer. And so I started reading the galleys. It really caught my attention. I found it to be a very, very interesting book.
LAMB: When did you decide you wanted to meet with him?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Brian, I think I told somebody that the book was a really good book -- Bernstein, as a matter of fact, was the guy. The guy who gave me the galleys told me that Sharansky was in town. And he was promoting the book. And I said, well, let's find him, let's get him to come by and say, hello. Interestingly enough, he's with the brother of the Mayor of Miami Beach, Florida, who helped write the book. He's got his name on the front of the book with Sharansky.
LAMB: Ron Dermer.
THE PRESIDENT: Dermer, yes. Mayor Dermer is his brother.
LAMB: What's interesting, you said --
THE PRESIDENT: I knew Mayor Dermer because he was a -- happened to be a Democrat mayor supporting my candidacy for the presidency. And so kind of had the full circle deal.
LAMB: It's interesting that you should say, "Ronald Reagan," because there's a story right -- boom, you open the book, and it's when Ronald Reagan was in Geneva with Gorbachev.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
LAMB: And Sharansky's wife was picketing, and Ronald Reagan turned to Gorbachev and said, "You can keep saying that Sharansky is an American spy, but my people trust that woman. And as long as you keep him and other political prisoners locked up, we will not be able to establish a relationship of trust." And when I read it, I thought to myself, you go back to your inaugural speech, and it connects with what you say you have to do as the leader of the world -- free world. Tell us how you -- what you want to do, based on your inaugural speech, in the next four years, to bring about what your goal is?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, interesting that you brought that up, because it kind of confirms what I believe is necessary. I think you can be an idealist and a realist at the same time. And we have a war to fight and win. It's a very different kind of war. It's a different kind of confrontation that President Reagan would be confronted with. And in that war, we have to work with all kinds of countries. So that's the realistic part of my job, how do we work with a country that may not honor women's rights like they should.
On the other hand, as a result of engaging that war, it does give me a chance to speak candidly with leaders just like Ronald Reagan did, in terms of, as I said in my speech -- you free people -- you'll have a partner to walk with, and remind them that we're very serious about this. Now I'm mindful that societies don't change on a dime. And there's resistance, obviously -- if you're in power, you're not going to be interested in giving up power. And people are able to say, well, -- all the Americans want everybody to look like America. There's a lot of hurdles that have to be crossed.
But the American President can help by fashioning policy that constantly speaks to the reformers and those who want to be free, and constantly reminding leaders about the importance of the relationship. And the President said -- President Reagan there said, if you expect to have good relations. Well, that's exactly what my inaugural speech said.
LAMB: Is there ever a case where if somebody won't change their policy, you'd walk away from them as an ally or a friend or somebody you're dealing with?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it never has happened yet. For example, I think about Pakistan. That's a country that's come a long way. President Musharraf has shown great leadership. He had made many of the choices himself. But I can remember talking to him early on in my presidency about the need for good education policy to help counteract some of the propaganda that was being taught in some of his schools. He agreed. He introduced me to his education minister. We have since spent some money to help with the curriculum that is -- well, really help the children of Pakistan.
There's an example of progress being made, and I think it's -- the President has to be realistic about the strides being made in a certain society, based upon its histories and traditions. But every meeting I have, I'm constantly talking about the need to move forward with a reform agenda toward freedom.
LAMB: What role have books played in your presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, there's a -- I ended my convention speech in 2000, and one of the debates, with a phrase by a great Texan named Tom Lea, who wrote the definitive book on the King Ranch, but is a painter -- was a painter, and one of the paintings now hangs in the Oval Office. He said, "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain; the sunrise side, not the sunset side; the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that has gone." That's a very optimistic view. See, I see a better day coming.
It turns out that the President better have seen the day that has gone in order to be able to help lead to the day that is coming. In other words, history really matters for the President. And so I read a lot of history books. I'm reading the Washington book by Ellis right now. I read the Hamilton book by [Chernow], which I thought was a fascinating book. I can't remember all the books I read, but I do read a lot of books. And from that, I'm able to gain a better appreciation of where we're going.
For example, the Hamilton book I thought was a very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started, in some ways. And yet here we are in Iraq, trying to help them get democracy started, and yet it's expected to be done nearly overnight. And so it helps me keep a perspective of what's real and what's possible, and some of the struggles we went through.
Admittedly, we're dealing with different technologies than, obviously, in the old days. But, nevertheless, it's hard for democracy to take hold. And I think that history gives me a kind of -- it helps me better explain and understand exactly what we're seeing. And that's important for a policymaker to be able to grasp the realities of the situation based upon some historical lessons.
You know, I spent a lot of time talking about the Japanese after World War II, about how they were the sworn enemy, my dad fought them; I'm sure you've had relatives that know people that fought the Japanese. And yet today, because we insisted that Japan become a democracy, they're now our best friend, or one of our best friends. And that's an interesting history lesson, that 60 years after being a sworn enemy, we're now tight allies in leading the cause of freedom and peace, working together to deal with North Korea. Japan is helping a lot in Iraq.It just shows the power of freedom to change an enemy to a friend. That's something you learn from history books.
LAMB: How much reading do you do a day, and what time of day do you read?
THE PRESIDENT: I read, oh, gosh, I'd say, 10, maybe, different memoranda prepared by staff.
