In what sounded awfully like an exit interview, President Bush, whose historical legacy will center around the war in Iraq, said this evening that he was "unprepared for war."
"In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen," Bush said in a wide-ranging interview with ABC News anchor Charles Gibson.
Bush said the biggest regret of his presidency was the "intelligence failure" regarding the extent of Iraq leader Saddam Hussein's threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He won congressional authorization for the March 2003 invasion largely based on those reports.
Asked if he would have ordered the invasion if intelligence reports had been accurate, Bush replied: "You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate."
Bush also said he was "sorry" about the deepening recession, saying, "Obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401(k)s."
But he seemed to deflect some blame for the financial crisis, adding that "when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so."
Bush called Democrat Barack Obama's victory a "repudiation of Republicans."
"I'm sure some people voted for Barack Obama because of me," said Bush, who leaves office with record low approval ratings. "I think most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living room for the next four years explaining policy. In other words, they made a conscious choice to put him in as president."
The full transcript of the interview is below:
The following is an excerpted transcript of Charlie Gibson's interview with President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at Camp David, on their reflections over the past eight years, the current state of the country and their greatest disappointments and accomplishments, for "World News."
CHARLIE GIBSON: Mr. President, let's start with the economy because it's what's on everybody's mind. Your successor will inherit not just a troubled economy, but an economy in crisis. Did you miss any signals that this would --
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, we anticipated some issues revolving around Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and early in my administration called for a regulator, on the knowledge that an implied government guarantee could cause, and eventually did cause, the agency to become excessive in its lending practices, which eventually was a part of the financial meltdown.
And I can remember sitting in the Roosevelt Room with Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke and others, and they said to me that if we don't act boldly, Mr. President, we could be in a depression greater than the Great Depression.
GIBSON: When was that?
BUSH: That was, I would say, five weeks, four weeks after we began to deal with some -- like AIG. And that was right before we went to Congress for the $700 billion. And my attitude is, is that if that's the case, this administration will do everything we can to safeguard the financial system. And that's what we've been doing.
And I'm sorry it's happening, of course. Obviously I don't like the idea of people losing jobs, or being worried about their 401Ks. On the other hand, the American people got to know that we will safeguard the system. I mean, we're in. And if we need to be in more, we will.
And eventually, however, this economy will recover. And when it recovers, many of the assets backed by the government now will be redeemed, and we will -- could conceivably make money off of some of the holdings.
GIBSON: But was there an "uh-oh" moment -- and I could probably use stronger language than that -- (laughter)-- when you thought this really could be bad --
BUSH: Well, that was, of course, the crystallization. When you have the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Fed say, if we don't act boldly, we could be in a depression greater than the Great Depression, that's an "uh-oh" moment. But you got to understand, leading up to that we had been bailing water in this way: AIG was failing; other big houses on Wall Street needed to be merged, one failed --
GIBSON: Was not saving Lehman a mistake?
BUSH: We'll let the historians look back on that. At the time, the recommendation was not to, obviously. And some are second-guessing that. And in a situation like this, Charlie, where the administration is making big decisions and big calls, that there's going to be a lot of second-guessing. The one thing that I don't want to have happen is people say this thing was in a financial meltdown and we didn't do anything. And so we're moving -- hard.
GIBSON: When you add it all up, you've got about $7.5 trillion in funded and unfunded backing of securities now.
GIBSON: And that's about half of what our economy is in its whole. Does that scare the willikers out of you?
BUSH: What scared me is not doing anything, which would have caused there to be a huge financial meltdown and the conceivable scenario that we'd have been in a depression greater than the Great Depression.
On the other hand, a lot of the -- you know, these -- some of these are investments. I've got faith that the economy will recover. As a matter of fact, I'm confident it will recover. I can't tell you exactly the moment, but when it does recover, a lot of the assets now owned by the government will be sold. And I can't guarantee that we'll get all our money back, but it's conceivable we could.
And the question is, is it worth it to save the system, to safeguard the system? And I came to the conclusion, along with other smart people, that it is.
