What George W. Bush says about Harry Reid and not about Sarah Palin
On his new late-night TBS program, Conan O'Brien noted Tuesday that former President George W. Bush was on Oprah's show that day, talking about his memoir, "Decision Points." And, O'Brien added, asked what it was like to be leader of the free world, Oprah had replied, "It's not bad."
True enough. After 22 months out of the spotlight, the 43d president is suddenly back in it, seemingly popping up everywhere, telling the types of personal stories once confined to only the closest friends and aides. He's signing books for long lines in Dallas and talking to many big-name media types. Last night, Sean Hannity from the ranch. Before that, the bald guy from the "Today Show."
Bush hasn't been able to squeeze in a chat yet with that perky news anchor or anyone from the other financially-troubled Times newspaper. And chances are really good, based on history, that he won't.
It's a different Bush we're seeing now, more relaxed and comfortable, publicly....
Bush refuses to second-guess Obama or criticize his successor's performance or criticism of him. But with each interview we learn a little more. The man says he doesn't want to make news. But Bush said a couple more interesting things in his long conversation Tuesday with Rush Limbaugh after signing 2,400 books in a Dallas store (See photo below of waiting lines).
Bush had a visceral reaction when Limbaugh asked about the Iraq war and particularly Nevada's now reelected Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's famous comment: "This war is lost."
"Sometimes," Bush recalled, "if you're president and people are tired of you, you just have to soldier on. I was convinced we could succeed in Iraq, and I knew failure in Iraq would be catastrophic and success could be transformative. So on this particular issue, you know, I said I'm gonna do what I think is right, and I spent quite a bit of time in the book writing about that."
Limbaugh editorializes that: "In my lifetime, I don't recall a political party ever opposing their own country at war, seeking a defeat as the Democrats were. I mean Harry Reid was out there, Mr. President, "This war is lost."
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. I chronicle that moment, and I didn't like it then. I don't like hearing it now because, as a leader in the Senate, I felt it was an irresponsible act, irresponsible statement to say to a mother or, you know, a loved one your child or loved one is heading into a losing situation. You can disagree with the policy, disagree with whether we should work to establish democracy in Iraq after we liberated it, but to condemn soldiers heading into mission to a lost cause is just, you know, is inexcusable, as far as I was concerned.
RUSH: Why didn't you do more about it? Why didn't you comment more about it at the time? I mean, I asked you once, and you said that you didn't want to sully the office of the presidency by descending to base political level. But I mean this was not simply base politics. This was keeping the country safe.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I understand that, but on the other hand I do believe in the institution of the presidency, and I didn't think it was right then, I still don't think it's right to engage in name-calling if you're the president of the United States. I was focused on the mission, as were the troops.
And because of their bravery and sacrifice the situation turned around shortly after that statement. I've discussed this with other people in my administration, when they call me a liar should I have called them names, and my attitude was, no then, obviously, and I still feel very strongly that's the way a president ought to conduct himself.
Bush also seeks to set the record straight about what he didn't say about Sarah Palin. Rush asked about reports he'd told friends she was a poor 2008 running mate choice by John McCain. Bush's response:
I have never said that, of course, nor have I read about it. You know, I'm not gonna comment on anybody who might be running for president. But that's what happens in today's world, the blogosphere. You know, people get to hide behind some codename or something. They toss out a gossip or rumor and it floats around the Internet. I never said that, never would have said that.
Bush also talks about the tea party, Arizona's legislative attempt to combat illegal immigration and Bush's unsuccessful effort to get broadscale immigration reforms. The full Limbaugh-Bush transcript is right here.
And our esteemed Times colleague Tim Rutten, who called Bush's memoir "unexpectedly engrossing," has a full book review right here.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photos: G.J. McCarthy / MCT; Tom Pennington / Getty Images.