LAMB: What about books?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages. I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very early. And so the book has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean, maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the book, 20 pages later you're out cold. But I read a lot on the weekends. I'm traveling -- when I travel a lot I get a chance to read. I'm downing quite a few books.
By the way, in this job, there are some simple pleasures in life that really help you cope. One is Barney the dog, and the other is books. I mean, books are a great escape. Books are a way to get your mind on something else.
LAMB: You told a group here in the White House, I think in May of 2004, that every day you read Oswald Chambers. You say, "I read him every morning. He helps me understand how far I am on my walk."
THE PRESIDENT: That was last year I read Oswald. I read him every other year. And Oswald Chambers was one of the great Christian thinkers, a very -- his writings are very provocative, I think. The easier it is to understand what he writes, I think, the more understanding of religion a person becomes. And that's what I meant by that. It's an interesting gauge. This year I'm reading -- last year I read Oswald Chambers every day, and this year I'm reading the Bible every day.
LAMB: Can I ask you about indecency? You've got an opportunity to appoint a new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Michael Powell is leaving, and you might have other appointments; you have five commissioners. And one of the big issues moving around Capitol Hill is indecency. And I want to ask you, how far do you think government should go in telling people who use the airwaves, the broadcast stations, what can be said?
THE PRESIDENT: As a free speech advocate, I often told parents who were complaining about content, you're the first line of responsibility; they put an off button the TV for a reason. Turn it off. I do think, though, that there can be a -- that government can, at times, not censor, but call to account programming that gets over the line. The problem, of course, is the definition "over the line."
My answer would be, if I were interviewing an FCC chairman, please tell me where the line is, and make sure you protect the capacity of people to speak freely in our society, but be willing to -- if things get too far, call them to account. I think Michael did a good job of balancing that.
LAMB: There is a bill that if it were passed on Capitol Hill would up the fees, up the fine from $27,000 for using bad language, for instance, to $500,000 as a maximum fee.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they're going to collect a lot of money when some of these TV shows are still on.
LAMB: But is that -- I mean, at what point, though, do you have somebody that says, that word can't be used, but that word can be used?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I understand. Look, it's the old -- the classic definition of the Supreme Court -- by the Supreme Court on pornography, you know it when you see it. I think that was Judge Potter Stewart who said that.
Look, we are a great society because we're a free society. On the other hand, it is very important for there to be limits, limits to what parents have to explain to their children. Nevertheless, I do want to repeat what I said earlier -- the parent's first responsibility is to pay attention to what their children listen to, whether it be rock songs or movies or TV shows.
LAMB: How much TV do you watch?
THE PRESIDENT: Not much.
LAMB: What do you watch when you are?
THE PRESIDENT: Sports. I really don't watch much TV. Of course, C-SPAN. What am I thinking?
LAMB: I bet your mother [watches C-SPAN]Ö
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I really -- I get to work early. Early is 6:50 to 7:00 oíclock in the morning. And I'm pretty much busy until I wander back over here to the Residence, generally about 5:30 (p.m.) or so. This evening I'm going to exercise for an hour, and then that gets me into the dinner. And after dinner I'll read and go to bed. It's not a very glamorous social life, I might add, but nevertheless, I'm not a glamorous social person.
LAMB: The longer you're in this White House, with all those that have gone before you, do you see ghosts of past Presidents?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I quit drinking in '86. (Laughter.)
LAMB: I mean, do you feel the history of the place?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's interesting. Iíve tried to empathize, at times, with Lincoln, to imagine what it would be like to be the President of the United States when the country was at war with itself. I think he's the country's greatest President. His portrait hangs in the Oval Office. I think that because he had such a clear vision about keeping this country united, in spite of the incredibly divisive times in which we lived. He seemed to have a good spirit about him. But it's just really hard to project back into somebody else's shoes. So, no, I guess I don't see ghosts.
LAMB: Your dad -- do you talk much about the presidency with him?
THE PRESIDENT: Not really. It may come as a surprise to you. I like to check in with him. I love to hear his voice. I know he loves to hear mine, and he likes to ask about this trip where you saw so and so, or, how'd that go, particularly when I've been overseas. But we really haven't gotten to the stage yet where we're sharing common experiences in the White House, although there's kind of knowingness about our positions. I mean, the campaign, he doesn't need to tell me how tired I am, or ask me how tired I am, because he knows; he did the same thing I did.
LAMB: Planning at all for where you're going to put your library?
THE PRESIDENT: We'll be doing that soon. And not only where we'll put it, but what it will comprise, how do we make sure that there's interesting thought that comes out of the library -- it's not just a collector of interesting artifacts, but in fact, hopefully good thought will come out of there, because the library will cause there to be a dialogue, it will advance higher education or secondary education in some way.
And so the process -- this is a long process. The library will be in Texas. I want to be very thoughtful about who we approach, and give everybody a chance that's interested to come up with a -- their best shot at attracting it. So we're working through some of the legal -- we want to make sure we understand fully the legal obligations so that when we start approaching universities or cities or whoever we approach, that there's a -- that everybody understands the ground rules.
LAMB: And do you have a historian anywhere around you following your days and cataloging --
THE PRESIDENT: No, that's an interesting question. I do not. I really, in some ways, wish that were the case. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of security matters, particularly given the nature of the war we're in, that just -- I don't think the government would have felt comfortable allowing an observer to record.