GIBSON: Do you feel in any way responsible for what's happening?
BUSH: You know, I'm the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President.
I'm a little upset that we didn't get the reforms to Fannie and Freddie -- on Fannie and Freddie, because I think it would have helped a lot. And when people review the history of this administration, people will say that this administration tried hard to get a regulator. And there will be a lot of analysis of why that didn't happen. I suspect people will find a lot of it didn't happen for pure political reasons.
GIBSON: How high do you think unemployment will go?
BUSH: Too high. I mean, anybody unemployed is too much. And I -- I'm not a very good economic forecaster. I do know that we are taking steps to make sure -- see, the most difficult thing about this is that a lot of people out there in Main Street wonder why the government is having to act because Wall Street went on a binge. And I'm one, frankly -- at first. I was the guy that inartfully said, "Wall Street got drunk, and we got a hangover."
And on the other hand, though, when you're the President and somebody says, we better move big, Mr. President, otherwise we could have a depression greater than the Great -- we're moving big. And it is hard for the average citizen to understand how frozen the system became and how over-leveraged the system became. And so what we're watching is the de-leveraging of our financial markets, which is obviously affecting the growth of the economy.
GIBSON: You've pushed a lot of money on the table to try to get the banks lending again and to try to get the economy vibrant again. And yet a lot of banks in trouble, we get an indication, are hoarding some of that money, or holding it, concerned about debts that they may have. Are you disappointed the way the banks have dealt with the money that was given them out of TARP?
BUSH: Well, obviously, in a situation like this you'd like to see instant liquidity. But there's a lot of fear throughout our society and the system itself. And slowly but surely the system is becoming unthawed, and it's going to take time for the system to become unthawed. What the American people have got to know is we've taken the steps to unthaw it, which is the first step to recovery.
GIBSON: Your successor said right from the beginning, there's only one President. But he's been holding news conferences; he named his economic team. Is he intruding in any way?
BUSH: No, not at all. Look, one of the things that we vowed is to work with the President-elect and his team to have a smooth transition. This is a very unique period in American history where a new President is coming in where we are fighting a two-front war against terrorists and, at the same time, dealing with a very difficult economic situation. And the more we can work together, the better off our country will be.
I called President-Elect Obama with the Citigroup decision. I wanted him to know what we were doing. And he was very appreciative of the phone call. And I --
GIBSON: Did you call him on Tuesday about the Fed putting up $600 billion, and Treasury $200 billion --
BUSH: Yes, yes.
GIBSON: You called him about that, too?
BUSH: I sure did -- oh, no, no, no, I have not on that. But I know his team was briefed. I didn't speak to him personally about that, but I know his team was briefed. We're in touch with the Obama transition team a lot. And I don't feel any -- I don't feel any intrusion whatsoever, because he knows what I know -- I'm -- our administration still will be making the decisions necessary until he becomes the President.
GIBSON: Given the exigencies of the time and how critical this situation is, do you need to take any kind of extraordinary actions, bringing his people in to work side by side with your people before January 20th?
BUSH: I don't think so. And I don't think he would want that. I think he's going to want to be able to come in fresh. On the other hand, he does want, and I think his team will want, to be fully briefed on any further difficulties until he's sworn in.
GIBSON: Let's talk a little bit about eight years as being President. What don't the American people know about being President? What would surprise them the most?
BUSH: That's an interesting question. I think, at least from my administration, I think they'd be surprised at how our team has worked so closely together. Some days we're not so happy, some days happy; every day has been pretty joyous, though -- that when you have a purpose in life, that no matter what it may look like from afar, that we're a highly motivated group of people that are honored to serve.
In other words, I think people look at the White House and say, oh, man, what a miserable experience it is to be President. You know, there's a lot of noise, a lot of criticism, a lot of name-calling, a lot of this, a lot of that. But I think people would be surprised when they walked in the Oval Office and the White House to see a highly motivated group of people that really enjoy what we're doing.
GIBSON: What were you most unprepared for?
