May 23, 2010

Getting an interview with the president is virtually impossible. Getting an interview with the president when he’s no longer president—and his wife has a book out—and he’s writing his memoirs, is simply a matter of calling his agent and setting up a time.

Today, George W. Bush is relaxing at his estate in Dallas and as he put it, “missing my wife.” Laura Bush is currently on a book tour promoting Spoken from the Heart, a surprisingly juicy account of her time as First Lady that includes plenty of Pelosi digs and an exciting story about being poisoned in Germany. Bush’s own memoir, entitled Decision Points, is set for release in November.

This is a drastically shortened version of my phone call with the former president. I found him to be charming, articulate, and disarmingly friendly. By the end of our call I felt like I would be invited to his ranch or some other next step in our friendship, which I realize now, is ridiculous. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s so sincere and real you have to keep reminding yourself you’re not friends.

It should be noted that Mr. Bush agreed to do this interview with the stipulation there would be no questions about the current president.

Mr. President… Do I call you that? Mr. ex-president?
Call me George.

I have so many questions I’m not sure where to begin.
Begin at the beginning.

Where’s that from again?
Um, I think it’s a Lewis Carroll quote. It’s in Alice in Wonderland isn’t it? “Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end and then stop.” Something like that.

And people say you don’t read books.
(laughs) I used to have to read that to my girls almost every night. I don’t really like that book to tell you the truth. Isn’t it about drugs?

I think so.
She was higher than a Georgia Pine!

Ha. Does it bother you that you’re seen as, uh, not the most literary man?
You mean dumb? Ha. Yeah sure, that’s irritating.

You graduated from Yale.
Well, the critics just assumed my degree was bought and paid for by my dad. The thing I don’t get about that assumption is, shouldn’t there be more outrage that Yale is selling diplomas? That’d be bigger than Watergate. You’re a journalist. Get on it, boy.

What about skull and bones?
What about skull and bones?

Are you supposed to leave the room now?
Can we get back to the real questions?

Okay, the dumb thing. I think it has a lot to do with how you talk.
A lot of people don’t really get us Texas types, especially abroad. I’m a good ol’ boy. We’re just real friendly out here and don’t have any airs. I’m also willing to admit I’m not the greatest public speaker. Some people have the gift of gab. I don’t.

This is where I’d get into Obama but I’m not supposed to go there.
It’s not like it’s a taboo subject or nothing. I just don’t think it’s appropriate for a former president to be criticizing the current one. Jimmy Carter was a real thorn in my side and I’d never want anyone to have to go through that. It’s real stressful.

It must be stressful being president. What’s it like?
That’s a good question. If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d say, “intense.” Every single second of every day counts. Nobody believes me when I tell them this but even going to the bathroom feels negligent. Pardon my French but if I had a particularly long bowel movement, I’d have people outside knocking on the door and even asking me important questions. I don’t know how many times I had to yell, “I’m in the F-ing JOHN!”

You took a lot of vacations.
Yes, I had to. You go insane at that job. It’s like Times Square with a fire alarm going off and a million people shaking papers in your face and barking about some emergency. It’s relentless. Sometimes at the ranch I’d just sit in silence and stare at the wall for an hour trying to unwind. I talked to Bill Clinton about it once and he said, “it’s like being the Beatles but instead of screaming girls chasing you it’s screaming old men.”

That’s funny.
He’s actually a hilarious guy. We were painted as enemies but I really like Bill Clinton. He’d often make me laugh so hard, I’d spit my beer out.

You don’t really think of humor when you think about the White House.
It’s the only way to stay sane. Like police officers joking around right next to a dead body. You have to laugh or you’ll cry. It’s the only way to cut the tension. You’d be surprised how funny some politicians are.

Like who?
Well Henry Kissinger for one. You know what he said when he was asked who would win when Iraq was at war with Iran?

No what?
“Can’t they both lose?” (laughs) I mean, it’s just so brutally honest and I don’t know, witty. Coming from his stoic face with those glasses and his weird Russian accent. I laughed my goddamned head off for about two days.

Do you regret the war in the Middle East?
Do I regret sending our guys down there? No I do not. I obviously don’t want any soldiers to die and my heart goes out to their families but the war was a decision we made as a country to fight, not just Osama bin Laden but, really, extremist Islam.

Think of it this way: Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. We’re not far from the day it outnumbers Christianity. A lot of Americans, myself included, aren’t too happy with those odds. Now, I accept that almost half the population doesn’t want this war but a lot of us still see it as fighting the good fight.

I’m not talking about the whole religion obviously but a huge portion of Islam is about uniting church and state. We spent a long time separating the two and there’s no need to go backwards.

Some would say America hasn’t separated them.
Well maybe not compared to Germany but compared to the Middle East? Come on, guy. I don’t know the last time a sheriff over here ordered a woman be stoned to death for flirting.

What do you say to people who say you engineered support for the war by pretending there was WMDs and even kind of allowing 9-11 to happen?
Well, I don’t think any rational adult believes I orchestrated 9-11. What was the magazine that did all that, The Popular Mechanics? Hey, I just thought of something. That’s what The Fonz was, a popular mechanic (laughs).

As for the other stuff, sure, we were wrong about WMDs but that wasn’t the only reason we decided to fight. We saw the terrorism that Extremist Islam begets as a threat to our way of life. It’s like the modern version of the Cold War. They’re our commies.

Was it for oil?
I never understood that, um, “school of thought.” Who in the hell declares war on a country they want to do business with? Do you start punching people in Wal-Mart when you want to buy a pair of pants? Nope. You walk in, pay the guy, and take your fucking pants home. Don’t print that swear.

Hell, we get the majority of our oil from Canada and Mexico. Why not go in there with guns a blazin’? Doing business is cheaper and easier than fighting. Most of us have that figured out after our first black eye.

What’s your biggest regret?
My only regret is not starting to rebuild the towers on September 12th, 2001. The fact that there’s still a huge hole there is a real feather in the cap of the enemy and it breaks my heart. It’s a hole in my heart. I’m going to put that in the book. “The hole at Ground Zero is a hole in my heart.” Something like that. I gotta work on it more.

I should have used federal funds to just rebuild it then and there—no questions asked. Today there’d just be a plaque saying, “These building were destroyed on September 11th and rebuilt immediately after.”

What would you want to do with the space now?

What are you talking about? Rebuild it! Still! I don’t want some big glass handkerchief climbing up into the sky. That’s even worse than a hole. That’s like a statue dedicated to the terrorists. The fact that I didn’t rebuild them and they won’t be rebuilt is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. Much more than Katrina.

So you admit Katrina was a mistake.
Should have got there sooner.

Okay but what about the fact that having the Towers there is such a target? Would you want your girls to be working in the Twin Towers today?
Don’t ever talk about my girls or bring them into any discussion no matter what the context. Just warning you. Moving on: I don’t care who rents out the space there. I don’t care if they remain empty. It’s not about that. It’s about getting up when you’re knocked down—literally. Hey, I got an idea, maybe we could make the top floors a mosque. Ha! That’d ruffle some feathers.

Do you think you were the worst president ever?
Can’t worry about it. I think history will judge me more fairly but by the time that unfolds, I’ll be dead. I did the best I could do with the resources I had and made some very tough decisions.

Oooh, nice plug for your book.
You see how I did that? Just squeezed it in there at the end.



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