Fortunately, a lot of my life is documented now. I mean, this interview, for example, somebody will be going through the Bush records and see that George W. sat down with Brian Lamb, and we had a 40 minute interview, or whatever it was, on this day, at this time. That will be a part of the record. Obviously, the transcript of this interview will be a part of the record. Most interviews I do there is a stenographer that is recording what is said. So all that will be of record. The content of phone calls will ultimately be made record. When I call a foreign leader, there's an understanding that somebody is listening to the conversation. And so that will be -- I'm not sure what the time frame is. That will be made available for the records.
So there's a lot of what goes on being recorded. What's not being recorded is someone saying to me, well, gosh, how did Lamb look, and how was his interview, was he on his game; kind of the observer recording my thoughts and recollections.
LAMB: Last question. A lot of people said, if you really want to understand Ronald Reagan, you have to go to the ranch. He spent 345 days in eight years there. You spent, according to Mark Knoller of CBS, who keeps tabs of this, something like 297 days at your ranch.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
LAMB: Do we have to go to the ranch to find out who George W. Bush is?
THE PRESIDENT: I think you've got to go to Texas, and the ranch is a good place to go. You know, I like working out of the ranch. What Knoller didn't tell you was, was that I'd go to the ranch and then travel from the ranch. And one of the interesting things that's happened is, is that world leaders like to come to the ranch. So we've had interesting summits there. I guess, I don't know, maybe 10 or so world leaders. But beyond-- I think if you were to go there --
LAMB: Are you different there?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I hope not. I'm certainly more relaxed there. The campaign was a tough campaign, and any campaign is tough. There's a certain tension that kind of just creeps into your body that's hard to get rid of. I got rid of it at the ranch. When I came out of there after the campaign, we traveled -- we went down to Chile right after -- President Clinton's library, and then went down to Chile and back, and then we had a series of Christmas -- went to the ranch for Thanksgiving, but then we had a series of Christmas events, and it was quite a festive time. And we had the whole family at Camp David, with the exception of brother Jeb's family, and brother Jeb. And so I still hadn't gotten rid of the campaign. I mean, it wasn't out of my muscles. I felt some tension that I developed during the course of the campaign. And I went to the ranch, and when I came out of there this time around, I felt great, I felt like a new man.
LAMB: Now, do you feel better than you've ever felt now that you don't have to campaign any more for President? I mean, you look like you've been through about 20 interviews, one after another, and a press conference.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, this -- I can't tell whether that means I'm looking good or looking haggard. But nevertheless, it's -- I feel pretty good. I feel as fit as I've been in a while, and my spirits are high. You know, we've got a lot to do. The Iraq elections are coming up -- or today, Sunday. I'm asking the Congress to reform Social Security.
So there are some big things ahead. I think it may be in my DNA, though, that I believe in trying to solve big problems, and to leave behind a better world. And, therefore, there's really no rest. I mean, there's a constant series of challenges, which I like. I really want it to be said that he came, he served every day for eight years to the best of his ability, and left behind a better America and a better world.
LAMB: Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Great to see you, Brian. Thanks for coming.
Total time: 23:30
Copyright C-SPAN 2005
Ö as a book, because Lay, (ph) in many ways -- who I know something about, I mean, he grew up in El Paso, Lay, and became a great kind of Norman Rockwell-like illustrator for LIFE magazine during World War II
BRIAN LAMB,. HOST: That interview was recorded on Thursday afternoon at about 3:30 in the afternoon, about 25 minutes long. The president had just been to Cleveland and returned to the White House about 2:40 and on your screen right now are two historians who have been watching this interview and we asked them to come join us on this Q&A to react to what they saw and Doug Brinkley is on the left. Heís down in New Orleans and Richard Norton Smith on the right in Springfield, Illinois.
Letís start with Doug Brinkley. What did you see there in the president there near the end of the interview?
DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: Well, I thought it was very telling that heís talking about Crawford which is the epicenter of his life. Just as Jimmy Carter had Plains or Harry Truman had Independence or Ronald Reagan, as you mentioned in the interview had his ranch in Santa Barbara, this was the Ė this is the place for this president. And you know, you think about what it means. I think thereís a lot of Ronald Reagan in George W. Bush, the fact that the working life on the ranch, the cowboy as methodology, the fact that Texas is so much part of his life and he gives the feeling of somebody that doesnít really enjoy campaigning that much. He doesnít really enjoy being in Washington that much and canít wait to eventually get back to Texas and that was the way that Ronald Reagan presented himself, always ready to head back west.
LAMB: And Richard Norton Smith, your reaction.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH, HISTORIAN: I think Doug is right. I mean, the essential center of gravity for this president historically seeing himself very much as Ronald Reaganís heir, maybe even politically more than he is his father there and geographically and culturally and perhaps even spiritually, I agree with Doug about the ranch, although I have to say. I think presidents perhaps exaggerate the enjoyment that foreign dignitaries get out of visiting their homes. Remember LBJ loved to take people through the hill country. Thereís that great story about the chancellor of Germany, Ludwig Erhard who showed up at the LBJ ranch and was given the obligatory tour of Lake LBJ and all the other LBJ sites and the apocryphal but credible stories is that the chancellor of Germany said, I thought you were born in a log cabin Mr. President. And Johnson said, no, I was born in a manger.