BUSH: Well, I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, "Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack." In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen.
GIBSON: You said you were not going to be in the business of nation-building. And so much of what you had to do was nation-building.
BUSH: Well, what I said was, in the course of a debate, I said the military shouldn't be used to build nations. In this case, it turns out the military, in my judgment, was needed to remove threats to our security, and after that removal, the military, as well as our diplomatic corps, needed to help rebuild after tyrannical situations.
GIBSON: That's the second time I've heard you use the word "joyful" about the presidency, and that might take people by surprise. Even in really tough times?
BUSH: Oh, yes. As I said, some times are happy, some not happy. I don't want people to misconstrue. It's not -- I don't feel joyful when somebody loses their life, nor do I feel joyful from somebody loses a job. That concerns me. And the President ends up carrying a lot of people's grief in his soul during a presidency. One of the things about the presidency is you deal with a lot of tragedy -- whether it be hurricanes, or tornadoes, or fires, or death -- and you spend time being the Comforter-in-Chief. But the idea of being able to serve a nation you love is -- has been joyful. In other words, my spirits have never been down. I have been sad, but the spirits are up.
GIBSON: I have found you to be an excellent political analyst and commentator?
BUSH: Why? I try not to. (Laughter.)
GIBSON: What did you think of the campaign?
BUSH: I thought my candidate for President, John McCain, had a tough headwind -- for two reasons. One, rarely does the American people -- do the American people give a political party three terms. That in itself was difficult for him. They did one time since World War II; that happened to be for President 41, my dear dad. Obviously the economic situation made it awfully difficult for John McCain to get a message out. And I felt that Barack Obama ran a very disciplined campaign. I mean, he inspired a lot of people and was in a position to take advantage of the inspiration. It was well organized, he raised a lot of money, and ran a textbook campaign.
GIBSON: Given the conditions, and the economy, is there any way John McCain could have won?
BUSH: It's hard to see it, in retrospect. You know, John ran a hard campaign. And he was -- I think the interesting thing about the way people analyze campaigns, though, is they always look at the negative side. The positive side is, from Barack Obama's perspective, he had a really good campaign. I mean, this guy I'm told raised $150 million in one month. That meant a lot of people were for him for President. And he had a organization that he was able to get them out to the polls, particularly in the voting box, where it really mattered on the electoral map.
GIBSON: Palin choice -- help or hurt?
BUSH: I think it helped John. It energized the party. It -- I can remember when she first was named, young women in our office were saying, isn't it great that a woman is in a position to serve on the ticket now, to maybe be Vice President of the United States. Her crowds were big and enthusiastic. And so I think it helped.
GIBSON: Was the election in any way a repudiation of the Bush administration?
BUSH: I think it was a repudiation of Republicans. And I'm sure some people voted for Barack Obama because of me. I think most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living room for the next four years explaining policy. In other words, they made a conscious choice to put him in as President.
GIBSON: But both candidates wound up criticizing you a lot.
BUSH: Yes, well, that's what happens when you're the incumbent during a tough economic time, but --
BUSH: No, not really. You know, I've been around politics a long time. Remember, I was the guy in 2000 who campaigned for change. I campaigned for change when I ran for governor of Texas. The only time I really didn't campaign for change is when I was running for reelection.
GIBSON: Given the fact that you did start campaigning for change, said you were going to change the ways of Washington, do you feel you did in any way? Or did 9/11 really stand in the way of doing it?
BUSH: No, you know -- actually, 9/11 unified the country, and that was a moment where Washington decided to work together. I think one of the big disappointments of the presidency has been the fact that the tone in Washington got worse, not better.
Having said that, there were some moments of strong bipartisanship. I mean, No Child Left Behind Act, for example, or eventually funding our troops. I know the war was -- created bitter divisions. But nevertheless, when it came to supporting the troops or our veterans, we worked together. And so there were -- PEPFAR, for example, the AIDS initiative in Africa, got bipartisan support. Millennium Challenge Account. I mean, there were moments of bipartisanship. But the tone was rough. And I was obviously partially responsible because I was the President, although I tried hard not to call people names and bring the office down during my presidency.