LAMB: Doug Brinkley, his reference to how he feel or he felt after the campaign. I mean you could just feel the fatigue. Is this normal? I mean this campaign seemed to me watching both candidates nonstop every day, both of them slugging it out there, put that in perspective for us.
BRINKLEY: Well, absolutely. I mean itís an endurance test running for president. Just imagine the pounding that your body gets. I always feel sorry for either candidate and they get the flu or a sinus infection or an upset stomach, youíd still have to give three speeches. John Kerry of course had had prostate cancer just a year before he got into the heavy hustings on the campaign trail and Bush has prided himself in his health, how fit he is. A number of times in the interview with you Brian, he talked about how heís feeling good physically.
And I think that sometimes -- I mean, Theodore Roosevelt as president was a big believer in the physicality of presidents staying healthy and thereís a whole literature of presidents that suffer, whether itís FDR at Yalta, what some people feel is diplomacy suffered to his bad health or he had Woodrow Wilson having a stroke or Dwight Eisenhower with his heart attack or John Kennedy with Addisonís disease, having to cope with all sorts of cortisone treatments and other sorts of medicines. And so I think that this president realizes that mind and spirit and body are all connected and that came across in your interview, particularly when he talked about how he reads the Bible all the time for his spiritual part of his life and yet he never misses his workouts.
LAMB: Mr. Smith, what about this presidentís physical condition compared to other presidents in history?
SMITH: Well, you sense that heís at the top of his form. And again, like Doug, I think this is a president whose recharge his batteries. Remember, it used to take a lot longer in between elections and inaugurations. Until 1944, 1945 in fact, inauguration day came in March rather than January, so this less of an effective downtime or a period of recovery if you will from what is a very draining physically and emotionally draining experience of going through a campaign, particularly one as rigorous as this one has been.
But you get a sense that this is a man whoís very disciplined and that physical discipline, which is obviously first cousin to the discipline that he (INAUDIBLE), the marvelous line when you asked him if he saw ghosts, that he told you that he gave up drinking in 1986. That required a lot of discipline. That was a life transforming experience and in some ways I suppose becoming president, itís certainly not a minor experience, but for anyone, but if you can reinvent yourself at the age of 40, itís probably good practice for the kind of discipline that youíre going to be called on to display in the Oval Office.
LAMB: Our two historians are going to join us until the end of this Q&A and I want to get an update from each one of them on what theyíre doing. Mr. Brinkley, what are you doing these days?
BRINKLEY: Well, Iíve just moved from -- Iím going to be the director of the Roosevelt Center for American Civilization at Tulane University. I spent a decade as director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, fulfilled my goals there at the center and Iíve now moved to Tulane University as of this March.
LAMB: Which Roosevelt?
BRINKLEY: Itís named after Theodore Roosevelt who is one of my great heroes and somebody that I particularly am fascinated by his conservation legacy, something Iím going to write about, his time. The first letter, first thing we have in writing by Theodore Roosevelt is about birds when he was a boy and the last thing he wrote on his deathbed was about birds and his whole life in between was one of exploration and hunting. As ex-president he of course went to Africa on safaris and to Brazil, to the river of no doubt, which is now the Rio Roosevelt. Thereís the Teddy bear story of his hunting and mainly he saved over 200 million acres of America and so Iím looking at how he helped establish our national monuments and bird and wildlife refuges.
LAMB: And Mr. Smith, what are you up to?
SMITH: Well, again, I was interested, the president referred to Abraham Lincoln as his favorite president. Iím in Springfield, Illinois, working with a lot of other folks who have working for a very long time to put together the Abraham Lincoln presidential library museum. The library opened in October. Weíre getting ready to open the museum in April. It will be a museum that I think is unlike any other, certainly anything else in the Federal presidential library system.
We are actually operated by the state of Illinois and thatís given us some freedom to do some things that are not conventionally done to give perhaps relatively more importance to the museum without in any way slighting the archival function. Thatís easy for us because after all, the Lincoln papers over the last 140 years have tended to be scattered, but we do have the worldís foremost collection. Weíve got over 1500 Lincoln letters, about 47,000 items in all. So anyway, itís just an exciting time and youíre all invited.
LAMB: Our interview with the president came at the end of a long series of interviews over a two-week period, about 15. Included in those 15 was a major news conference in the White House press room. That was his 18th full press conference as president. I want to ask each of you, fit that into the previous presidents and overall his availability to the media and why do you think so many interviews now? Doug Brinkley.
BRINKLEY: Well, I think he didnít do enough interviews in his first four years in my opinion. I think there was a feeling, they call it the Bush syntax or the way he uses sort of broken language. Thereís always a fear that heís going to say the wrong thing, particularly in 2004 during the campaign. He was always kind of very, very cautious about when he would talk to somebody and who would do the interview. He preferred to do them I think with people in the Republicans or conservatives, people he didnít think were going to hit him with hardball questions.
Now that heís won the second election, in many ways his first real election in his heart, the one with Gore was so close, but this was a clear victory and the fact that heís starting to think about his legacy. He talked about his presidential library. He knows now that he doesnít have to run ever again for public office. Heís in a selling mode and what he needs to sell is that this concept of freedom -- I mean weíve heard to 20 some times in the inaugural and Iíve made little check marks in President Bush talking to you Brian, I think he said freedom around 15 times. He wants that word to be associated with his presidency. He wants to get that out there now and also issues like Social Security reform in some sort of guise. Heís going to have to do a lot of selling.
You know, Bill Clinton, when he need to, went all over America talking to the American people, trying to sell his vision and I think this presidentís going to try to do the same thing and heís using the media to do it. So I think itís smart politics for him to be doing all these interviews right now.
LAMB: Rick Smith.
SMITH: Well, I surprised that you were at the bottom of the list, along with The New York Times, Brian. I donít know what that says about C-SPAN.
LAMB: Or The New York Times.
SMITH: Well, we know what it says about The New York Times. We donít know what it says about C-SPAN. No, actually, itís interesting because and this isnít much else (ph) I think in some ways his role is Ronald Reagan. Iíll never forget something. Of course we all talk about Ronald Reagan as the great communicator and when we spoke of Reagan and his genius, for often going over the heads of official Washington to sell his policies, his ideas to the American people, that usually was not in the format of a press conference. It was a formal orchestrated speech in the Oval Office or some other setting.
Iíll never forget something Lyn Nofziger, who of course had been communications director for Governor Reagan and was in the Reagan White House said, that he thought it really was a mistake. He loved Ronald Reagan, but he thought it was a mistake for Reagan not to do more press conferences, not because as communications director, he wanted to placate the press for whom no president can ever do enough press conferences, but because he thought it was good discipline for Reagan. It forces any public official to take a bath in what his own administration is up to.
Itís like going back to school, a primer if you will and all of us are better when we do something on a regular basis. If you get rusty, you get rusty. Well it sometimes can be dangerous when a president gets rusty and so that was obviously Ė on the other hand, I guess it didnít hurt Ronald Reaganís place in history. Maybe they think the same thing in the Bush White House, but thereís a lot of people who think it would serve President Bushís interests if he had more regular news conferences.
LAMB: I should tell our audience that we were informed on Tuesday that the president would be available for an interview on Thursday and they told us weíd have 25 minutes. All the interviews that were conducted with the other networks and all varied in length from seven minutes to I think a fairly long extravaganza with Barbara Walters that went on "20/20" and you never know quite why theyíre giving you what time theyíre giving you and on what day. But just so the audience knows, we purposely didnít ask much about Iraq and much about Social Security and a lot of the other issues that youíve been hearing about because he had been asked time and time again in many other interviews and we wanted to get a different angle. You learn something about the history aspect of it.
So what I want to do for the next few minutes until our hour is up, I want to run some clips of the interview and get each of you to react to it. First up is, my first question revolved around what he thought of his inaugural speech, how important it was. I wanted him to put it in the context of whether it was one of the most important statements heíd ever made and how important it was to the next four years in his presidency. Letís watch a little bit of that and Iíll come back to both of you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was able to plant a flag, plant the flag of freedom as more than policy, a firm belief in the -- of our country. Freedom is not a political movement necessarily. I think freedom is an overarching concept and is universal. And it was an important speech. Iím -- you know, itís one that, because it was the second speech, I was able to be an observer as well as speaker and so I was able to not only give what I think is an important speech, but one that -- and I was able to take in all the sights and sounds at the same time. It was a great moment.
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LAMB: Rick Smith, what do you think?
SMITH: Well, you know, first of all, on a personal level, Iím glad the president was able to enjoy the second inaugural, perhaps more than he did the first. Doug Brinkleyís great hero, Teddy Roosevelt, referred to the presidency as a bully pulpit and I think great inaugural addresses are in fact lay sermons and a sermon is something we listen to every Sunday. Itís a statement of the ideal and we try to live up to it, but we often fall short during the next six days. But thatís the point it seems to me of this inaugural address, setting out the idealization.
Twenty years ago, in his second inaugural, Ronald Reagan talked about his dream of a world without nuclear weapons. Unrealistic, probably. Worth aspiring toward, undoubtedly. This time around, the president talked about a world without tyranny. Itís interesting that in his remarks to you Brian, to some degree he qualified that, indicating that heís also a realistic, that he can be both an idealist and a realist and both a Wilsonian if you will and a practitioner of realpolitik.
LAMB: Mr. Brinkley.
BRINKLEY: Well, I agree with all of that. I wasnít that impressed with the inaugural of Bush for this particular reason. I look at it as an escape hatch speech in the sense that we have these elections in Iraq. Every day weíre getting bad news there. Heís put his presidency on a Middle East strategy but instead of talking or even saying the word Iraq, it didnít come up in his inaugural, where the word freedom comes up 20 some, almost 30 times. The reason is, if Iraq goes terribly this year, if for some reason we just canít get a democratic process going there, that doesnít mean well, Bushís main points of liberty and freedom everywhere in the world arenít admirable objectives.
So in that way, he in many way, itís a defensive speech disguised as offensive. It also takes Woodrow Wilson -- itís Wilsonian in many ways, but itís directly from Franklin Roosevelt on January 6, 1941, his famous four freedoms address. When FDR said weíre fighting for freedom from fear everywhere in the world, freedom from hunger, freedom from want, freedom from tyranny everywhere in the world, there was even an exact line from the FDR in Bushís speech. Well, so this has been going on, this freedom as what weíre standing for for a long time in this country and I think the Bush administration wants us to believe that even if we have failures places, the overall reach of Americaís global policy is one of freedom.