GIBSON: Do you feel the divisions are deeper, the enmities perhaps a little stronger, the language a little tougher now than it was January 20, 2001?
BUSH: Yes, I do. I do. I think -- I don't know, the close election created some pretty harsh language. But once I was President I think people decided that, well, let's try to work with him, and I said, I'd like to work with you, and we did some pretty good things. But having said that, Washington has always been politics. I mean, if you, like, for example, study the early Presidents, there's some pretty tough language when it came to Abraham Lincoln, or the relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
So I didn't go into this naively, I knew it would be tough. But I also knew that the President has the responsibility to try to elevate the tone. And, frankly, it just didn't work, as well as I'd like to have it work.
GIBSON: I guess the bottom-line question I'm asking you is, do you feel you were in any way able to change Washington? Or do you feel --
BUSH: I think we did. I think we brought a results-oriented government, and we insisted that people focus on results, not process, and on a variety of reforms. Whether it be No Child Left Behind, or like the PEPFAR Initiative, or the Malaria Initiative, the question we always asked was, are we achieving the results?
Washington can be a very process-oriented town. The budget process -- let's just pass money because the program sounds good. We worked hard to say, is the program achieving the results? If not, let's eliminate it.
GIBSON: Barack Obama was talking just last week about the fact that he wants to go at the budget line by line, change things. I remember your State of the Union address you said, here's 151 programs we can cut out --
GIBSON: -- and we can save $20 billion. Not one of them got cut out, sir.
BUSH: No, that's right. The problem is the President doesn't get to decide how to appropriate. And because the President doesn't have the line-item veto it's very difficult to be able to excise some of the programs from the budget.
GIBSON: I'd like to talk a little bit about the highs and lows of the eight years. But you can't do that alone. We should bring Mrs. Bush in to talk about that.
MRS. BUSH: Okay, heard you calling. (Laughter.) Hey, Charlie.
GIBSON: Mrs. Bush.
MRS. BUSH: Good to see you.
GIBSON: Nice to see you. GIBSON: As you leave, what do you think the country's feeling is about George W. Bush?
BUSH: I don't know. I hope they feel that this is a guy that came, didn't sell his soul for politics, had to make some tough decisions, and did so in a principled way.
MRS. BUSH: I think they think he's somebody that kept them safe for eight years. And I think -- and I hear that all the time, people thanking me, telling me to thank him.
BUSH: I'll be frank with you. I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it -- (laughter) -- but, look, in this job you just do what you can. The thing that's important for me is to get home and look in that mirror and say, I did not compromise my principles. And I didn't. I made tough calls. And some presidencies have got a lot of tough decisions to make --
GIBSON: Was there a time when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles --
GIBSON: -- some decision where you really thought that that was at issue?
BUSH: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm's way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or -- and rather than listen to -- I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I'm not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I'm going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.
GIBSON: You've always said there's no do-overs as President. If you had one?
BUSH: I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.
GIBSON: If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?
BUSH: Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely.
GIBSON: No, if you had known he didn't.
BUSH: Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate.
GIBSON: Greatest accomplishment? The one thing you're proudest of?
BUSH: I keep recognizing we're in a war against ideological thugs and keeping America safe.
GIBSON: How about you? Greatest feeling of accomplishment as First Lady?
MRS. BUSH: Well, for him, one great feeling of accomplishment of his that I appreciate is the liberation of Afghanistan, and the fact that girls are in school in Afghanistan, and women can walk on the streets without a male escort. And it's still tough there, and we read about it every day. But I've met a lot of women from Afghanistan, both on my visits there, and women who come through the United States studying to be teachers, or working with judges, the women judges, or the parliamentarians that come through, and that's a -- I think that's a huge accomplishment. It's life-changing for the women who live there.
GIBSON: Was there one moment --
BUSH: May I talk about her accomplishment, please?
GIBSON: Sure, sure.