To me as somebody who likes specifics, itís a little vague and I would have enjoyed in the inaugural a paragraph about what our soldiers are really doing in Afghanistan and Iraq and what does freedom mean in that way with very real examples. Ronald Reagan, Bush correctly points out that Reagan would talk about freedom a lot, but he initially gave a personal anecdote of an American who sacrificed for freedom and his speech lacked that personal touch I felt and instead it became a lot of platitude.
LAMB: I know both of you like books. You write them. By the way, Mr. Brinkley are you writing a book on Theodore Roosevelt right now?
BRINKLEY: Yes. I have a little book on Ronald Reagan called "The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc," which is Ronald Reagan and D-Day. And then Iíll be working on a book on Theodore Roosevelt and conservation, and a colleague of mine, an historian, Julie Fenster and I are working on a project on a man named Father McGivney who created the Knights of Columbus and brought Catholics together in the late 19th Century.
The book part of what, which was fascinating that I thought today was not just mentioning of Ron Chernowís Hamilton or Joseph Ellisí wonderful biography on George Washington. But he mentioned two obscure, relatively obscure writers and I had never heard him talk about them, although apparently he did.
One being Tom Lea, L-E-A and I thought that was amazing when he mentioned Tom Lea and the King Ranch as a book, because Lea, in many ways -- who I know something about, I mean, he grew up in El Paso, Lay, and became a great kind of Norman Rockwell-like illustrator for LIFE magazine during World War II. He also was a muralist for the WPA and then went on to write these books. He illustrated Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobieís books.
But in Texas, Tom Lea is the Norman Rockwell of Texas, if youíd like, both as a painter and his writing about ranch life and what it means to be a Texan are kind revered texts in that state. And it was interesting to hear the president mention. And the other person was -- he mentioned, Chambers, and the fact that Chambers was a Scottish person of the 19th Century who was very interested in Baptist education and finding Christ and putting him in your life. And those two writers, I think people will start checking them out now because of your interview. The Chernow and Ellis are known books, but I think Lay and Chambers are less known.
LAMB: Yes, thatís Oswald Chambers. Richard Norton Smith, you know what Iím leading up to here because weíve all talked about this book by Natan Sharansky, are you still working on your Nelson Rockefeller book?
SMITH: I am, five years down and probably two years to go. But you know, itís interesting what Doug was just saying. I thought actually sort of the spine, the backbone of this interview was that reference to Tom Lea and what the president has learned in effect, want to know how he has changed in four years. I mean, I canít quote him precisely, but he talked about a day coming versus a day gone. He is halfway through his presidency and he has a profound sense that the hourglass is ticking and that in whatever he does in the next four years, probably needs to be guided by to some degree what other presidents have done. I mean, this very profound and growing sense of history, of community, if you will, with all those presidents who have lived in that house.
LAMB: Letís watch just that little clip on Tom Lea from the president.
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BUSH: I ended my convention speech in 2000 and one of the debates with a phrase by a great Texan named Tom Lea who wrote the definitive book on the King Ranch but was a painter, and one the paintings now hangs in the Oval Office. He said: "Sarah (ph) and I live on the east side of the mountain, the sunrise side, not the sunset side, the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone."
Thatís a very optimistic view, I see a better day coming.
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LAMB: Do either one of you see the optimist in this president?
SMITH: Oh yes, the optimist I think defines this president. And again, I think thatís another -- not to go back, over and over again to Reagan, but one of the real parallels -- the circumstances may be different, you may argue that there are no grounds for optimism or that the optimism is more suspect (ph).
But I think along with -- itís not just optimism, there is a sense of an almost missionary quality to this presidency I think that ran throughout this inaugural address, a sense that America has a historical mission, some would argue even a divine mission. And that in turn feeds, I think a sense of long-term optimism, a growing out of long-term purpose.
LAMB: Doug Brinkley, I want to ask you a question about this clip in a moment, because it all fits in here, and what he says about his own dad.
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LAMB: Your dad, you talk much about the presidency with him?
BUSH: Not really. That may come as a surprise to you. I like to check in with him. I love to hear his voice and I know he loves to hear mine. And he likes to -- heíll ask about this trip where you saw so-and-so or how did that go, particularly when Iíve been overseas.
But we havenít really gotten to the stage yet where we weíre sharing common experiences in the White House, although you know thereís kind of a knowingness about our positions. I mean, the campaign, he doesnít need to tell me how tired I am or ask me how tired I am, because he knows, he did the same thing I did.
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LAMB: The one thing he never mentions when you ask him about presidents and former presidents he models himself off -- or he would respect, he never mentions his fatherís presidency, he mentions Lincoln, FDR and Reagan. What do you make of what he just said about his own dad and the fact that he doesnít mention his own dadís presidency?
BRINKLEY: I found it fascinating. Itís in some ways predictable. He has been very careful to distance himself from his father. I think there was always a feeling, as historians who study this president know, that heís tried to always keep -- he didnít like that whole "wimp" factor label that his father got; the fact that his father had said, you know, "read my lips, no new taxes," and then raised taxes. And he learned to distance himself from what he saw, I think a blue blood, East Coast aristocratic effeteness that his father had -- even though his father was the great World War II hero. And thatís something he does talk about often, the flyboy side of his father.
But I think as president he wants to be something different. He really is much more the son of Ronald Reagan. He learned his cues, his lessons from Ronald Reagan more than his father. And also I think he doesnít want to see, nor does his father, as if heís getting directions from daddy being whispered in his ear. So I think he purposely keeps that relationship, and I think correctly so, somewhat private. And itís nice to know for the American people that a man of his fatherís stature is somebody he can trust and turn to for advice when need be.
And Iím sure there are many times his father has given him advice that he just doesnít tell the public about.
LAMB: As you all know, the great mentioner started dropping the name of Natan Sharansky some time ago, that he had seen him and that he had read this book. And I think it was TIME magazine had the latest remark about this. Itís a book by Natan Sharansky, who is a member of the Knesset over in Israel, was an emigre from Russia, spent 10 years in prison in Russia, 1977 to about í87. And I asked him about this book. And I want to run just a little bit of it and then weíll ask you what the power of the book is, do you think, is these present times.
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BUSH: Iíd heard of Natan Sharansky, but Iíd really never read much of what he had written. And met him -- I think Iíd met him, pretty confident Iíd met him when I went to Israel in 1998. But beyond that didnít realize he was a writer. And so I started reading the galleys, and it really caught my attention. I find it to be a very, very interesting book.
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LAMB: Richard Norton Smith, have you read the book?
SMITH: No, I have not. But I have to tell you, itís an author, I thought, my God, this is every book tour promoterís dream. You know, to be in Washington at precisely the same moment that the president wants to not only meet you but make you the centerpiece of his second term.
LAMB: He met with him in November. I think it was -- I vaguely remember it was like November the 11th, spent an hour with him, I believe before that spent an hour with Condoleezza Rice. And this book is the story of -- really it leads off in the beginning, as I ask him in the interview, with telling a story about Ronald Reagan, telling Mikhail Gorbachev, I ought to get the quote here in the story, when he saw Natan Sharanskyís wife demonstrating in 1985 over in Geneva, and I read this to the president: "You can keep saying that Sharansky is an American spy," this is Ronald Reagan to Mr. Gorbachev, "but my people trust that woman. And as long as you keep him and other political prisoners locked up, we will not be able to establish a relationship of trust."
BRINKLEY: Well, I thought that was a wonderful anecdote. And of course, what Reagan was doing was really started by Jimmy Carter, and that was putting human rights at the heart of the Cold War. It was Jimmy Carterís policies that was putting pressure on the Soviet Union to get Jewish dissidents like Sharansky and Sakharov -- to get freedom, that we arenít going to support -- Carter never liked the fact in the Soviet Union you couldnít have Bibles, Christianity wasnít allowed to be taught. And so the Carter administration put a lot of human rights pressure on the Soviet Union.
That policy of Carter was discredited by Reagan a lot as being weak-kneed, human rights is not realpolitik. But you see, with this president, him taking the Reagan approach, and why that anecdote is so helpful on a kind of toughness of freedom and liberty, but also Carterism has seeped into this presidency in the sense that human rights matters. Thatís the idealism that he talked about, to match Reaganís realpolitik. So in a way with this president in foreign affairs youíre getting an unusual kind of combination of Reaganism and Carterism.
LAMB: And we donít have a whole lot of time left, and so I want to get in a little bit of what you both think presidents should be doing after theyíre out of office. And one of the things weíre asking about is the presidential library.
Letís listen to what President Bush had to say about that.
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LAMB: Planning at all for where youíre going to put your library?
BUSH: Weíll be doing that soon. And not only where weíll put it, but what it will comprise. How do we make sure that there is interesting thought that comes out of the library, not just a collector of interesting artifacts, but in fact hopefully good thought will come out of there. The library will cause there to be a dialogue. It will advance higher education or secondary education in some way.
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LAMB: Mr. Smith, you run about five of those. What recommendations do you have to this president or any president about their presidential library?
SMITH: Well, it sounds to me like heís already on the right path, i.e. that should be something that is contemporary and indeed even futuristic as well as commemorative, and that it isnít simply a collection of artifacts and head of state gifts of an Oval Office replica, but that it has to really live. That it as to be a classroom in the broadest sense of the word. That means that it has to reach the 4th graders as well as Ph.D. candidates and presidential historians and journalists.
Increasingly, in recent years, what this means is that these institutions are located on college campuses. They are integrated, sometimes with more or less success, into the intellectual life of the university. And that's great. That is a real change, however, from what it was -- what Doug was talking about earlier, we were both talking about.
What Texas means to this president, what his ranch means to this president, what West Branch meant to Herbert Hoover or Hyde Park to Franklin Roosevelt. The history of the presidential library system has moved away from placing those libraries at their birthplaces, those places that shaped them culturally and otherwise, and had become a little bit more generic, if you will, and academic.
LAMB: Doug Brinkley, his father's library is at College Station, which is an hour or so outside of Houston. It's at the Texas A&M. Let's listen to the president talk about location and I'll ask you to give us what you think about this.
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BUSH: The library will be in Texas and so we want to be -- I want to be very thoughtful of that, who we approach, and give everybody a chance that's interested to come up with a -- you know, their best shot at attracting it. So we're working through -- it's in the league, we want to make sure we understand fully the legal obligations, so that when we start approaching universities or cities or whatever, whoever we approach, that there's a -- that everybody understands the ground rules.
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LAMB: Any recommendation, Doug Brinkley?