BUSH: I think her greatest accomplishment is that she was able to lift the spirits of a lot of people, whether it be activists in Burma, women in Afghanistan, teachers in America -- that she came and seized the moment, and has been a fabulous First Lady.
MRS. BUSH: Thank you. GIBSON: High point of the eight years? The one moment when this all felt the best?
BUSH: You know, it's -- I would say maybe the 2004 inauguration, because I had a difficult first-term presidency -- not such an easy one second term, either, by the way -- but I had taken my message to the American people, campaigned hard, in a race that, frankly, I wasn't expected to win; won; and then was able to go in front of the American people again, thank them for their confidence, and start a second term.
GIBSON: How about for you? One moment?
MRS. BUSH: Well, there have been lots of moments, so many moments. It's hard to say just one. Being able to represent the United States in Africa on the five different trips I was able to make there, and see people who literally had come back from the dead because the American people funded antiretrovirals for them, had what's called the "Lazarus effect," and had been dying from AIDS and now are productive. Those were always wonderful moments to be able to see that.
GIBSON: Greatest disappointment?
BUSH: Well, I mentioned one, and that is no weapons of mass destruction. I think another -- in Iraq. I think another great disappointment was not getting immigration reform done. I firmly believe that the immigration debate really didn't show the true nature of America as a welcoming society. I fully understand we need to enforce law and enforce borders. But the debate took on a tone that undermined the true greatness of America, which is that we welcome people who want to work hard and support their families.
GIBSON: Did the country disappoint you in its reaction to that issue?
BUSH: No, not really. What was interesting was, is that the issue was very hot for a period of time; then the primaries ended and it wasn't much of an issue in the general election. It -- listen, immigration is a highly emotional issue. It's always been a highly emotional issue throughout our history. I was disappointed we didn't get a bill out of Congress. That's where I was disappointed.
GIBSON: How about you? One thing you'd have liked to have done as First Lady that perhaps didn't get done? MRS. BUSH: You know, I'm sure there are a lot. Really, just not -- I mean, just wish I could have done more, I guess, would be what the disappointment would be, on a lot of different issues. I wish we would see the release of political prisoners in Burma. I wish Afghanistan were really not having the problems they're having right now. And I think they are on the road to a real democracy, but it's a lot harder than I wish it would be.
GIBSON: I asked the President a moment ago before you came in the room what people don't know about being President. What don't they know about your role?
MRS. BUSH: About my role?
MRS. BUSH: I don't know. You know, there's really not a map for my role. There's not really a job description. And what I do think happens is we end up benefiting from whatever the interests of our First Ladies have been.
I do think a lot of times First Ladies are trivialized with a pet project. And I think in every case, certainly that I know of, the First Ladies are much more complicated, much more dynamic people than you can tell from listening to press or reading press reports, because it's sort of an either/or. When George was elected I was asked, was I going to be Hillary Clinton or Barbara Bush, like I was either going to be --
GIBSON: Like they're polar opposites.
MRS. BUSH: -- in this box or in this box. But --
GIBSON: They're not polar opposites.
BUSH: No, not at all.
MRS. BUSH: No, not at all.
GIBSON: Did you give Michelle Obama any advice on that?
MRS. BUSH: No, not really.
GIBSON: Or, did you just say, figure it out yourself.
MRS. BUSH: No, we didn't -- she didn't ask for any advice like that, and I didn't give her any. What we talked about, really, was living in the house and making it a home -- because that is what the First Ladies have done first, and that is make sure it's a home for their children, it's a home for the President. And we talked about closets -- (laughter) -- we talked about, you know, all the things that will make it easier for her to move there and live there at the very first. And then I know she'll take on a lot of great issues.
GIBSON: How do you mentally adjust for life after January 20th?
BUSH: Check in about February 15th. I don't know. That's going to be an -- that's an interesting question. We've been in the spotlight now for 14 years. We've lived in the Governor's Mansion and the White House. It's going to be an interesting adjustment.
GIBSON: Do you talk to yourself in the shower about that?