BRINKLEY: Yes, well, I, first off, don't believe he's going to build this presidential library next to his father's in College Station. I think just like you hear, he wants to separate his presidency from his father. I can't see the two Bush library complex happening, which leaves Waco, Texas, which somebody once described as a skyscraper surrounded by 100,000 Baptists. And that's the culture that he's put his presidency around.
In Dallas, a city where he lived for a long time, North Dallas, Southern Methodist University, for example. The advantages of having a library in Dallas is that you have a major airport, people from around the world can go there. There is a lot of history tourism there. Unfortunately, the big site being the Kennedy assassination site. But access and turn-style would be better there.
But symbolically, I think he'd be better off in Waco, a city that's so close to where Crawford is and a place where visitors can not only his archive and museum in place like Waco, could then do the short drive to Crawford and tour the home. Clearly, the Crawford house is going be the main historic site that people generations from now will visit when they want to learn something about this president.
LAMB: Here's a question about an in-house historian.
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LAMB: And do you have a historian anywhere around you, following your days and cataloging your...
BUSH: No, it's an interesting question. I do not. Yes, it's -- I really, in some ways, wish that were the case. But there, unfortunately, there's a lot of you know, security matters, particularly given the nature of the war we're in. It's just -- I don't think the government would have felt comfortable allowing an observer to record.
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LAMB: Mr. Smith, Mr. Brinkley, is he missing a good bet here?
SMITH: I don't think it's just wartime. To be honest with you, I think Edmund Morris' experience in the Reagan White House -- whatever you think of the book that he wrote, probably illustrates how difficult it'd be. It's almost impossible for any White House, where everyone is so jealous of their prerogatives and above all, their access and their control of information, to allow a free run to any historian.
BRINKLEY: I'd like to recommend Richard Norton Smith for the job. I think President Bush is looking for an historian. It made it clear he wouldn't mind having one around and I think that Richard's credentials and running so many presidential libraries, I hope anybody in the White House watching this will invite Richard to sit in on some meetings.
I think it's important to have a historian in the White House, particularly in a second term like this. The Edmund Morris experience did not turn out well for President Reagan, but that doesn't mean that the other ones didn't. The Arthur Schlesinger experience for -- turned out exceedingly well for President Kennedy. But I think it'd have to be somebody that periodically came and simply spoke to the president.
You know, Bill Clinton had Taylor Branch come in quite often. They were Rhodes scholars and old friends, Branch being the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Martin Luther King. And those -- what's occurred in those conversations, Branch has not come forward with, but someday we'll be able to the advantage of the Branch/Clinton conversations.
I would hope somebody like Richard Norton Smith and President Bush could have some hours together in the coming years. It think it would be good for the historical record.
SMITH: I was going to suggest Doug until he said that this administration was a combination of Reaganism and Carterism. I'm not sure that I would necessarily recommend him.
LAMB: I would like to thank Steve Scully (ph), our political editor, for putting all this together, the interview with the president. And also Andrea Perry (ph), who produced this program. Let's wrap it up. And maybe this isn't a way to end this, but I want to ask each of you, just 30 seconds, where do you think, based on -- and we're in a very crucial point, on this day when the Iraqi elections are being held -- but where do you each of you think, at this point, this president, will end up in history? Let's start with Doug Brinkley.
BRINKLEY: Well, it's tough right now, because I think so much -- I think 9/11's the defining moment of the administration, but it's not an accomplishment, it's an attack on your watch. What he has going in his favor, historically, is that there has not been another terrorist attack so far. But it's a day-by-day proposition. If after this end of his second term, he can claim I did achieve Homeland Security, after 9/11 there were no more major terrorist attacks on my watch and I created a new Homeland Security apparatus, I think it's a major accomplishment.
Afghanistan's an accomplishment, Iraq is a big problem and I think it's where a great deal -- this is a foreign policy, wartime president. That's what this election was about. That's why he got elected in 2004. And I don't believe tinkering with Social Security or, you know, certain de-regulation measures or what have you, or what he does with education, is going to define this president. It's going to be defined historically by what happens in the Middle East and whether we can have some semblance of a democratic society and free and fair elections in Iraq.
LAMB: Mr. Smith, wrap it up.
SMITH: Yes, well, I would agree with Doug that it's impossible right now to give a road map. On the other hand, we know this already. This is an important president. We know that this is a president who is willing to take big risks for big ideas. And if you think of the people on Mount Rushmore, if you think of the people who show up in historian surveys, they're not timid folk. The path of least resistance does not run to Mount Rushmore or historic immortality. On the other hand, those risks -- they are risks.
I would disagree with Doug a little bit. I think the domestic agenda is relatively more important than perhaps he thinks it is. I think if this president can master the political process and work with Congress and bring about some significant reform, however you define that term, in Social Security and other entitlement programs, then it will be a truly historic achievement.
But you're right, the jury is out on Iraq. Following Iraq, we may be lucky. With the removal of Yasser Arafat, we might just have opened the door to fulfill much of what Jimmy Carter started a generation ago in bringing about a two state solution in the Middle East.
LAMB: Thanks to Richard Norton Smith at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, and Doug Brinkley at Tulane University in the Theodore Roosevelt Center, for helping us understand a lot of what the president just said in that interview. And we also thank Bill Heffley (ph) and John Kelly (ph), our two technicians, totally response for everything we did at the White House in the interview. And that's it for Q&A for this week.