BUSH: I generally sing in the -- no. (Laughter.) No, I'll begin to think about it -- obviously this financial situation makes it really hard to think about what life's going to be when we get out of here, because I've spent a lot of time thinking about people who are losing work, or watching their 401Ks go down.
And I'm confident I'll adjust, obviously. And I'm beginning to think through what I'm going to do. I intend to write a book. I'm going to build an institute at Southern Methodist University, along with the library and archives. That's where Laura went, right there in the heart of Dallas. And other than that, I'm just going to take it when it comes. I'd like to -- I tell you what I don't want to do, I don't want to draw attention to myself. Pretty much had it when it comes to --
GIBSON: You want to withdraw from the limelight?
BUSH: I think so, yes. I'd like to live life without the limelight for a while. I don't -- I think it's going to be real important for me to get off the stage. We got a new man coming on the stage; I wish him all the very best. And I don't want to be a -- I don't want to be out there critiquing him, his every move.
GIBSON: How about you? What thought have you given to it?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I'm actually thinking of things like being a cook again and doing those sort of things. And I'm feeling very incompetent -- (laughter.)
BUSH: I guess I'm going on a diet. (Laughter.)
MRS. BUSH: But I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to the more normal daily life. But I want to keep working on all the things I've worked on. And I think the institute, the freedom institute that George is going to build will be a perfect vehicle for me to keep working on things.
GIBSON: Do you want to withdraw from the limelight, as he does?
MRS. BUSH: Sure.
GIBSON: Do you?
MRS. BUSH: Sure.
GIBSON: Because you go from 120 miles an hour --
MRS. BUSH: That's going to be the hard part.
GIBSON: -- to dead stop.
MRS. BUSH: That's it.
GIBSON: And one former President said to me, it's a shock when the phone rings, that you know it's probably the kids.
BUSH: Yes, that's right.
GIBSON: And it's not --
BUSH: It's going to be an interesting adjustment. We'll adjust. We got each other, we've got our kids, we've got fabulous friends in Texas. One of the great things about our lives is that we have a bunch of friends in our state that were our friends before politics, they were our friends during politics, and they'll be our friends after politics. We're going to a society where we got a lot of folks that will help us adjust from the big-time to just normalcy.
GIBSON: So what do you anticipate the feeling will be? I'm always wondering what's going through the mind of that -- it's always been a man -- walking down the Capitol steps, getting on the helicopter, flying out for the last flight on Air Force One, and suddenly realizing his life has just changed totally.
BUSH: Yes, it's an interesting question. It will certainly be a contrast to that moment when you get sworn in as President and realize your life has just changed totally. One of the things I'm beginning to realize is that you get prepared for that moment during these final months. Today was my last pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey. (Laughter.)
MRS. BUSH: We're on the lasts.
BUSH: And so in other words --
GIBSON: I don't think that's going to keep you up nights -- missing that.
BUSH: No -- but, no, but seriously, there's a lot of last moments.
BUSH: And I suspect that by the time the moment comes, that you will have said goodbye to so many people and goodbye to places like Camp David, that it may not be quite as difficult as you would think. I don't know. Listen, I've never done it. This will be an interview that you need to come down and find me in about six months from now --
GIBSON: I'll be there.
BUSH: Thank you.
GIBSON: I'll be there. But is it -- do you anticipate it will be a relief? A longing? And if it's a relief, I wonder if you'll be more relieved than your folks.
BUSH: Well, first of all, no one will be more relieved than my mother and dad, because one of the things I learned during his presidency is being the son of the President is a lot tougher than being the President. I mean, it is really agonizing to have somebody you truly love get banged around in the political process. It was hard. And so, no doubt they're going to be relieved to have their boy out of the limelight. And I bet a lot of our friends will be relieved, too.
GIBSON: You're only 62, though.
GIBSON: Is there one more deal in you? Is there one more thing you really want to achieve?
BUSH: That's an interesting question. I'm confident -- look, first of all, you don't get to be President unless you're a "Type A" personality who's driven to do things. And I am confident I'll be driven to do something; I just can't tell you what it is yet.
Steve Hadley and I were sitting around -- he's the National Security Advisor -- sitting around; I said, wouldn't it be interesting for baby boomers not to retire in nice places, but to retire -- during their retirement, go help people deal with malaria or AIDS. In other words -- and I'm not suggesting that's what I'm going to do, but it is the kind of thing that intrigues me.
But I, frankly, Charlie, haven't had time to figure it out yet. But I will. I mean, look, I'm going to have a lot of time to think. My day is going to go from getting up early-early, and being at the Oval Office at 6:45 a.m., and having a lot to do when you get there, to waking up at 6:45 a.m., getting Momma the coffee -- (laughter) -- and kind of wandering around trying -- what's next, boss?
GIBSON: How about you? One thing you want to do after you leave?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I want to keep working on a lot of the things I've worked on, but obviously, from another -- not from the government side, not from the inside side. But there are plenty of things for everybody to do, and there are lots of ways to serve. And we'll figure out those other ways to serve.
GIBSON: This institute is going to be an interesting place, a public policy forum. It will be -- it's non-partisan. It's not going to be George Bush's wonderful place. It's going to be a place where smart people come and debate issues and talk about issues. But it will also be a launching pad for a variety of projects. I mean, I could conceivably help organize people going to volunteer on the President's Malaria Initiative, for example. I keep talking about malaria, because it happens to be the type of initiative where it is easy to plug in volunteers.
GIBSON: You've called on former Presidents to fill various roles -- your Dad obviously, President Clinton. Is there one area that you think you can really be helpful to President Obama, President-Elect Obama, soon to be President Obama?
BUSH: Yes, that's right. I don't know, Charlie. Obviously, one of my parting words to him will be: If I can help you, let me know. The interesting thing about being President, though, is that these issues come so hard and so fast, that you really do rely upon the people that are close to you, because they've got the latest information, they've got the latest intelligence, they're people whose judgment you trust. Obviously, you reach out beyond the White House, but the decision-making is -- ends up being with a trusted group of people.
GIBSON: Is the President too much in a bubble?
BUSH: Oh, I don't know. I mean, you're going to have to be in a bubble during this here because the enemy would like to do nothing more than do you in. So, I mean, that's a necessary part of the job.
You know, yes -- I mean, believe me you understand what's going on in the world. This idea about how the President doesn't understand this, that, or the other, just simply is not the case. I mean, there's a lot of information that comes through the White House.
GIBSON: One thing you'll miss most?
BUSH: Well, I'll miss being Commander-in-Chief. I have gotten to be -- grown to be so appreciative of our military. It's hard to believe that so many kids, and some not-so-kids, have volunteered to fight in a war. And I'll miss -- and it's going to sound strange to you -- I'll miss meeting with the families whose son or daughter have fallen in combat, because the meetings I've had with the families are so inspirational. They -- I mean, obviously, there's a lot of sadness, and we cry, and we hug, and we occasionally laugh. And we share -- I listen to stories. But the Comforter-in-Chief is always the comforted person.
Believe it or not, I'll miss going to the hospitals as the Commander-in-Chief, and looking a kid in the eye, and have him say, heal me up, Mr. President, I want to go back in. And so, there will be a lot of these special moments that we'll miss.
GIBSON: How about you? The thing you'll miss the most?
MRS. BUSH: > I'll miss living at the White House, of course, and all the people that are there that we're with every single day that -- my staff that I laugh with and talk to every single day, and the President's staff, and then, of course, the people that work at the White House who we've known for years because we knew them when we visited President Bush and Barbara. So, it's the people that I'll miss the most.
GIBSON: And final question, just to finish the sentence: I will leave the presidency with a feeling of?
BUSH: I will leave the presidency with my head held high.
GIBSON: And I will leave the White House with?
MRS. BUSH: With gratitude for everybody that we met the entire time.
GIBSON: Good to talk to you.
BUSH: Thank you, sir.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.